A definitive Guide on how to buy a Audio and Video Conferencing system (2022 Edition)

This guide answers the following key questions

  1. What is an example of audio conferencing?
  2. What are some advantages and disadvantages of audio conferencing?
  3. What is audio teleconference?
  4. How big should the conference room be?
  5. How many people should be seated in the conference room?
  6. Is the conference room under construction or renovation?
  7. Is there false ceiling in the conferencing room?
  8. What kind of microphones exist for conferencing?
  9. How should one compare ceiling microphone unit with the table-top microphone unit for audio and video conferencing?
  10. How much does an audio video conferencing system cost?

What is an example of audio conferencing?
Audio conferencing does not have a standardized definition. This is largely the case because this idea is not a formal concept. Audio conferencing means many things to many people. But it can be best illustrated with an example. Audio conferencing is local or virtual conferencing without any video feed. Put another way, this is the word businesses and offices use for a conference call between teams which may be present locally or at different locations. This can be affected using traditional telephony or the more modern VoIP. The latter gives the flexibility of seamless integration with video conferencing.

What are some advantages and disadvantages of audio conferencing?

There are several advantages and disadvantages of audio conferencing. Let’s enumerate the advantages first:

  1. Local audio reinforcement – Audio conferencing allows for audio augmentation within the room. This is especially useful for larger conference rooms or committee rooms or seminar rooms where some amount of audio system will have to be installed to ensure clarity of sound within the room.
  2. Collaborating with remote teams – Due to nature of work where looking at a screen for video conferencing is not very feasible or because of bandwidth constraints, a system which simply banks on audio collaboration will be a more suitable choice for collaborative works.
  3. Democratic processes – Legislative halls, senate rooms, board rooms and the like have audio conferencing requirements. Since these halls and rooms are quite large as compared to the standard conference rooms, there audio requirements are quite specialized. Standard conferencing packages may not suffice their acoustic needs. In such cases, a specialized AVSI must be brought in right at the greenfield stage.

Disadvantages of audio conferencing are enumerated as follows:

  1. Lack of a visual interface – At the end of a day, audio conferencing without any video feed looks, feels and comes across as dated. The progression from audio to video conferencing has been linear in nature. Audio connections came to be from the time of Alexander Graham Bell in the 19th century. Video interfaces were added in the form of televisions almost half a century late. And thus AVSIs across the board aspire to add a visual interface to the conference rooms to ensure that the conferencing experience is as close to a personal meeting as possible.
  2. Difficulty in holding attention of the participants – Owing to the lack of a visual aid and the fact that majority of the interpersonal communication is non-verbal, audio conference meetings could get awfully boring. There is absolutely no way to gauge the body – language or  the interest level of the conference participants. A meeting where the participants are half asleep or massively bored may not end up fruitfully collaborating and getting anywhere with respect to the agenda at hand.
  3. Difficulty in holding attention of the participants – Owing to the lack of a visual aid and the fact that majority of the interpersonal communication is non-verbal, audio conference meetings could get awfully boring. There is absolutely no way to gauge the body – language or  the interest level of the conference participants. A meeting where the participants are half asleep or massively bored may not end up fruitfully collaborating and getting anywhere with respect to the agenda at hand.

What is audio teleconference?
Audio teleconference is a specialized kind of audio conferencing. The difference between conferencing and teleconferencing is largely the telephony element. Teleconference either comprises entirely of the telephony components. The simplest version of such an arrangement is the good old con-call. Multiple participants use the cell tower mobile network to connect multiple peoples on the call.

How big should the conference room be?
Conference rooms range from small huddle rooms which have the seating capacity of no more than 5 to 10 people and can go all the way up-to as large as being able to seat over a thousand people. The former kind can be found in corporate offices and the latter kind can be found in multilateral organizations like the United Nations.

In reality, conference rooms can be measured in two ways – one way is to measure the dimensions of the room. Since this guide only concerns with the Audio Video part of conference room design, we are only concerned with the rough dimensions of the room in question. Usually the Audio Video System Integrator (AVSI) in question, will require the dimensions in feet (rounded off to the nearest multiple of five). Acoustic calculation in most does not require precision in measurement.

The other way to measure the size of the conference room is the more simpler method of gauging the seating capacity of the room. Since each participant in the conference room is to largely have a dedicated microphone of his own, this approach is quite handy to quickly come up with a rough estimate of the Bill of Quantities or the Bill of Material. This is also a handy approach to come up with a quick financial estimate of the audio and video conferencing solution.

