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Open Seating at the Bar

Conference-room-in-a-box: monitor, speakers, camera and microphone all in one package. It’s a cost-effective videoconferencing solution that’s easy to deploy but has always come up short on delivering a quality experience.

The initial shortcoming has been sound. As LCD displays have become thinner, they have lost the requisite space for quality speakers. The physics just are not there for quality sound. Period.

The workaround has come in the form of an additional piece of equipment – a soundbar.

But that’s not enough. With the growing adoption of software-based video conferencing solutions such as Zoom, WebEx and Teams, another piece of equipment was added – a USB camera sitting on top the LCD display, which usually also contained a microphone. Adequate, but not a quality experience.

That has now changed with the intelligent soundbar. By combining a camera and microphone into a soundbar you can finally have a true conference-room-in-a-box that delivers a quality experience for participants on both sides of the camera.

There are different kinds of intelligent soundbars out there. Here’s a look at my two favorites.

Crestron UC-SB1-CAM.

This model is designed to mount above or below your display. Not all soundbars have this functionality, typically due to limitations of the camera’s field of view. The soundbar has stereo audio up to 91dB. Plenty of power for a room covering about 15 people.

To capture quality audio from the far end of the room, the Crestron unit has a quad-element auto-adapting microphone array. Basically, this means the microphone can adapt to being below the display or above it, as well as room size and distance between it and the presenter.

For a camera, the Crestron UC-SB1-CAM has an integrated 12-megapixel intelligent camera from Hudley. The camera with a 150° field of view has proprietary “Genius Framing” digital autozoom which intelligently detects the people in the room and frames them perfectly for an optimal view. This means the camera will automatically find the people in the room and focus just on them. Very cool! It also has digital pan/tilt/zoom capabilities that can be configured manually via computer.

Here’s something else that’s cool. Because the camera can recognize people, it can use that capability to count people in the room and report back to scheduling or other kinds of software. It can also use this ability to power the room on and off based on occupancy.

What I really like about the Crestron soundbar is its additional audio connections. The unit has a 3.5mm audio input and output to give it better flexibility in advanced system designs. An LED bar on the front of the soundbar lights up red or green to signal if the microphone is muted and an LED bar to show the volume level.

All this functionality is connected to a user’s device with just one USB 3.0 cable. It’s simple to use, easy to deploy and cost effective. A true conference-room-in-a-box.

Bose VB1.

Rather than a soundbar, Bose calls it a “videobar.” Here’s why.

Designed for rooms with up to 15 people, the VB1 has an adaptive or static steerable microphone array consisting of six microphone elements that act as one. Also with an intelligent camera with auto-framing, the Bose VB1 has 3 camera presets that can be recalled using the Bose remote.

The notable difference between the two products is the additional functionality of the Bose VB1 to also act as a presentation device. Using a single USB-C connection you get all of the microphone, speaker and camera functionality, with the added benefit of a video output from the user’s computer to the LCD monitor with which it is paired.

Additionally, the Bose has Bluetooth integration. You can use the audio functionality to connect to your cell phone for conferencing or just playing music, which sounds incredible through this guy.

Will I go as far as to say, this is a conference room in a box? If there ever was such a solution the intelligent soundbar (or videobar) would be it. Small, powerful, compact, easy to deploy and cost effective, these products can standalone and be a powerful workplace solution, or they can integrate into a larger system for even more functionality.


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