The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made in Determining Screen Real Estate in a Video Conferencing Room

Commercial grade video conferencing has long been about HD 1080p, QoS, MPLS networks, the right video conferencing codecs and all the other AV equipment that can accompany a video conferencing deployment.  But one of the most neglected investments has been and continues to be, screen real estate.

I find this ironic for two reasons.

First, “Big Screen TVs” have been driving the consumer TV market for the last few years.  Why? Because HD TV on a large screen is more engaging!  Most of us and most of our friends have big screen TVs.  The experience is larger than life and for live sporting and news events, the experience is often better than being there.

So, we have no problem investing in screen real estate for our personal viewing and we see the value it brings to the experience.

Secondly, the primary driver of early video conferencing adoption has been to avoid travel costs.  The theory being that people will have to travel less if they can meet using video conferencing.  But if the video conferencing deployment does not provide images that are large enough, then people will continue to have to travel because they won’t have a good enough experience from the video conferencing deployment.  Even though all the other video conferencing technical problems such as jitter, tiling, etc. may be solved.

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Screen real estate is hugely important!

Here are the top 5 mistakes on screen real estate decisions that I consistently see in video conferencing deployments:

1.   The screen real estate is too small

What size screen to have in a meeting room is one of the key technical decisions in designing the AV components of a meeting room.  AV Designers are taught formulae to determine the optimal screen size.  In other words they are making it a technical decision.

Typically there are 2 dimensions considered:

a) The minimum size of display should be determined by the distance of the farthest away viewer, and

b) The closest participant should not sit so close to the screen so that it overwhelms them.  Like being in the front row of a movie theatre with a huge screen, you just can’t take all of the view in without moving your head. In addition, the brightness will stress you out over time.

 These technical measures are good for helping you figure out a minimum or maximum size for a screen in the room but they don’t consider the “Big Screen TV” factor.  Make the screens as big as you can to make the experience bigger than life.

2.   Trying to save money on the overall cost of the video conferencing solution by limiting the screen real estate.

I see over and over again an executive reviewing a proposed video conferencing deployment and is looking to save a few dollars.  Since most of the other components can’t be compromised, display screens are an easy target to save a couple of dollars.  This may have more to do with the historical cost of displays, but display prices have reduced more dramatically than any other component of a video conferencing deployment.

When you think about the amount of money that is invested to provide high quality commercial video conferencing – the network cost, codec cost, AV components and integration costs, trying to save a few dollars on screen size actually compromises the benefits of video conferencing experience. See this recent blog for more on the benefits of making the image “Bigger than Life”.

3.  Having only a single screen for room-based video conferencing

Without a doubt web conferencing (sharing content – WebEx, GoToMeeting, etc) is more prolific than video conferencing and most meeting rooms are used to share PC content in addition to any video conferencing capabilities.  Web conferencing can get a little confusing since you can share content using vendor video conferencing capabilities – see this blog article for more on this.

If the meeting room is designed with a single screen, sharing content will take precedence over seeing people.  So in a room with a single screen, the video portion will be relegated to a small corner of the screen or not be shown at all.  In either case the video portion of the meeting becomes pretty much useless.  The result is that all of the benefits of the visual experience are lost. This is another reason to have to travel for meetings because it won’t be the same as being there.   Avoid single screen deployments so video will not get relegated into the background.

4. Having multiple locations on a single screen

This mistake is a little less obvious and only comes into play when the call goes beyond a point-to–point call and has multiple locations in a video call – multipoint.  This mistake is also much more prevalent since most single codec deployments will combine the video streams from multiple locations into a single video stream.

But this practice causes the video images of the remote locations to shrink on the display, dramatically diminishing the value of the video images.  In fact, I know of customers who have deployed national video conferencing solutions that are not used for exactly this reason.  This is a very real problem.

I am planning a future blog article to provide more detail as well as some solutions to this problem – stay tuned.

5.   The image shown on the screen makes the participants too small

Although the video may be on the full screen, the participants are all really small. The image shown of the room is the whole room and in medium and large rooms the participants will all be very small.

This mistake is not the same as mentioned above when the actual video image becomes a small/tiny part of what is displayed on the screen.  This mistake has more to do with the camera view of the room you are in.  It is not really a problem with the screen size itself but the use of the screen to show the participants in the room.

The easiest ‘fix’ to this problem is to teach people how to use the zoom or to program in camera views that are automatically initiated when a person starts speaking, e.g. the person speaking hits a button that turns their microphone on and focuses the camera on them.  This solution works well in a room that is more geared to “Control Meetings”.

For free flowing, highly collaborative meetings the EagleEye II from Polycom provides a very innovative solution – check out my blog on eliminating the “Boardroom Bowling Alley”.

So the next time you are investing in collaboration rooms and technology, invest in screen real estate.  It will greatly increase the velocity of collaboration in your organization!

As always I am interested in hearing your views.  Please leave your comments and join in on the discussion.