Size: Take a display’s diagonal length and multiply it by two… That’s how far away people can comfortably sit from your display. (Less if you’re analyzing spreadsheets. An additional display across the room can be used to supplement.)
Type: For sizes under 84″ a flat panel almost always makes the most sense. Above 84″ and projectors often make more sense (though ambient light, sight lines and placement of both projector and screen are all challenges.) Some flat panels offer touch overlay. These are pricey and your back is kept to the room while using it. Companies that frequently annotate and manipulate images in real time find them valuable, but we see them mostly in educational environments. For larger screens direct view LED (think Times Square) is also popular, but far more expensive than a projector solution.
Ideally a conduit should be run from your conference room display to your rack so that anything can be pulled through later. At minimum, a few category cables (cat5a or cat6a) should be run to your display, which can run any signal with a balun at both ends. To future-proof for 4K content, fiber is also recommended for its increased bandwidth.
Beyond a PC or Mac, if you need your conference room to be BYOD (bring your own device) friendly, there are two ways to accomplish it:
A physical plugin that comes out of the table.
A wireless solution. While Chromecast and Apple TV will let you cast your device onto the big screen, performance is somewhat spotty and they’re not compatible with all devices / operating systems. We like ClickShare for its reliability, ease of setup, and brand-agnostic approach. Where it under-performs is when sharing a lot of video content, in which case a PC or Mac with a hardwired internet connection is needed.
If the space is also being used to entertain, a cable or satellite box is good, though an Apple TV with its various Apps is often sufficient.
Audio (for video)
Volume drops by 50% every three feet. A soundbar under the TV can suffice for small rooms, but longer conference rooms should have in-ceiling or in-wallspeakers to deliver more even sound across the room.
The two main options are proprietary systems and soft codecs:
Proprietary systems are dedicated boxes that talk to other dedicated boxes (think Polycom, Cisco.) They’re great for companies with multiple locations that constantly communicate.
Soft codecs (Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting) can run on a PC or Mac, and will work with webcams that run the gamut of quality. Some webcams see wider, some narrower, some move (pan/tilt/zoom) and some automatically point to the current speaker.
Audio (for conferencing)
This is the most complex (and usually poorly-executed) aspect of any conference room. Sound on a conference call needs to blend people in the room with those calling in, and anyone attending via web portal… It also needs real-time echo cancellation. For entry-level USB solutions, we like RevoLabs. For higher-end solutions, Extron and Polycom both pull this balancing act off beautifully.
For mic placement, we prefer ceiling mics hung every six to eight feet, and at a height low enough to capture great detail yet high enough to be out of the way. Some mics have multiple mic elements inside them, and will focus in real time on the mic closest to the speaker, while muting the other mics in the room.
Any room with more than two sources, and any room that needs to divide into two separate spaces needs a control system that manages these changes. Our preference is Savant for its reliability and intuitive interface.
Lighting needs to be tied into the system, allowing enough light to keep people awake and engaged, but not so much that it interferes with image quality (this is particularly challenging with projectors.) Shading also needs to be tied in, both to ensure privacy and to prevent direct sunlight from hitting anyone.
Outlook can handle room scheduling but does not work well for on-the-fly meetings. We prefer a small touchscreen mounted outside of each conference room, with a green light or red light to show availability status. Scheduling system will let you easily send out invites from your phone, grab a room on the fly, and even report on who frequently books without actually using the room.
When we sat down with lighting expert Gary Gordon, he pointed out 3 common issues in homes and offices:
1. The wrong quantity of light.
2. The space is over-fixtured.
3. There is too much glare.
Here are some important concepts to be aware of before designing your next space:
Watts vs Lumens
Watts measure power consumption. Lumens measure brightness.
After phasing out power-hungry incandescent bulbs, the two popular choices are compact fluorescent (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED.) LEDs can put out more lumens using fewer watts. They also last longer and emit less heat.
The warmness or coolness of white light, measured in Kelvin.
Warm Light: Anything below 3,500K begins to have a yellowish appearance. This has a calming effect, likely due to our evolutionary attraction to fire.
Cool light: Anything above 3,500K begins to have a bluish appearance. Great for focus but terrible for rest, as it controls your circadian clock by reducing melatonin.
CFLs used to provide a warmer, more natural temperature than LED. This is no longer the case as LEDs can be tuned to simulate CFLs, and even adjust throughout the day for a natural feel at all times.
Illuminance vs Luminance
Illuminance measures how much light falls onto a surface. Luminance measures how brightly that light reflects off of the surface.
Lighting designers measure lumens per square foot (often referred to as lux or foot-candles) to determine ideal brightness around a room. Ideal illuminance is determined by a space’s purpose, while attention to luminance can help avoid glare and its debilitating effects.
How accurately a light reveals the various colors around the room. Comparing how colors are perceived when illuminated by your light source versus a natural light source like the sun, accuracy is rated on a scale of 1 – 100. This is called the Color Rendering Index (CRI.)
