FAQs: Planning audio-visual systems for your office space

When you’re planning to build, renovate, or relocate office space, it can be hard to visualize the audio-visual technology needed for your new environment, especially for conference and training rooms.

There are a ton of options and tools on the market today, but they aren’t all created equal for your company’s needs or budget. Use these frequently asked questions to start planning the best AV applications for your space.

1. What’s your advice for planning AV systems for new construction?

New construction means you get to work from a clean slate. We help customers look at the longer-term picture, and maybe daydream a little bit about how they would like to use their space. Our guidance is not just about "What are you going to do day one?" but "What's coming down the road?"

Whatever AV solution is chosen, it’s critical (and most cost-effective) to ensure the necessary power, pathways, and blocking are in place to be able to support technology on day one—whether or not you’re ready to install it.

For example, we recommend installing recessed boxes for TV mounting to make the screen hang flush to the wall and to house and hide extra AV components, either behind the TV itself or in a convenient place so we can access it to make changes or add equipment later. Maybe you don't have the budget to buy the TV for that box today, so you hang a picture over it instead. But when you're ready in six months or a year to install the TV or digital signage or other AV tool, you already have a cost-effective pathway.

Collaborative training room in the new headquarters of Scientific Expert Analysis

Collaborative training room in the new headquarters of Scientific Expert Analysis

2.   What’s your advice for planning AV as part of an office renovation?

Planning AV as part of an office refresh is really about understanding how people already use the space and what is needed to make it even better. We ask customers to dream a little bit. What do they want to change? What could be done to collaboration spaces, for example, to make people want to use them more? We develop potential solutions for these spaces, often suggesting ways to get a bigger bang for the buck out of investments by recommending multiple uses for flat-screen displays or web or video systems.

An office renovation also means we get the chance to tidy up the structured cabling needed to connect AV systems. Whenever possible, we coordinate with the general contractor, electrical contractor, and furniture vendors to get conduits and pathways aligned in the slab. This coordination, particularly in collaborative spaces and meeting rooms, ensures a nice finished look. There's nothing worse than putting the conference table in after construction is complete and the conduit doesn't line up, forcing the cables to spill over the floor again.


HELPFUL RESOURCES

  • TechTalk: Listen to this 30-minute podcast about AV Trends to Show, Share, and Stream Information.
  • AV Lab: Visit the AV Lab to experiment with collaborative audio-visual solutions. Part classroom, part showroom, the AV Lab is a place to try out new tools and concoct the perfect solution for your space.
  • On-site consultation: Schedule time with an AV expert at your location to create a plan for the audio-visual solution that meets your needs and budget.

3.   How do I know what size flat screen or TV I should get? And what brand should I buy?

Let's start with the easy part--brand. Generally speaking, purchase a name brand that's been around for a while, like Sony, Samsung, LG, NEC, or Sharp. That said, these days most TVs are of a decent quality. Be sure to get a short-term warranty to back up your purchase.

Look at your overall investment. TVs generally aren't made to last more than 3 or 4 years at the most. If you're expecting a TV to last 5-10 years, you’ll need to buy a higher-quality model upfront. Be clear about how the TV will be used. Typically, a commercial-grade TV will cost two-and-a-half to three times the cost of consumer grade. But if you plan to run it 24x7 for digital signage, you’ll need the durability and endurance of the higher-grade equipment. If the TV is turned on just during the day or is used occasionally, then a consumer-grade TV should work fine. Consider purchasing a “pro-sumer” TV. Some manufacturers are now creating TVs that are in the middle—a consumer-grade TV with a beefed up power supply that's designed to last longer.

Choosing the right size screen is a little more complex, but the 4-6-8 rule of thumb may help. That rule says that 4, 6, or 8 times the height of the TV display is the maximum distance away from the screen you can sit and view images.

Of course, you have to consider function when choosing the optimal screen size. Are you displaying pie charts or trying to share Excel spreadsheets? You’ll need a larger screen to see finer details. For large meeting spaces, it may be more cost-effective to choose a video projection system instead of a TV screen; currently, prices for screens larger than 75” rise exponentially.