The size of the room also has more to do with the acoustic aspects of conferencing than the video input or output feed. And thus most AVSIs will largely take into account the acoustic requirements of the room, majorly.

How many people should be seated in the conference room?
The conference rooms are usually centered around a conference table. The table can come in various shapes and sizes – it can be an oval, a round or a horse-shoe shaped conference table. The table has a definitive seating capacity – which is one pax per chair. The person sitting on the chair usually has a dedicated microphone for his use kept on the table in front of him. The architectural designing and the interiors of any conference room caters for such audio requirements. But there is another dimension to this entire design process, which is the arrangement of chairs a little away from the table and at the edges of the room.

The chairs are placed to ensure that additional seating capacity in the conference room can be ensured without any additional deployment of financial resources. Generally sitting chairs and plush sofas are placed approximately 5 – 10 feet away from the conference table. This ensures that the people seated a little away from the table are also somewhat in the microphone pickup range of the conference microphones. This is largely a stop gap arrangement. This arrangement is manageable especially when the audio is not being recorded for future reference or is not being used for live audio or video conferencing. For local audio reinforcements such hacks have some utility, however limited.

Is the conference room under construction or renovation?
At the heart of any audio or video conferencing solution is the audio-visual integration which happens at the backend. For a conference room that is fully designed and constructed and was built unmindful of any backend audio-visual integration, future upgradation can be a little messy. No matter, the preference or budget for wireless systems, any audio-video solution would require or rather demand some modicum of cabling. And therefore sites with no provision for standard HDMI or CAT6 or a host of other cabling options may not have as tidy an outlook as some of the other well designed conference rooms.

For a site under construction, timely empanelment of an AVSI can lead to a much better aesthetic and functional outlook of the conference room. Cables and connectors can be effectively hidden. Distancing from the visual display device can be planned to avoid any strain on the eyes. And to top it off, the room acoustics can be thoroughly optimized.

Is there false ceiling in the conferencing room?
This again is a little detail that is washed away in designing the aesthetics of the room. The false ceiling has a masking role to play for all the wiring and cabling, and that is a given. But beyond that, modern audio systems are being designed specifically to gel with the false ceiling of an audio conferencing site. For instance there are ceiling beam-forming microphone arrays manufactured by some of the top audio companies of the world that cater to the 2 ft x 2 ft false ceiling tile. These microphones have a design that allows them to flush right into the false ceiling. Some of these ceiling microphones can also be hanged to an actual ceiling or even a false ceiling, but these microphones are sensitive electronic devices and due care must be undertaken to prevent any seepage water coming in contact with the microphone. Of course there is an entire range of IP rated (Ingress – Protection rated) audio visual systems to ensure that the installed AV systems are water proof. But modern conference rooms are well shielded from nature’s elements and do not need to go to that extreme.

False ceilings also play a very critical role in the conference room’s acoustics. There is a host of noise insulating variety in selecting a false ceiling for a conference room. But there is also physical element to it all – the positioning of the audio speakers. The rule of thumb is as follows: If the audio speaker is mounted on the wall, it would end up making a 90-degree angle with the false ceiling. The sound waves which make a wave-like pattern, may end up directly striking the false ceiling of the conference room. This may end up having unintended consequences for the acoustics of the conference room. On the other hand if the audio speakers are ceiling mounted, they emanate sound waves in a direction that form a 180-degree angle with the false ceiling. In such a scenario, the choice of the false ceiling is somewhat less critical.

What kind of microphones exist for conferencing?
Microphones have evolved with an exponential pace since they first came into being in the 19th century. Since then, microphones’ positioning has been experimented ad-nauseum. From the standard table-top variety to the ones installed 12 feet away on the ceiling, you name a variety and you have it. In standard audio and video conferencing, the microphones can largely be delineated into two types – the ones on the table aka the tabletop conferencing unit and the ceiling microphone or the ceiling conferencing unit. The table top variety can further be divided into two types – the chairman / delegate unit based system and the speakerphone based system.

First let’s talk about the table top variety. And in it the most intuitive of all devices – the speakerphone. Put simply, the speakerphone is a device which can both input as well as output audio. In simpler words, it has both a speaker and a microphone. It is a compact device which can cater to a small huddle room with a seating capacity of 5 to 7 people seated around the microphone with an effective diametric range of no more than 10 to 12 feet. There also exist larger speakerphones which can cater to an audience of 10 to 15 people with an effective diametric range of no more than 15 to 18 feet. But these ranges and seating capacity must always be taken with a pinch of salt. These ranges are measured in simulations with perfect conditions and no obstructions. That is of course not the case in real life. In real life, these ranges can be scaled down to no more than 60 to 65 percent of their advertised values. These speakerphones usually comprise of no more than half a dozen microphone modules. Speakerphones have next to zero scope for customization or tuning. They are simply a plug and play device which fit right into the audio-conferencing setup.

