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Environmental-Protection Pointers for Quality Teleconferencing-Room Design.

Upper management has given you, the corporate communications manager, the task of developing a teleconference room. No problem, you say. After all, who is more qualified to evaluate voice/video/data technology and transmission than yourself? Right? Well, that depends.

You're certain to follow a course of action utilizing your vast knowledge of associated hardware, transmission and distribution systems. It's second nature for you to evaluate the requirements according to budget parameters, aim for objectives and choose the systems that best meet upper management's needs.

Perhaps such considerations would have been enough back when my consulting firm worked with Bell Labs in the '60s, experimenting with teleconferencing as a new concept in corporate communications. But times have changed along with technology, and teleconferencing has evolved into a highly refined and more demanding means to conduct business in a cost-effective manner. More than Choosing Hardware

Teleconferencing is, after all, much more than choosing the right hardware. The room may look right if you make the proper choice, but it won't necessarily work right.

Beyond hardware lies a critical consideration that determines the success or failure of your efforts--namely, environmental design.

As compressed video takes on the form of data that can be coded and transmitted in much the same manner, the production requirements become increasingly complex as one endeavors to maintain a balance between exploiting the technology and sustaining continuity in teleconference proceedings.

Take lighting, for instance. There must be enough light in your conference room for task work, light on surfaces so management can perform functions beyond talking heads.

Since video projection systems in the lower-price range produce a picture that is only as bright as those found in a dark movie theater, a compromise must be made between darkening the room to clearly see the video image, keeping it light enough so management can work, and yet even lighter so the camera will function properly.

As consultants to the performing arts for more than three decades, my organization has addressed these problems in order to put celebrities, US presidents and corporate executives in a favorable light under the most demanding requirements. Over time, we've discovered numerous tricks to our trade. We know how to get light in places where it's needed most, without expense to quality production values. Portrait Lighting Is Needed

The architectural lighting found in most conference rooms illuminates surfaces, entranceways, doorways, aisles--everything but people. People lighting--that is, portrait lighting--is the correct approach required for conference rooms with videoconferencing cpabilities. It will help separate the subject from the background, as well as model, accent, illuminate and help direct attention to the speaker.

Good portrait lighting will also avoid certain potentially awful problems, such as the picture on the screen reproducing a face with black holes where the eyes should be, or else broiling the speaker with too much light in an attempt to correct the problem. Contrast Must Be Considered

The following analogy exemplifies our approach. If you're driving on a dark road and someone turns up their headlights, who you look straight into them, the glare blinds you. During the daytime, however, your sight would not be impaired because there is less contrast between surrounding light and the intensity of the headlights.

When we light a conference room, we don't light the subjects or objects seen by the camera, but rather those that are seen by the occupants of the room. Take the video screen. Since the projection screen reflects the back of the room, we wouldn't place a light fixture there because the light would reflect back onto the screen. We would not direct light into the video screen either, otherwise glare and reflections would mask portions of the screen's image. Tunnel Effect Can Be Avoided

On the other hand, to balance the light emitted from the video screen, we would light the wall on either side so that the contrast is at a minimum, preventing the eye from opening and closing to compensate for contrast differential. To avoid the tunnel effect, it's wise to surround the video screen with light to prevent the screen brightness from appearing in contrast to the surrounding darkness. In essense, the difference between what the video system needs for projection and the camera needs for pickup must not be ignored.

While architectural light fixtures do not suffice, neither do those designed for television or theater. Theatrical luminaires are enormous, black and obtrusive, which for other applications are fine, because they're mostly mounted out of signt and maneuvered manually. To solve this problem in a conference room, once the lighting scheme has been designed, we modify architectural fixtures, using a hybrid of fluorescent and incandescent light. Make Lights Color Conducive

Fluorescents are low on energy consumption and heat, yet they emit a lot of visible light. The tubes, however, must be changed to a color conducive to video. It is also advisable for incandescent fixtures to be sunk into the ceiling, so that they don't protrude or avail themselves to individuals who may be unaware of the critical placement of these fixtures and might opt to move them around.

The ideal teleconference room should simulate the two halves of a live conference as closely as possible by minimizing the presence of the electronic link. This can be achieved by carefully controlling the size and distance to the screen.

