Conference Rooms And Multimedia

Computer video and other audiovisual (AV) presentation equipment is widespread in hotel meeting rooms, office conference spaces, and educational facilities. Internet access is becoming standard, especially in educational facilities. Frequently, the presenter is from outside the organization and may not be familiar with the equipment. We probably have all seen the befuddled efforts of a guest speaker faced with unknown and unpredictable AV equipment. Here are some guidelines on making the controls for the ever-growing collection of equipment easy to find and use.

In corporate conferencing centers, presentation equipment is being designed to facilitate computer presentations and networking. Wireless keyboards can be placed on lecterns. The keyboards use labeled touch panels rather than buttons, which are easier to see, understand, and hit accurately in a darkened space. The keyboard combines all of the controls for the varied equipment in a unified way. Lighting controls should be included with the other controls but also mounted on the wall, with both sets of controls tied together. Large rotary knobs for volume control for both live speech and recorded programs are easier to operate than small buttons. The lectern can include a preview screen for the presenter. Pop-up controls in the main screen panel are simple to understand, and don't get lost. Some of the less-often adjusted backup equipment can be hidden out of the way

Meeting and conference rooms are designed for effortless conversing with or without a sound system. Here the goal is to control reverberation, with no flutter from parallel hard surfaces and no focusing from concave hard surfaces. These rooms may also have special equipment for teleconferencing and equipment for projection from slides, film, videotape, or television. Liquid crystal display (LCD) projectors are now bright enough to be used without substantially dimming out the room. Front projection screens generally still need a lower light level than rear projection screens.

Conference rooms should have sound-absorbent material applied to walls between seated and standing heights. On the ceiling, limit absorption to the perimeter so that the center can reinforce and distribute sound. Meeting and conference rooms usually use a distributed loudspeaker system recessed in the ceiling.

Teleconferencing and videoconferencing rooms operate like broadcast studios. Acoustic control is produced through the use of sound-absorbent materials applied so that there is some in each of the room's prin cipal axes. Unequal application results in coloration of the sound, which favors certain frequencies over others. All walls and ceilings should have a similar average absorption coefficient when two surfaces of a pair are taken together. The acoustic treatment and its facing should be uniform and visually acceptable for digitized video transmission. Special low-frequency absorption may be needed, especially in small rooms with relatively thin sound-absorbing materials.

Data/digital projectors for conference rooms are frequently used to show presentations, spreadsheets, and video clips to large groups. Also known as LCD projectors, they can be permanently installed, sometimes along with a networked computer. Ceiling mounts are installed into the ceiling to hold a projector. This option is more expensive than using a table, but it hides cable mess and can reduce shadows.

Computer-based tools include interactive whiteboards, electronic whiteboards, and room-control systems. Interactive whiteboards combine a computer and LCD projector with a traditional whiteboard. A computer presentation can be projected onto the board and marked or changed on a touch-sensitive screen. A whiteboard application allows notes and markings to be captured as electronic data and then saved into a file, reducing the work of transcribing and distributing notes. Electronic whiteboards record the notes written on the whiteboard surface to a PC. They typically do not have computer-control capabilities.

A plasma display panel (PDP) is a flat-panel display that allows you to view your computer image on a larger scale than a standard monitor, without the depth. The PDPs are only about 13 cm (5 in.) deep, and range in size from 107 to 127 cm (42-50 in.) on the diagonal. They produce a crisp, bright, distortion-free image. An interactive overlay adds touch control and annotation capabilities to the PDP.

Advanced room-control systems allow the operation of a wide range of electronic equipment from a single, integrated system. Audio, video, projection, lighting, screens, shades and blinds, and security and communications systems can all be controlled from one central location (Fig. 40-7). Audiovisual devices located in conference and meeting rooms can be networked through a control system, connected to the Internet, and controlled from a touch screen. Teleconferencing broadcast rooms can be linked into the system. Touch panels can also be controlled through radio-frequency wireless systems, allowing freedom of movement through walls, indoors, or outside.

Audioconferencing phones include a telephone and often several microphones strategically placed through-

Rear-projection screens

Rear-projection screens

Lectern with controls

Figure 40-7 Presentation room equipment.

Lectern with controls

Figure 40-7 Presentation room equipment.

out the room. These phones typically provide full-duplex audio, which means that a natural, multiparty conversation can occur (as opposed to half-duplex audio on a standard phone, which often clips one party's conversation). Data conferencing allows computer users to share text, images, and data in real time.

A videoconference connects two or more participants at different sites linked via telephone or data lines to transmit audio and video. Videoconferencing cameras must be located to see and be seen by all participants. Light colors and low reflection finishes are best for videoconferencing.

The design problems for multimedia conference rooms are similar to those for office systems. The location of the equipment and the length of cable runs are important planning issues. The cable from the presenter's computer to a ceiling-mounted LCD projector is very thick, with a big bend radius. Good quality cables, which have higher quality shielding, give a better picture but are expensive.

Audiovisual equipment includes audio amplifiers and speakers that can be connected to a computer to enhance a presentation, and VCRs or DVD players that are useful for showing videos or DVDs. A VCR or DVD player can be attached to a projector for a larger image. Technician desks provide a central location for the audiovisual tech and control equipment for presentations.

It is common for multimedia presentations to be scheduled in rooms that were not designed with AV equipment. Sometimes the equipment is wheeled in on a cart, with wires dangling and spare parts rolling around. Multimedia cabinets are designed to integrate meeting, classroom, or presentation equipment into a compact and well-organized unit. More advanced than the standard AV cart, mobile multimedia cabinets are aesthetically pleasing and come prewired to simplify installation and use.

Boardroom tables are generally impressive in both size and design. They are often the featured element of the meeting room for the business' top people. Boardroom tables frequently include microphones and are set up for AV presentations (Fig. 40-8). The integration of the electronic equipment into the table itself allows the space to retain its impressive appearance.

The design of boardroom tables requires knowledge of the number of people, the sight lines to presentations, the size of the chairs, and the viewing angles. The design process must begin early in the design of the AV system. Boardroom tables and desks can be prewired with electrical outlets and network hubs to eliminate untidy cords and provide ready access to required connections. Connections to tables are made through floor boxes, bases, legs, or wire access doors. Tabletop access doors allow electric, data, phone, microphone, and control panel connections under the table. Pop-up spring mechanisms provide tabletop access for electricity, microphone, and data, and disappear into the table when not in use. Conference tables can be fitted with gooseneck microphones that pull out of the table. Raised center sections are used to accommodate speakers when they can't be located in the ceiling. Tables are wired after installation. Some lightweight tables click together to allow reconfiguration without disturbing electrical connections.

Although some speaker's lecterns are quite simple, they can also be very complex pieces of furniture, with controls for lights, clocks, and microphones. Wiring is

Figure 40-8 Boardroom table.

usually through a floor box. A lectern can be fitted with a monitor and mouse for each presentation screen, as well as multiple pullout keyboards to support PC, Macintosh, and Unix platforms. Plug-in receptacles located near a foldout panel allow laptops to be connected. A slide-out door can hide a document camera.

Custom designed wall units can unify monitors, plasma screens, speakers, lights, cameras, and other equipment. Wall units require good ventilation, as they get very hot inside. It is imperative to get technical in formation on the equipment early enough for these units to be designed.

When designing a multimedia conferencing space, consider that too tight a program can limit flexibility later on. Spaces are often used in unexpected ways, so a multipurpose space should not have fixed seating and risers. The design should be changeable, flexible, and modular, to accommodate technological changes. Acoustics and lighting must be integrated into the design from the start.

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