Both fluorescent and LED bulbs vary in CRI from low 60s to high 90s. Lights closer to 60 can appear different from each other even out of the same box. We recommend using lights with a CRI above 90.
Our Visit to Ketra
With dozens of patents and a remarkable approach to LED lighting, we wanted to check out Ketra as soon as possible to see what all the hype was about. Watch the video to see our experience.
Traditional: A phone system that physically hangs on your wall and routes calls to your desk (usually over traditional copper wires.)
Hosted: A system hosted online that routes calls to your desk over your internet connection. (Also referred to as HPBX or VoIP.)
Benefits: Owning the system means lower monthly cost, and many basic features perform with rock-solid simplicity.
Challenges: Higher upfront cost and user count is limited by your hardware. Expertise is needed to manage moves, adds, changes, security and troubleshooting. Also, telephone lines add monthly expense (exception below.)
Conclusion: Ideal for businesses that need a lot of handsets, but not a lot of concurrent phone calls.
Benefits: Lower initial investment and user count can grow and shrink fluidly. Running over the Internet simplifies your office network and lets you travel with your phone. Also, central administration (password resets, call forwarding) is easier.
Challenges: If you don’t segment your network, heavy Internet usage will impact call quality. Also, as your phone’s software evolves some features need to be re-learned.
Conclusion: Ideal for businesses that want to avoid hardware obsolescence, need a low entry cost, and need to remain flexible in both headcount and user location.
Hybrid systems allow a combination of handsets (some compatible with traditional systems and some compatible with hosted systems), usually via a locally-mounted phone system with added modules to allow for VoIP functionality. This is ideal for businesses that already own traditional handsets and want to modernize their system at the lowest cost possible.
While it would seem traditional systems cost more up front while hosted systems carry a higher monthly expense, there are two elements that complicate this:
Hosted systems offer monthly savings in that they can piggyback on the same Internet connection your computers use. (However now traditional systems with SIP trunking have this same capability.)
While owning your system usually shows savings after five years, they also require active support contracts unless you have an in-house expert.
Phone systems and service are offered in two tiers:
Consumer: A homogenized, often drop-shipped solution that works adequately for certain small businesses. (think Vonage)
Business: A combination of hardware and service designed to perform with your specific network, at the highest call quality available.
Benefits: Lowest cost. Impressive control over system and user settings.
Challenges: Lacks support when issues arise around customer’s unique circumstances.
Conclusion: Great for small businesses with tolerance for call quality and system reliability issues.
Benefits: Improved voice clarity via bandwidth customization, a backup plan in the event of an outage, and depending on the provider vastly improved tech support.
Challenges: Providers need to be vetted as not all deliver more than DIY quality.
Conclusion: Ideal for businesses that need reliable HD call quality without paying for superfluous bandwidth.
How to Choose
In 2018 most people are opting for hosted for its ease of management and future-proofed foundation. Unless complete ownership of your system is required we recommend hosted.
There are many players in the hosted field, and almost all offer the same array of features in both unlimited and limited calling tiers. When comparing providers:
Make sure they are focused not just on your phone system, but on how it harmonizes with your specific network.
Get client references both general performance and for emergency support.
Ask about backup plans. If city construction knocks out your service, what will they put in place to keep you connected?
Email is everywhere and therefore a necessity, but for internal communications we highly recommend Slack for its:
Organization – Trades the single inbox for a clean menu of topic-based channels and one-on-one conversations.
Search – A copy of Outlook or the local index it searches can be impacted by other factors on your desktop. Slack keeps everything online and gives faster and more accurate search results.
App Integration – Slack offers better integration with countless Apps for file sharing, to-do lists, video calling, etc. (Outlook has a ‘safe mode’ for a reason: Its plugins can break it.)
Mobile Experience – Slack’s organizational structure makes for a far cleaner experience on mobile than almost every email client.
Note: SLAM Sidebar lets you embed Slack within your Outlook Inbox.
Unlike One Drive which feels like a little bonus from Microsoft, Dropbox specializes exclusively in file sharing. Beyond its idiot-proof simplicity, its latest feature lets you browse through everything on your account from your desktop without taking up any hard drive space. The files only save locally once you open them.
For one-on-one calls Slack and Skype are great within users of the same platform. Hosting a larger meeting and don’t want anyone to have to create an account? Zoom is hands-down the easiest to use.
Windows and Mac come with remote desktop connection built-in (your firewall still needs to allow it.) We also find AnyDesk to be an incredibly easy and reliable solution for the technically challenged.
AutoMate can report on memory & hard drive usage, anti-virus & warranty status, programs installed… On every computer in the office. You can also batch schedule tasks like software installations to happen overnight.
1Password and LastPass are both big time savers if you’re juggling too many passwords. Both save you time logging in, let you share groups of accounts with coworkers, and provide alerts when a website you frequent has experienced a data breach.