Within the table top microphones category, the second kind is the full-fledged audio conferencing system comprising of a chairman microphone unit, multiple delegate microphone units and a conference controller. Then of course there can be other audio augmentations to enhance the audio quality like the audio digital signal processor. But for now, let us only focus on the microphone unit at hand. The table-top mics for audio conferencing can be either gooseneck or button mics. The gooseneck mics offer the classic look but they are long and wieldy. The button mics are almost flushed into the conference table and are hidden but mostly do not offer the same functionalities of a classic gooseneck microphone. The chairman conference unit mic has the added functionality of controlling the other microphones on the table. The chairman can mute or unmute other speakers depending on the conversation and its flow in the conference room. The delegate unit mics can however only mute and unmute themselves.

And then there is of course the newest breakthrough in conferencing technology – the ceiling beam-forming microphone array.

How should one compare ceiling microphone unit with the table-top microphone unit for audio and video conferencing?
The ceiling microphone is one of the latest additions to the juggernaut that is audio research and development. The ceiling microphone can be described as a hands-free unit deployed 12 – 15 feet above the conference participants. Such ceiling microphones can be of the now ubiquitous beam forming variety. Beamforming is not a new concept. It has been in vogue in network systems for sometime now. In audio systems, a beamforming microphone has a very straightforward function. Instead of spreading its pickup capacity in all directions, the microphone directs its pickup capacity on only the most active or prominent speaker(s). In other words, any unnecessary noise in the room or beyond it, is ignored by the microphone. In effect, it is an intelligent system where the noise filtering process is automated at the hardware level and is augmented in some cases by software utilities as well.

The advantages of such ceiling tile mics – beamforming array in the conference room are immense:

  1. Hands-free approach to audio input
  2. Very few security issues compared to table-top conference mics
  3. No cabling or cable-meshes on the table which is largely the case in table-top microphones
  4. The ceiling microphones are also largely immune from dust gathering on the surface of the mic as is commonly the case with table top mics
  5. The ceiling mic does not require the use of a conference controller for functioning as the control system, if any, is largely automated
  6. The beamforming mic auto-tracks the voice and the important sounds in the room by only focusing on the most important source

However, there are some advantages to using the traditional table-top microphones in the conference room as well:

  1. The chairman gets the audio control of the room and can mute and/or unmute any participants
  2. The conference controller offers more customized controls in the conference room which can be manually utilized to allow for more tailor made conference room solutions
  3. The distance between the speaker and the microphone is less than a feet and thus the voice pickup is more fool-proof
  4. Such delegate and chairman units of the conference system can be couple with a small monitor or an interactive surface which can be used to sync audio conferencing with media collaboration and video conferencing

How much does an audio video conferencing system cost?
The audio and video conferencing system is a summation of many different equipment within the Bill of Quantities (BoQ) or the Bill of Materials (BoM). There are largely two determinants for how much such a system should cost:

  1. The size of the conference room
  2. The range of functionalities required from such a system

So, for a conference room that seats about 20 people on a horse-shoe shaped table, an audio video conference system should cost somewhere in the range of Rs. 25 – 35 Lakhs. The costing should cover most of the components as described below. And then of course, variations and additional functionalities add an extra layer of costing to the system.

Let us first consider a mid-sized conference room with no interior designing requirements. Such a conference room will broadly have the following audio visual systems and products as its part:

  1. Digital Podium
  2. Document Camera
  3. Mixer Amplifiers and PA Speakers
  4. Microphones – Gooseneck, Handheld and Lapel
  5. Conferencing Microphone Units – Chairman and Delegate or Ceiling Beam Forming Microphone
  6. Audio Digital Signal Processor
  7. Conference Controller
  8. PTZ Camera to capture the video conference
  9. VC Software

Each of these components as specified above bring with them an extra layer of complexity with respect to the functionalities and variations they might have. And therefore any financial projection is fraught with the risk of being vague. But we must put a ballpark figure or a range to help consumers and users have a foresight into how much such a solution would typically cost.

audio and video conferencing system

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