What’s in it for me? or RU sure?
Earlier this month, I attended the Almo ProAV E4 event in South San Francisco, a mix of free food, continuing education classes, a raffle, and a showcase of Almo’s manufacturers in a miniature trade show environment. It was a good crowd, balanced between local AV integrators, design consultants, regional sales managers, and national experts of the AV industry including Gary Kayye of rAVe publications.
In addition to the new gear and obvious networking potential, I also attended E4 largely because of the free CTS-D renewal units (or RUs) available for attending the 1-2 hour classes. I wasn’t the only one; a few of my Bay-area CTS and CTS-D-toting friends also mentioned how much they appreciated the free Infocomm renewal credits. (I’ve said it before: Don’t you just love free?)
For readers outside of The Land of AV: Infocomm Intenational® is a nonprofit association serving the professional AV communications industry, since 1939 A.D. (or 1 A.V.) I like to think of Infocomm as the clergy of the AV industry, teaching us the Best Practices (The Golden Rules) of AV design and integration. If 25% or more of your company’s sales and technical staff is certified as an Infocomm CTS, CTS-I, or CTS-D, your company can also call themselves an Infocomm Audio Visual Solutions Provider, or AVSP. To maintain your individual Infocomm CTS certification, you must obtain 30 RUs every 3 years, and pay them some money of course. (Hey we all gotta eat, right? Even clergy.)
Also starring The Letter C, the other major AV industry association is CEDIA. A CEDIA Membership is a company membership, and employees of those companies are considered Members. Their renewal credits are called Continuing Education Units or CEUs. Both Infocomm and CEDIA host trade shows every year, showcasing new audio, video, touchpanels, and other audiovisual products. The main difference between Infocomm and CEDIA is this: CEDIA is mostly centered around the home theater and consumer integration market, whereas Infocomm is largely focused on commercial integration and unified communication. There is plenty of overlap between the two markets, and there are other audio, video, and broadcast associations out there too.
AV geeks are not the only geeks that need these renewal units to renew their licenses. Architects and need AIA and CES renewal credits, as do Professional Engineers (the requirements vary state to state). This past week, I was invited to co-host a lunch and learn presentation at the City and County of San Francisco’s Bureau of Architecture office. About half of the 25 attendees signed up for the AIA/CES renewal credits; I guess the other half were there for the free lunch. Hopefully, they all learned something.
Hopefully, you did too.What types of continuing educations credits are you required to obtain? Does your company offer formal classes, or lunch and learns, that include AIA, CTS, CEU, or other renewal units? Please comment below, or email the author Paul Konikowski at pkav.info at gmail.com
7 Tips for Using Skype, Webex, Google Chat, or Citrix GotoMeeting
Web-based “video chat” applications were initially popular with college students looking for a cheap way to call home, or international friends trying to keep in touch. These services are beginning to become more commonplace in conference rooms, higher education, software corporations, and television broadcast studios. Skype, Google, Spirit, and Citrix are all releasing some form of multi-point video conferencing, with up to 10 participants simultaneously chatting and sharing content like spreadsheets. Skype calls it Group Video Calling, and right now, you can try it for free for 10 days. (Don’t you just love free?)
Don’t get me wrong: there is still the need for secure, reliable, robust video conference systems like Polycom, Lifesize, Cisco, and Tandberg (or Cisberg). These server-based solutions will always have their place in government, law, financial institutions, executive boardrooms, or when hundreds of employees need to attend the same video conference meeting. But many smaller companies just can’t afford to invest in a $25,000 video conference cart or $250,000 Telepresence Suite, so the option of paying a low monthly fee for multi-point video conference calls is very appealing.
Before you decide to address your next annual stockholders meeting via Skype, here’s a list of seven things to keep in mind:
- All HD cameras are not created equal – There is a reason that the typical video conference camera costs about $3000, and your USB camera costs $50, and its not just the Pan-Tilt-Zoom control. Consumer video cameras (like the one built into your laptop) were made with the cheapest components available, including the lenses. If two cameras are listed as HD 1080p resolution, it does not mean they will produce the same high quality video. To improve your camera’s video quality: sit closer, close the blinds, and turn on all the lights in the room except those directly behind you. If that doesn’t help, consider buying special video conference lighting fixtures for your computer. Please, Santa?
- Your laptop sound system is not a PA – Laptop speakers are designed for a person sitting directly in front of them. Considering spending a few bucks and bumping up your audio quality with a wired or wireless computer speaker system. If you can, hire an AV integrator to add ceiling speakers or subwoofers to your conference room, or turn your conference room table into a giant speaker. (It’s cheaper than you think.)
- Your microphone was not designed for panel discussions – Most conference rooms have long oval tables. Some conference rooms have flexible furniture with six or eight foot tables arranged in O, U, or V shaped configurations. If you are going to attempt to use Skype, Google Talk, or GotoMeeting in a larger conference room like this, you should consider a tabletop microphone system specifically designed for larger groups. These come in single units, or multiple pods that can be linked together. Some models plug directly into a phone’s headset jack, but if you are going to send the audio through the computer, be sure to get a USB enabled speakerphone. Smaller round tables can benefit from the wireless Revolabs Solo USB. It may be acceptable if a few people are not captured on video, as long as everyone can hear clearly, and be heard.
- Bandwidth is critical – Just like the more expensive video conference systems, the quality of the video on these web based video chats is largely dependent on the available bandwidth between the endpoints. If possible, use a wired connection, as they tend to be faster and more reliable than wi-fi. (There are exceptions, of course.)
- Your conference room is not an anechoic chamber. The ceiling tiles in your conference room were probably chosen based on their looks or their cost, NOT their acoustic absorption properties. Any microphone in a poor acoustic environment will pick up the bad reflections and reverberations, which makes the conversation more taxing because its tougher to understand. Next time you use a speakerphone in your conference room, ask the far end call participants to rate the audio quality on a scale of 1 to 10. If they say anything less than 9, you should seriously consider upgrading the acoustics in your conference room by adding fabric wrapped fiberglass panels and/or higher quality ceiling tiles. Also, be sure to close the windows and doors before you start any phone call or video conference, as it will greatly reduce the background noise.
- Just because it worked this week, does not mean it will work next week. You may have the best Skype video conference call on a given Friday, and then be surprised the following week when you experience poor audio and video quality. The reason is because of bandwidth limitations, network traffic (on either end), and something called Quality of Service (QoS), which is outside of the scope of this article. There are also special video conference border proxies that will help remote users traverse firewalls and make the systems more reliable.
- There are many video conference options to consider. Some businesses rent a bridge service for larger multipoint calls. Others use a concierge service to make sure the calls are setup correctly and automatically dialed. Whatever you do, be sure to test out your system thoroughly before any important calls, and always have a backup plan in case the video conference system suddenly fails. I remember one recent video conference call that suddenly ended, and the table phone would not work, so we quickly resumed the call using a Blackberry set to the “speaker phone” setting. The meeting continued just fine, until the Blackberry battery ran out. :)