Conference Room Technology Introduction

Delivering and leading a conference, no matter how many people you’re presenting to, is a daunting prospect. Even for the seasoned professional, communicating your ideas or tackling issues in your business with a room full of professionals - be they colleagues, partners, or clients - often leads to jitters, tension and occasionally frustration when hold ups take extra time out of busy schedules.

Developments in technology should alleviate many of these worries, but without proper design and implementation there is a very real risk that tech problems will add further to frustrations in the conference room.

We’ve taken a look at some of the key areas you need to consider when designing and kitting out a conference room, whether you’re starting from scratch or looking at ways to improve what’s already there.

Attention-Grabbing Conferences

It’s essential to avoid distraction. The right technology will create a conference room that streamlines the conferencing experience, improves the way ideas are communicated with colleagues and business partners and removes major sources of frustration that can ruin the flow of a presentation and potentially lose delegates’ concentration. People are much less likely to allow their mind to wander when they can hear clearly the topic of discussion and see the material being presented.

Watch

A top quality display screen with the right resolution and screen size for the room in use is a vital investment for most conference rooms. Furthermore, choose the right screen now and you’ll be well equipped for years to come.

The now largely defunct plasma technology had a ridiculously long lifespan, estimated at 50-plus years, but current LED technology will still maintain excellent levels of brightness for between five to ten years with general use. The main reason for drops in LED brightness is the dimming in the backlight source; the newer OLED technology doesn’t have this problem and these screens are likely to outlast their LED counterparts. It’s something to keep in mind when reviewing budgets.

But the big challenge for a conference room is to ensure that everyone can see the screen and the presentations in crisp sharp detail. There are three main options here.

  1. Invest in a large single screen or multiple screens to create a single visual focal point. This is generally only going to work in smaller conference rooms where the whole room can realistically see the stage or platform from which the presenter is speaking.
  2. Multiple screens. For a larger conference room, it makes sense to instal multiple display screens to provide different sections of the audience with a clear view. This avoids people craning their necks to see one single central display and will help to keep the audience focused.
  3. A projector. For big conference rooms where it’s important to keep the attention focused on the presenter and the stage or platform, a projector is a great option for displaying content in a sufficiently large format that it can be seen by everyone. Check out our sister site ProjectorPoint for more information on the best projectors on the market and, as always, our team are available to discuss the options with you if you’d like to get in touch.

Most conference rooms won’t need to go all out on a 4K UHD screen or projector. In most cases, full HD resolution at 1080p will be more than sufficient unless you anticipate needing to split the screen for any reason, in which case stretch to 4K if possible to ensure that the shared screen space is able to display multiple inputs in high resolution.

Connectivity is the next thing to check for on your chosen display solution. Unless your company operates an unusually strict IT policy, it’s not going to be easy to guarantee the devices or format that people will want to present in, especially if external contributors are using the room. With this in mind look for plenty of options.

HDMI

This is a must for high quality presentations. It’s also the most common connector so highly unlikely that you’ll be looking at a display screen without an HDMI port. It also carries audio as well as visual, so practically speaking HDMI will keep things much simpler when connecting up the room’s AV. While earlier versions struggled with higher frame rates, current HDMI technology will ensure perfect output of 4K UHD visuals, if that’s what your monitor is capable of displaying.

VGA

VGA is fast becoming outdated and as such won’t be catered for by all displays. It does offer decent resolutions, but the signal is analog which can result in on screen flickering when used with LCD screens.

DVI

Once a popular option, ever-increasing resolutions have seen DVI pushed to the side due to its limited resolution capability.

DisplayPort

Prior to the HDMI 2.0 release, DisplayPort topped HDMI when it came to resolution. With HDMI 2.0, however, DisplayPort lost its edge and is not nearly as common on laptops or PCs these days. As a result, DisplayPort is useful to have on a conference room display screen, but there are adapters out there that will allow your teams to use the screen’s HDMI connection from their device’s DisplayPort output, so a specific port is not essential. 

One option to circumvent the need to supply multiple connectivity options is to install a standalone PC in the conference room. The device should be managed by the inhouse IT team and internal and external presenters will need to be informed that if they want to use the audio visual equipment in the conference room, they will need to connect up through the PC. Presenters need only turn up with their presentation on a USB stick and go from there; it’s a simple solution for both sides. That said, don’t forget that some people will be working from a Mac while others will have prepared on a Windows machine, so standalone device will need to account for software discrepancies, but this is usually a more straightforward solution than providing for multiple different devices when you can’t predict what people will want to present from.