We like Evernote for its cleanliness across devices, as well as its browser plugin for quickly pulling content into your notes.
Ghostery is a plugin available on all web browsers that prevents businesses from tracking your information. It also blocks ads from loading making many website load faster (try loading NY Times with Ghostery on and with it off.)
Ever wish you could get your information from one channel into another automatically? Odds are with IFTTT you can. Get your Echo’s to-do items synced to your iPhone’s reminders, or get your weather forecast delivered as a text message.
Smart phone alerts distracting you from your work? Stay focused with Pushbullet, which displays these alerts on your desktop, and more importantly lets you respond to them from the same keyboard you’re working on.
By dragging and dropping a file onto the CloudConvert homepage you can select the type of file you want to convert it to then and there. The result is downloadable moments later.
Working late? F.lux is a must for reducing eye strain. It tints the color temperature of your monitor based on time of day. Turn it on at night and feel the difference immediately.
Noisli lets you drown out the office chatter with your own custom combination of nature sounds and white noise.
The standard for data, every new version gets better at transmitting more of it with less interference. Manufacturers must abide by these standards so that everything works together.
Cat5e: The standard of the early 2000s, and the current cheapest way to get up to 1 Gbps of bandwidth (less after 55 meters.)
Cat6: 10x faster at 10 Gbps, but dwindles after only 37 meters.
Cat6a: Extends that 10 Gbps to a reliable 100 meters.
Cat7: 10x faster again at 100 Gbps, but bandwidth drops off after 15 meters and it has one glaring flaw: There is still no industry standard for it. Manufacturers aren’t using Cat7 and another standard might come along before they adopt.
Category cables are backward compatible and use the lowest common denominator of the devices they connect. Speed is limited by the weakest component in your system.
The future of data uses pulses of light instead of waves. Benefits over category cable include immunity to electromagnetic interference, improved security, and the ability to travel much longer distances.
Downsides include price and its inability to carry power (category cable can run power along with data to minimize clutter around many of your devices.)
While fiber is the best choice for future proofing, it’s also the best for 4K video over 100 feet. Anything shy of fiber will compress the color sampling to a noticeable degree.
The current standard for carrying video, audio and basic control short distances across a single wire. It’s not reliable beyond 15 feet (you can find 50 feet high end options with varying levels of reliability), which is why we find it in home theater setups where all components are right next to the TV.
A work-around here is to use a balun or network extender, which converts the HDMI signal to a category cable which you run at a longer distance. Then you convert it back to HDMI at the other end.
Coaxial (RG6 / RCA)
Mostly found between your wall and the cable box, RG6 connections are problematic but exist because your cable company needs to encrypt the content they deliver for copyright protection.
RG6 is not relevant for TV connections anymore unless you want to use the built-in over air antenna, but we still use RG6 for extending digital audio connections (S/PDIF) and sending line level analog audio to devices like subwoofers and powered speakers.
RCA cables are also technically coaxial cables, and still the standard for unbalanced analog audio sources, like turntables.
Optical / TOSLINK
TOSLINK is a specific type of fiber cable for audio only. Most songs are delivered digitally yet amplifiers are inherently analog, so the signal has to get converted somewhere. Unfortunately most devices do not convert it well. To keep your signal digital until it reaches a digital audio converter (usually called DAC for short) that knows what it’s doing, optical is a smart interconnect.
The connections between amp and speakers, their effect on sound has been the subject of great debate. We do know that thicker gauge cable will move power better over longer distances (we avoid going over 150 feet in general.) We also know that you need to have high quality components for the speaker cable to have any audible impact at all.
We use 14/4 speaker cable as a standard for all in-wall and in-ceiling speaker runs. 14 stands for the gauge and 4 is the amount of conductors.
Lighting & Shading
These systems require proprietary cables that run two conductors for power, as well as two conductors for communication. Explore more about Lighting & Shading, or get in touch with us with questions.
This month we’re thrilled to announce the addition of Michael Dye to our team as our new Architect Specialist. Michael has racked up over a decade of experience with Magnolia as a Project Manager, System Designer and Consultation Agent for end users and trade professionals.
Our Architect Specialist role demands a tricky combination of technical prowess and relationship management; A resource who can add real tangible value to the Architects and Designers we interface with on our projects. After meeting Michael it was clear that his passion for the industry, sharpness and absence of ego made him a fit for our culture. However it was his mock AIA Presentation that affirmed Architect Specialist as the ideal role in which to apply his talents.
Michael is well-versed and formally trained in many of our key brand partners (Lutron, McIntosh Labs, Bowers & Wilkins, Control4.) More importantly, he shares Cloud9’s philosophy on technology: Excitement over it’s potential, balanced with a healthy dose of practicality; A bridge between the bleeding edge and everyday life.
Also, we can nerd out with him on speakers and control interfaces. He’ll fit right in.