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Tech Roundup: Conferencing Systems 2024

Conferencing and collaboration hardware and applications, already in acceleration before the pandemic, have been propelled into an orbit of their own. This has served as dramatic market proof that necessity is the mother of invention. In this arena, the keys to success are bulletproof functionality and ease of use for non-techie operators. The ultimate goal is for content to take center stage while the system and its components work transparently behind the scenes.

Last month Extron entered the UCC space with the Extron UCS 303, a powerful collaboration and presentation switcher designed to meet the unique needs of UC meeting spaces. Three inputs support connection of USB, HDMI, and DisplayPort sources, while five USB device ports connect to peripherals such as USB cameras and microphones. The USB-C input provides video/audio, USB, and 60W of power to charge a user’s laptop computer. With the UCS 303, meeting spaces can integrate a room’s USB cameras and microphones with users’ portable laptops into Teams or Zoom meetings. It also supports TeamWork Show Me cables and retractors.

Content sharing and collaboration are intuitive with the new Biamp Systems Modena MAX Connect as it allows participants to use their own devices while extending its compatibility to Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Biamp is positioning it as a BYOM (Bring Your Own Meeting) solution. Content sources can include as many as five presenters and the built-in whiteboard. Any USB or HDMI room peripheral device can be wirelessly controlled and during a UC call participants can replace the room camera view with their device camera. Additionally, in December the Biamp Parlé family of conferencing bars earned Microsoft Teams Room Certification.

In December, the MAXHUB UC-S07 debuted. It’s an all-in-one video soundbar with an Ultra HD camera for full HD video up to 30fps. With the camera’s 120-degree field of view and Auto Frame feature with intelligent face detection, the system ensures all meeting participants are included. Speaker tracking is voice-triggered to automatically track whoever is currently speaking. Playback is via an 8-watt loudspeaker and a 3-watt low-frequency transducer, with a signal-to-noise ratio of greater than 75dB and a frequency range that extends from 150 Hz to 18kHz.

From small gatherings to large formal conferences, the AKG CS3 Conference System can scale up to 60 mic stations with one CS3 conference base unit. This can connect to feed an external PA system and take a signal from a playback source. Each mic station can use either a CS321 cardioid condenser capsule on a 12-inch. gooseneck or the CS521 with a 20in. long gooseneck. The system is capable of stand-alone or computer-controlled operation and four different operational modes are available. These determine how many mics can be used and how the auto-mixing is done.

Something as seemingly simple as a speakerphone audio conference can go awry if the device has the wrong placement, irrelevant features or it is used in an environment with high background noise. The AnkerWork PowerConf S3 uses a customized DSP algorithm and six-microphone array to get around such problems. Its built-in 6,700mAh battery allows the unit to be placed anywhere without stringing wires across the table and it enables this model to operate for up to 24 hours between battery charges. For setup, the device can be connected to a phone via Bluetooth or computer with the USB-C cable.

At the other end of the event size spectrum, the Audio-Technica ATUC-50 and ATUC-IR digital discussion systems can operate exclusively or in combination to outfit large conferences. Each ATUC-50CU can run up to 100 wired discussion units, integration units, and interpretation units while the ATUC-IRCU infrared control unit can do this on a similar scale for a mix of wired and IR stations. 24-bit/48kHz uncompressed digital audio assures top-quality voice reproduction and to enable high volume levels. The system features 12-band feedback suppression. Operators can use AudioTechnica’s Web Remote interface or third-party control systems.

On conference room tables it is often a challenge to avoid clutter while including all the devices needed, but with the beyerdynamic Space Max wireless Bluetooth speakerphone cable device clutter is gone. This model works with Microsoft Teams and Zoom to provide voice clarity for all participants 360 degrees around it. With automatic volume adjustment, problems such as reverb, echoes and feedback are suppressed. Connection of end devices is facilitated through Bluetooth, USB, or USB WL adapter. The Space Max is rated IP64 in protection against dust and splash damage. Firmware updates are accomplished via Update Hub for Windows or MAC.

Automatic Coverage technology lets the Shure MXA920 ceiling array microphone cover a 30x30ft. seating area and capture sound from participants in as many as eight adjustable areas. Alternatively, Steerable Coverage technology can be switched on to place eight pickup lobes, each with a separate audio output. Built-in Intellimix DSP adds automatic mixing, echo cancellation, noise reduction, and automatic gain control.