Listen

Complete the presentation experience in your conference room and make sure everyone has the chance to be heard by providing audio solutions that integrate seamlessly with your display screen and connectivity solutions.

If you want to deliver top quality sound, at the heart of your AV setup should be an audio visual (AV) receiver. This box centralises pretty much everything, so whatever the source device - PC, Blu-Ray player, tablet or even smartphone - you can hook it up to the AV receiver with an HDMI cable, connect the AV receiver to the conference room display and speaker system, and you’re ready to go.

AV receiver technology isn’t evolving at the same pace of components like screens, for example, so a sound investment now will work for years to come. There are, however, a few things to ensure your new AV receiver has in place :

  1. Multiple HDMI ports. Removing and swapping devices during a conference is a recipe for disaster. Life will be a lot simpler if you can leave multiple devices plugged into the AV receiver and use a universal remote to jump between them, so look for an AV receiver with multiple HDMI ports, six at least.
  2. Future-proof. Be sure to buy a receiver with 4K compatibility. This means it needs at least HDMI 2.0a as well as HDCP 2.2 certification. Not only will you be able to watch 4K content now, but future developments like high dynamic range (HDR) and ever improving ranges of colour depth will be covered.
  3. Sound quality. Unless your presenters are working in sectors specifically driven by audio visual content, a record label or film studio for example where you might be producing content internally with 7.2 or even 9.1 channel sound, 5.1 channels will be plenty for most conference rooms. There’s a big jump in sound quality from stereo to 5.1, but above that you’ll be hard pressed to justify the difference in cost unless there is a specialist need for ultra high quality sound.

For most conference rooms the Yamaha RX-V479B will be a solid AV receiver choice. But our experts are happy to discuss the full range available, if you’d like further advice please get in touch.

Speakers are the next big decision on the audio front and vital to ensure that everyone can hear clearly. As with the screen, room size is critical here, but it won’t be the only factor. Keep in mind that inverse-square law governs how sound waves travel, so double the distance travelled and you’ll be reducing the level of sound at that level by a factor of four (two-squared). This is something to consider not only when considering the distance from the speakers to the audience, but also from the presenter to the microphone.

For the majority of conference rooms, surround sound is by far the best option; once you’re catering for a space that is designed to hold dozens if not hundreds of people, the space involved makes soundbars or other centrally-located systems impractical - you’ll risk deafening the audience at the front, while those at the back are still struggling to hear. Surround sound, however, will provide an immersive audio experience for your conference room, with excellent quality and speakers for each audio channel. Cabling isn’t always easy, but so long as the initial design is carefully thought through, there should be no need to move things around in the future making it well worth investing in the initial setup.

The two main choices are either wall-mounted speakers or ceiling-mounted speakers. If aesthetics are particularly important, then ceiling speakers are often preferable, but both approaches will require you to take into account the design and acoustics of the room and remember that the structure of the building and the people in it will absorb sound, so layout speakers with this in mind to ensure that all areas of the audience will receive high quality audio.

Contribute

Finally, conference rooms revolve around presenters, so let’s provide them with the audio visual equipment and connectivity they need to present! We noted earlier that a dedicated standalone PC is a good idea for presenter’s to use to deliver their slides or notes through the conference room’s display screens, but what about their voice?

Fortunately, conference rooms tend to be relatively stable in how they are used on a day to day basis, so a dedicated design here is possible. In most cases, the presenter will be best served by a wireless body microphone, known as a lavalier, or a headset; this will allow them to keep their hands free for demonstrations and presentations. Alternatively, a stand-mounted microphone can be installed on a podium, but this will prove limiting for some presenters.

But what about audience input? If your presenters are likely to take Q&A sessions from their audience, then it’s advisable to instal a couple of dedicated microphone stations in the conference room; they will still need to be passed to the speaker, or the speaker moved to the stations, but it will be quicker and slicker than asking audience members to shout, move down to the stage, or passing the single speaker’s microphone back and forth. Keep in mind that crossover on the audio cabling and layout, coupled with too much room for flexibility in how and where the microphones will be used will increase the risk of feedback - that high pitched, painful whine that you want to avoid at all costs - so plan out the areas that the microphones will be used as carefully as possible and reduce that risk.

The best conference rooms inspire creativity and evolve great ideas. Great audio quality, flexibility in contributing ideas and of course clearly visible high quality display screens will help presenters to hold the attention of everyone in the room and really lift any conference event to the next level.