Building renovation leaves long, deep conference room with ClearOne beamforming mic providing sound solution

On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles completes his conversation with Phil Earnest of Collins Communications about the complete conference room installed for TriOak Foods in Oakville, Iowa. Phil discusses the setup of the Clearone CONVERGE Pro 880TA and the Clearone Beamforming microphone array so that they avoid picking up noise from the projector fan. He also covers mounting of the camera, speakers, setting up the system control and installation of the Smartboards.

Links of Interest:

· SnapAV Wattbox

· Lutron Caseta lighting control

· Clearone CONVERGE USB

· Vivitek DU7095Z laser projector

This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor with Phil Earnest of Collins Communications. We’ve got the show notes and product links for all of the podcasts at svconline.com. Go to Podcasts at the top of the page.

How do you equip an odd-shaped conference room and make it easy to operate? Phil Earnest with Collins Communications had that job and with help from some ClearOne conferencing gear it was done to perfection. He’s back this week to finish up on how that tech solution was all crafted. Up next on the SVC Podcast.

Phil, good to have you back with us this week from Collins Communications in Macomb, Illinois. The project we were discussing last week was a corporate conference room for TriOak Foods in Oakville, Iowa. We covered the basics on how you got it laid out and avoided glare on the displays. That was part of a bigger renovation and I’m wondering what sort of pressure you may have been under depending on what else was going on in this warehouse conversion. That included offices and a lobby. Did that put any timeline pressure on you for this conference room?

They’re over-budget so as usual, yeah, I was brought in, the room was already laid out on a blueprint the way they had it all set up. As I mentioned before, we had a few obstacles to work over, but the end result turned out very well. [Timestamp: 1:29]

The TriOak conference room under initial construction

The TriOak conference room under initial construction

Yes and I noticed that there are a lot of different potential video sources you can have coming in there on different displays. They have a projector in there and a beamforming mic mounted on the ceiling fairly close to the projector. Did you have to do anything special to keep the ClearOne beamforming mic from getting fan noise from that projector?

No. I’m using Vivitek, it’s a DU7095 laser projector. That’s quite a large projector, more or less a large venue-type projector. And normally we would not have used a projector of that magnitude, but the problem we had, and I had mentioned this to them in the beginning, was when you have the SMART Boards to the left and right of the projector screen, those SMART Boards are just going to appear so much brighter than what the projector is. So we needed to make sure we had enough projector to come as close to balancing out the difference in the images that we could. So we went with a little larger projector than normally would be used in a conference room situation, but that was the main reason. There’s no windows in this room, so we have complete control over the lighting in there and the higher lumen projector really did help with that. We used a zoom lens, a special lens, a wide zoom lens on there so I’m actually able to get that projector about 10 feet away from a 150-inch screen and that really does help with the lighting. [Timestamp: 2:57]

That would allow the projector to compete with the SMART Boards as far as image intensity. That’s how you get video into the room and the ClearOne UNITE 200 PTZ camera is the primary way you get video out. That’s a great little camera with a very nice optical zoom on it.

It is. And with the length of the room, we needed a camera that was going to be able to cover all that territory. Normally I’d put a camera at the very front of the room where the screen is to be able to see the whole room. But in this case I opted to put the camera about a quarter of the way down the long wall, further away from the screen, for a couple of reasons. Number one, I was able to get the head table closer, but the main reason was if someone is up front and marking on a whiteboard or the SMART Board, I’m able now to turn that camera and point towards the front of the room so we can capture that. Or if we had somebody speaking with a microphone, we could turn that camera and still get the front of the room and the person speaking. So with that camera we can cover the whole room now. [Timestamp: 4:06]

The Vivitek projector and ClearOne beamforming mic

The Vivitek projector and ClearOne beamforming mic

Instead of wide and shallow the room is narrow and deep and that 12 power optical zoom can really get detail and then zoom out to I think it’s a 73-degree wide shot.

And the camera will go directly to that image. It’s already focused. And then they have control over that with up/down/left/right/zoom and focus on top of that if they need to make any further adjustments with the camera. [Timestamp: 4:29]

And one of the big challenges in any conference room where you’ve got people coming in from their offices to use it is the clutter they may generate with power and video cables. What did you do to maintain a mostly clutter-free environment in there?

With the Altinex boxes for the tables, that really eliminated the power issue. Now this table was custom made for this room and it is actually bolted to the floor. So we weren’t going to be able to move this thing once it got in there. We were fortunate enough because it was a brand new construction to have some piping run underneath the table and we actually have our pipe coming up one of the table legs so you can’t see any of the piping, can’t see any of the cabling or anything. So all the cabling is underneath the table. The switch is underneath the table. There’s a power strip under the table for the power outlets and all that is concealed under the table out of the way. The only cables that would need on the table is somebody plugged in a laptop to the power outlets in the Altinex boxes. A data cable, at the head of the table we have HDMI input that somebody can plug into. One of the other ways that I kept it clean is I used the NovaPro system. The NovaPro system is basically you have four little pucks, it looks like. It looks like a square hockey puck with a USB cable where you can plug it directly into a laptop and it wirelessly connects to the video system. And you can share this screen with up to four different computers. You can have one image there or can have up to four images on the same screen with people sharing the image from the NovaPro system. [Timestamp: 6:06]

Probably the main thing that decides how much the conference room actually gets used is how useable it is. It’s got to be both versatile and simple to operate so how does the ClearOne table top controller work to do this?