If the video screen is too far away, participants tend to shout even though they can be heard perfectly well. To obviate this problem, the video screen should be in close proximity to meeting participants, and the image on the screen should be similarly illuminated and in equal proportion to the size of the individuals seated beside one another, to sustain the intimacy that is so crucial to personal communication. Table Configuration Impacts Too

The conference table configuration impacts in much the same manner. If everyone were lined up in a row, like in a theater, the screen would be visible but discussion between participants would necessitate the need to lean forward, obscuring the view of others as well as displacing the strategically positioned illumination.

in some instances, the overhead graphics camera is mounted in front of a single participant, creating the annoying game of musical chairs when a participant wants to use the graphics capability of the system. By centering the overhead camera and rounding off the conference table so that no participant is too far removed, spontaneity is maintained.

The logistics of other equipment, such as a facsimile scanner or slide machine, similarly apply. If they are located in the closet, as is frequently the case, a participant wishing to illustrate a point must travel back and forth as the need dictates, further disrupting the continuity of the proceedings. Light-Colored Table Is Best

Too often, the material of conference tables consists of dark wood. Yet to direct light onto a participant's face, the illumination should originate from under the chin and bounce up into the eyes. The only way to get that illumination is to soften the look by bouncing the light off the table and up into the facial features. To do this properly, it should be bounced off a light-colored table.

The background is an equally important environmental consideration. A flower pot on a stand can appear as though it is growing out of a participant's head.

More importantly, in transmitting a picture, the coding system doesn't distinguish between background and foreground details, so the camera is busy trying to transmit the entire field. It subsequently does a poor job of transmitting the subject.

If a conference participant moves his or her head, the camera picks up all of the information in the picture that the head formerly obscured. A digital system tends to expend itself on the first picture it transmit, recording only the changes occurring thereafter every thirtieth of a second, without distinction as to the subject in the foreground and the objects in the background. Unclutter the Background

To obviate the problem, the background should be uncluttered and the back wall should preferably be a shade that's complementary to skin tone, with low color saturation and soft texture. Grays should be avoided since they are the most difficult for lower-end cameras to reproduce and are commonly used to test camera performance.

Many conference rooms don't have adequate air conditioning. Once lighting comes into the picture, the room gets warmer, causing the air conditioning to work harder. This can easily be avoided by good planning.

Noise, too, can have a disastrous impact on a teleconference, especially with some of the voice-activated camera switchers that pick up sound from any source and switch the angle accordingly. A creaking chair or a battery of typewriters could easily cause the system to misfire.

In summary, the following environmental factors should be taken into consideration when designing a teleconferencing room.

* No specular finishes should be visible to the camera.

* Front-wall reflectance should be light to minimize contrast between displays and adjacent walls. Also, the front wall should be sufficiently illuminated without directing light onto the display screens.

* The ceiling should be quite high in reflectance.

* Side walls may be of any reflectance or finish, but strong colors should be avoided.

* Between the conferences tables and display wall, the floor should be covered with dark carpet to prevent light reflections from bouncing up onto displays. On the other side of the conference table, floor tiles will encourage participants to keep rolling chairs within that area and hence within the camera field.

* Texture should be minimized on rear wall, with medium reflectance and low color saturation. Grays in particular should not be used, as noted earlier.

* The conference table finish should be a light blue-gray or putty color, again avoiding pure grays and dark blues.

* Colorful chairs relieve visual boredom and do not distract, since they are blocked from camera view by participants' bodies. Get other Managers' Input

The design of a teleconference room usually involves input from not only the communications manager, but also management information, telecommunications, word processing, corporate audio-visual and facilities managers. Each one's approach comes from a different perspective, so a consultant can serve as a buffer to consolidate ideas and arrive at the most cost-effective solution without sacrificing anyone's objectives.

Above all, it pays to call in consultants prior to design and construction. Yet, more often than not, consultants are called in to assist in the "renovation" of an existing teleconference room, which requires more capital investment. That's why it pays to involve consultants in the planning stages so they can assist in interior design and lighting before an inadequate fixture is installed, requiring later removal and replacement.

Since many parallels can be drawn between the approach facility engineers took with studio construction back in the early dfays of live TV and the approach one takes in the design of teleconferencing as we know it today, it pays to choose a consultant conversant in broadcast as well as corporate TV.

In order for a conference room to really be effective and get used often, it must be user-friendly. The design should incorporate elements that not only make the pictures look good but that create a comfortable environment for the users. Lighting, table configurations, placement of the video screen and like considerations are all intrinsic elements to assure an effective and pleasant teleconferencing environment. Looking Goods Is What It's All About

A person that is comfortable in his surroundings looks better and communicates more easily. And after all, when your company president is made to look good, you look good too.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Leay, J.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Oct 1, 1984
Words:1923
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