Audio – The Invisible Elephant in the Video Conferencing Room

There is a common misconception that the success of a video conferencing call depends primarily on the quality of the video. After all, video is something that you can see. Audio, on the other hand, is invisible. While it might seem counter-intuitive, the truth is the success of your video conference technology actually rests more with the audio quality.

Video conferencing suites primarily have two significant elements: video (the display) and audio (speakers and microphones). Most first time video conferencing users often make the mistake of focusing too much on the video portion while failing to give proper consideration to the audio element.

We get it – it’s very easy to be charmed and impressed by an 80 inch video display. And while it’s important to give attention to that element of your system, believe it or not, audio is more important. Specifically, understanding the acoustic complexities of the room environment is of critical importance in order to get the overall user experience correct.

Practically speaking, if the video component in the room has some flaws (pixelated, grainy, out of focus, under-exposed, etc.) but the audio is clear and free of distractions, the video conference call can still continue and offer a degree of functionality that yield results.

In contrast, if the audio quality of the video is just average, participants are more likely to react negatively to the video content as a whole, no matter how good the video appears to be. There are many environmental factors that can influence the desired quality of the audio (microphone distance, background noise, equipment quality, etc.) and all need to be taken into account.

We have seen many mistakes – ceiling microphones installed next to the HVAC vent or sound absorption panels that were painted to match the décor of the wall, rendering them useless. Mistakes that are costly, but easily avoidable. Audio communications should be as clear and uninterrupted as possible, otherwise the purpose of video conferencing will be defeated because people will not experience natural communication.

Additionally, people tend to give preferential consideration to the latest architectural and interior design trends – elements that likely offer the most visually pleasing but too often come at the expense of sacrificing acoustical elements necessary for today’s workplace collaboration. There are a lot of boardrooms that look pretty, but sadly, are incompatible with today’s technology.

Video conferencing rooms should offer reasonable sound absorption and sound insulation. Hard, flat, reflective surfaces like glass and polished wood are elements that can challenge a room’s acoustical quality. To test a room’s sound absorption, clap your hands once. If the clap sound is crisp, clear and distinguishable, then the acoustics of the room are good enough for video conferencing. In contrast, if there’s an echo or if it sounds as though more people are clapping their hands all at once, then there are issues with the auditory quality of the room that need to be addressed.

Surprisingly, even the modest of adjustments can greatly improve the sound quality of any room. The introduction of sound absorbing materials such as a wall-to-wall carpet, upholstered furniture, absorption panels on the walls and ceiling, or even fabric curtains in front of windows, can all work to absorb and diffuse sound that can reduce the influence of flutter echo in a room.

Ultimately, each room is unique and has its own elements and characteristics. There is no cookie cutter approach. The design of a high quality, well-functioning video conferencing system is a process that requires some critical analysis in advance to overcome any potential impediments that can test the integrity and functionality of a well-intended system.

Whether it is adding or eliminating room treatments, using higher quality equipment, or programming the technology for better overall room dynamics, there are several ways a professional integrator can improve a room’s audio functionality and performance without compromising any of the visual design and aesthetics. Companies that want a return on their investment with their video conference technology would be wise to hire a professional technology integrator to guide them.

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