LaunchPort control panel

LaunchPort control panel

I could have controlled the phone dialer. The tabletop controller is merely the phone portion of the conference system. It looks like a phone without a handset on it. You have the dial pad, you have some speed dial, you have a volume. The hook switch is right there on the tabletop controller. This could have been controlled through RS232 on the URC system, however I knew what I was up against. A lot of these people are coming from a conference room that was not technical at all and if somebody wanted to simply come in and do a conference call without turning anything else on, they wanted it to be very basic. So I opted to go with the tabletop controller so someone can come in and do a conference call really as simple as dialing a phone without having to grab the iPad off the wall and turn everything on. You just hit the hook button on there, you hear your dial tone, you dial it and away you go. [Timestamp: 7:12]

And you mentioned last week that audio clarity was a very central thing they wanted from this system. I think I saw that you have eight ceiling speakers in pairs and the CONVERGE Pro 880TA controls all of those.

Yes. The ClearOne system I would absolutely use again. The beamforming microphones that connect in the system and the 880TA – ClearOne has different versions of the controller. I just decided to use the 880TA because of the amplifiers in there. My alternative would have had to have been add a separate amplifier on it. And then of course you have more equipment and everything, more wiring connections to do, and when you do that you just have options of – possibilities of more things happening. The good thing about this is with the echo cancellation, everything about this being programmable with these microphones, it takes a reading of the ambient noise in the room. I know we started on that last week about the ambient noise and the projector noise and things like that, but it takes a reading of the ambient noise in there and it knows to tune that out. So when you do have the voices, the people speaking, that’s really what you’re picking up in there. And that’s really what sold them on this is you could be out in the field and you can still have a good quality system. Now this room is 30-foot long, about 18-foot wide. I have two of the beamforming microphones in there and you can walk all the way around the table and not know that anyone is moving. Now this ceiling is 12-foot high in there. I have these microphones centered down the middle of the room at 11 feet, so the distance from the voice to the microphones are anywhere – it depends on where you’re sitting – 13-14 feet up to 16-17 feet depending on where you’re sitting. And to be able to walk all the way around that room without getting any idea that anybody is moving is pretty impressive. [Timestamp: 9:13]

Audio clarity and a clutter-free environment would sure be two things to work for on this. I like the SnapAV Wattbox that you put in in the beginning. Those are sure nice. So when you get it ready to go and brought the clients in how did it go when you unleashed them on this?

Conference Room Operator Position

Conference Room Operator Position

[Laughs] Well, it was different. Again, they’re coming from a system that their video switching was unplugging the VGA from their laptop and handing it to the next guy to plug into their laptop with the projector on the table. They had multiple remote controls to control everything in the room, and that’s just the way they’d operated for years. So jumping them into the technology world that we did, and as easy as it sounds by taking your iPad and hitting “Main Computer Input” and everything turning on and switching sounds relatively easy. But it was quite a battle to get them to take time to learn the system and trust the system just because I think it was more the mental idea of the technology that they were maybe a little afraid of. [Timestamp: 10:21]

Yeah, some intimidation always going on when they’re hesitant to risk going in there and look stupid in front of the big guys.

Rack with ClearOne gear and SnapAV Wattbox

Rack with ClearOne gear and SnapAV Wattbox

And I think that’s a lot of it. And some of the guys are somewhat technical, but this is a new world for them and I had to work with them a few times and basically train them a little bit – here’s how you do this – and go back as they started playing with it and answer more questions and get them to the point where they at least felt comfortable with the basics of it. And the system is really capable of a lot more than what we have. I mean, we can actually have different images on both SMART Boards, but we’re just trying to ease in there. Both SMART Boards are in tandem when an image is showing up there. So we’re just trying to ease them into some of that. We don’t want to scare them all the way away. [Timestamp: 11:09]

Well, you trained them on it and they won’t have to turn right around and learn something else now because this system should last. Sounds like a very solid solution to a little bit of a curveball thrown at you in the shape of the room. It’s been good hearing about it. It’s Phil Earnest with Collins Communications in Macomb, Illinois and the new ClearOne equipped conference room for TriOak Foods. Thanks for giving us the story, Phil.

I appreciate you having me.

Clutter free conferencing and clear sound in a bit of a weird-shaped room. It took a little testing and a touch of creativity but the job got done. Get back with us next week for another AV installation project on the SVC Podcast.

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