4.   What are the pros and cons for customers who want to buy their own TV screens for conference room AV systems?

Quite honestly, when it comes to TVs, you can typically buy a consumer-grade TV for about the same or sometimes better price than we can—there’s not much margin in TV prices. So we typically leave decisions about procurement up to the client.

If we provide the TV and it is dead on arrival or fails after 30 days, we'll work with the manufacturer and do whatever we have to do to make it right. If the client provides the TV, then they're going to be responsible to handle any warranty issue past the initial installation. They may also have to pay us or someone else to come back and swap the TV out, ship it to the manufacturer for repairs, and then reinstall it.

We encourage clients who use a large quantity of TVs to buy an extra screen. Every year or two, manufacturers change the make and the model of the TV. So, if they like the TV that they got, if they buy a spare they can swap it out when a screen has to be sent off for warranty repair and not lose functionality in their space.

5.   What’s your advice for improving video and audio quality for video conferencing, especially over a LAN?

Audio quality has always been an issue for audio conferencing, especially with multiple people in the room, and particularly in a larger room. You often have multiple people trying to participate—some calling in remotely, potentially on a land line, and maybe by cellphone. There is software and equipment that can be used to take all of that audio content and mix it together to improve the audio quality—but it can be fairly pricey.

Understanding how many people need to be involved is always critical. With two or three people on a call, you can huddle around a speaker phone or a star phone in conferences spaces. But with more people in larger spaces, you may need microphones hanging from the ceiling or wireless table microphones to ensure high-quality audio.

For video, solutions must be tailored to the expectation of the users in the meeting as well as to your budget. Video conferencing solutions are trending away from very high-end, dedicated spaces with multiple cameras to simple web conferencing that can be accomplished in front of your computer or with the built-in camera in a laptop or phone.

Physical elements that affect audio and video conferencing include lighting (even today’s sharper cameras can’t fully overcome low light) and solid walls and floors (plaster walls and carpeted floors reduce echo).

Flexible training room space at Columbus Medical Association and Affiliates

Flexible training room space at Columbus Medical Association and Affiliates

6.   Is it worth trying to reuse legacy AV equipment?

The first question we ask about legacy equipment is, "Are you still using it?" You might have that favorite VHS player that's sitting there, and you might have the training tapes that go with it. But when was the last time the VHS was played in that player?

On a recent project, our client bought their own new TVs and had a few legacy TVs that they were pulling out of existing conference rooms to move into their new space. We discussed pros and cons, and decided it made sense to keep the legacy TVs because they were only a couple years old, still in good shape, and hadn't been used a lot. We put them in their fitness center, and they were great for that application. All the new TVs went into the higher-end meeting rooms, collaboration conference rooms, and training rooms.

7.   What’s the most-important consideration in setting a budget for conference space AV systems?

We look at most situations as having a good, better, and best solution. You can outfit a conference room for $1,500 and have a fairly functional system. You can spend ten times that. It really comes down to how simple you're making the AV control system. Do you push one magic button and everything happens? Or do you have to push a couple different buttons to make things happen? This decision—we call it the “wow factor”—dramatically impacts the budget.
 
Creating this wow factor to meet a very specific requirement can push the budget beyond expectations. For typical conference room applications, most customers ask us, "What's the least I can spend to get the effect that I want?" Before putting together a proposal, we listen to the client’s wish list. From there, we can value engineer a system if needed to meet their needs and budget.

8.   What trends do you see with digital displays?

We're seeing digital signage or digital displays being used for lots of purposes—like wayfinding, simple self-select menus, welcome signs, dynamic scheduling, streaming content, live data integration, mass notifications for life safety, and advertisements. In some cases, the digital signage is presented on a dedicated screen, though it may give you more flexibility and return on investment to use TV screens for both collaboration and display purposes.

The great news is the cost for this technology, including system updates, has come down dramatically. There are a lot of affordable tools that allow you to create, publish, and update information easily for digital displays.

Digital displays in the service area at the new Dan Tobin Chevrolet dealership (photos courtesy of Renier Construction)

Digital displays in the service area at the new Dan Tobin Chevrolet dealership (photos courtesy of Renier Construction)

 

Questions about audio-visual solutions?

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