The Boom Collaboration Uno is an ingenious all-in-one solution for conferencing from home, office huddle rooms, or small meeting centers. This plug-and-play device features 256ms echo cancellation and dynamic noise reduction with full duplex HD audio picked up through dual 360-degree omnidirectional microphones. These provide an input audio frequency response of 100Hz to 8000Hz while the speaker output response is 300Hz to 22KHz. On the video side, its full HD 1080p camera has a 120-degree field of view, auto-focus, a high-quality CMOS sensor, and USB 2.0 output. The unit’s height of 9.25in. puts it above any tabletop visual obstructions.

On large multilingual meetings and conferences, things can get confusing fast, but the Bosch Security Systems Integrus Wireless Language Distribution System sorts it all out in real-time with simultaneous interpretation transmitted to pocket receivers and headphones. The system is secure through built-in OMNEO IP architecture and it can be expanded from four channels on the basic system to 32 separate language channels. This wireless distribution allows all participants to retain complete mobility while listening. The Integrus OMNEO transmitter can seamlessly interconnect with the fully IP-based DICENTIS Conference devices. A choice of headphones and charging units is available.

A simple yet versatile addition to create a first-class conference room is the Bose Videobar VB-S, which can immediately go into service with multiple mounting options and USB plug-and-play. Videobar Configuration (VBC) is used for configuration setup and Videobar Administration (VBA) is used for remote management. Sound is picked up through four beam-forming mics and a 4K ultra-HD camera shows detail with its 5x digital zoom. For a professional appearance, there is a cable management cover to neatly conceal cable clutter. Any participant in the room can control the Videobar VB-S with their smartphone by using the Videobar Mobile app.

Getting high-quality conference sound is frequently more challenging than video and the Audio-Technica ATND1061 Beamforming Ceiling Array Microphone gets that task under control. If the conference facility is enlarged, multiple units can be combined for wider coverage with the same sound quality. Resembling a wireless access point, the mic array blends easily with the room. The Digital Microphone Manager software application is used to configure the unit’s six output channels and 32 pickup zones.

The ClearOne COLLABORATE Versa Pro 60 includes the One CONVERGE Huddle audio DSP mixer, the One Ceiling Microphone Array with a 360-degree pickup pattern, and the One UNITE 60 4K Camera with Smart Face Tracking or Voice Tracking. A CONVERGE Huddle VESA mount is also available as an option. Individuals and groups can appear with clear focus through AI camera or voice tracking. Configuration is done either directly through the USB port or via the network Ethernet jack. User monitoring and control are done via CONVERGENCE unified AV network management software.

For videoconference and meeting facilities, and team members working or podcasting from home, there is the Clockaudio CUB-33 USB Tabletop Microphone. Included on this unit are the C3 series Gooseneck microphone and a capacitive touch screen with an integrated VU meter. The accompanying mute button can be configured as push-to-mute or latch and this model is “mutesync’’ compatible with the Zoom meeting app.

Among the best all-in-one conference and meeting room setup solutions is the Epos EXPAND Vision 3T consisting primarily of the EXPAND Vision 3T Core video bar, EXPAND 3OT speakerphone, and the IR remote. The wide-angle 4K camera with Sony sensor features intelligent picture framing and voice tracking. If the speakerphone is already installed the Vision 3T Core video bar can be purchased separately and added. No need to remember software updates because they’re automatic and UC apps such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom run natively on the device.

Capable of functioning as a complete audioconferencing system in itself while it sits on a table, the Hall Technologies HT-Satellite-BT is a USB and wireless Bluetooth speakerphone. Voices are picked up by its 360-degree fourmicrophone array and are processed through built-in echo cancellation, active background noise reduction, and speech enhancement. This device works with Windows, Mac, and Android operating systems and it is compatible with Zoom, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams unified communication systems. Control function symbols are displayed around the top ring within easy sight and reach. The HT-Satellite-BT can run for up to ten hours on one battery charge.

The Captivate AT-CAP-SP100 speakerphone is designed for use with popular video conferencing platforms. USB, Bluetooth, and analog audio connectivity provides compatibility with computers, laptops, and mobile devices utilizing six microphones, a 16’ pickup radius, and sophisticated DSP optimized for voice intelligibility. It also integrates as part of the complete Captivate system with the AT-CAP-FC110 4K ePTZ auto-framing camera.

Good sound is the most essential element in conferencing and the Jabra Speak2 75 speakerphone uses its digital signal processing algorithms and voice level normalization technology to get a smooth voice pickup from all conference participants. The unit’s 360-degree light ring provides visual confirmation that sound is optimized for the distance to users. It is certifiedcompatible for all leading conferencing platforms. Its formidable chipset enables full duplex audio for much more natural conversation without audible upcuts while noise reduction reduces background distractions. The voice level normalization evens out the sound from louder and quieter participants.

The Lifesize Phone HD provides a big-system style touchscreen in a small and easily scalable device that leverages the Lifesize cloud-based audio, web, and video conferencing service. The sound pickup has 90Hz to 22kHz frequency response and the context-sensitive user interface allows just the right functions to be displayed on the small touch screen in context. Predictive actions display these most relevant user interface choices. The Lifesize Admin Console is used to customize displayed buttons, wallpaper layout, and time zones for control of both audio and video functions. For coverage of larger rooms and groups, the optional Lifesize Digital MicPod can be added to extend the mic pickup area.

With options for small or mid-sized meeting and collaboration spaces, the Sennheiser TeamConnect Bars are flexible all-in-one solutions with built-in DSP. They’re easy to set up, brand agnostic, easy to manage and control, high video quality, secure, and sustainable. The TC Bar S features four microphones and two speakers, while TC Bar M has six microphones and four speakers, with selectable Conference and Music Modes. Both easily integrate with any meeting platform and can be further enhanced with other compatible products, including those from Sennheiser. Multiple mounting options include wall mount, VESA mount, tabletop, or freestanding. The option of using Dante for adding extension mics and/or a 2nd external USB camera makes the device even more scalable.

The Shure Microflex Complete Wireless digital conference system can be set up quickly with its automated setup capability for a wide range of meeting sizes up to 125 participants. Operating in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, the system can be set up, monitored, and controlled with the access point web application. Each MXCW640 wireless conference unit can be configured as a chairman, delegate, listener, or ambient mic unit. AES-128 encryption assures security and each mic station can be fitted with a selection of gooseneck mics of different stem lengths. Each conference station runs on a Li-ion battery and ten of these can be simultaneously charged with the MXCWNCS networked charging station.

For a wired system, the Televic D-Cerno is quick and easy to set up with daisy-chained shielded CAT 5 cabling on its microphone stations. The D-Cerno CUR central unit features an integrated web server, and USB recording capability, and it can connect as many as 50 D-Cerno units. The D-Cerno F-CM chairperson unit offers additional functions such as Next-in-line and Priority buttons and it is available in flushmount and freestanding versions. The D-Cerno F-DM is a digital microphone flush-mount panel intended for basic discussion systems. A 48 VDC/180 W spare power supply with a built-in indicator light is available as the D-Cerno PS and all components can be stored and transported in the D-Cerno SL TC case.

The TOA AM-CF1 Lenubio is a complete audioconferencing solution and one to which a USB webcam can be added for videoconferencing. Featuring a two-microphone beam steering array, the device can track a presenter’s voice while Acoustic Echo Cancellation and Ambient Noise Cancellation reduce distractions at the receiving end. On the front face, LED indicators identify and track the presenter’s location in addition to showing mute status and microphone gain level. In addition to USB, connection ports include Bluetooth, codec input/output, stereo audio inputs/ outputs, and contact inputs/outputs along with a LAN port that facilitates PC control via the web. In this way, a variety of settings can be remotely adjusted.

The Yamaha CS-500 video collaboration system unifies capabilities that not long ago would have required a small production crew to handle. SoundCap Eye technology sticks with each participant while fighting background noise and echo as he or she moves around the room. 4K video output is steered with Smart Framing after a single USB port connects the groups at each end. Hexa-microphone beamforming creates a 3-dimensional sound environment and homes-in on presenters for clear voice reproduction. When the participants are not speaking, the self-silence function automatically mutes the microphone and Yamaha’s Human Voice Activity Detection (HVAD) technology helps make this work and eliminate background noise.

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