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PODCAST 208-1: Uber ATG Conference Rooms Now Have Greater Usability 

San Antonio Sound & Light (SASL) installs Biamp Devio and TCM Series BeamTracking mics to make conferencing technology transparent Pt 1





On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Joey Loeffler, VP at San Antonio Sound & Light (SASL) and Garydavid Royce, Senior AV Design Engineer at Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) about a fifty conference room AV project at Uber’s Pittsburgh office. Among the technology used were Biamp Systems SCR-20 Devio conferencing hubs and TCM-1 Beamtracking Microphones. They discuss the importance of their detailed user needs assessment, uncluttered power/charging connections and providing a user friendly system across several types of conference and training spaces.

Links of Interest:

· Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG)

· San Antonio Sound and Light

· Biamp Systems Devio SCR-20 Conferencing Hub

· Biamp Systems TCM-1 Beamtracking Microphone

· Heckler Design A/V mounting hardware

· AFVI audio visual cabinetry and TV stands


This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor with Joey Loeffler of San Antonio Sound & Light and Garydavid Royce of Uber ATG. We’ve got the show notes and product links for all of the podcasts at Go to Podcasts at the top of the page.

At the Pittsburgh office of Uber ATG they had conference rooms that were under used and difficult to operate. Biamp’s conferencing systems set up the solution. Uber’s Garydavid Royce and Joey Loeffler of San Antonio Sound & Light (SASL) are here tell us how they set up over fifty conference rooms for user-friendly operation next up on the SVC Podcast.

Welcome guys. Joey Loeffler from San Antonio Sound & Light hereinafter known as SASL and Garydavid Royce, Senior AV Design Engineer at Uber and we’re talking today about what I think you refer to as the Crucible Project.

Garydavid: Mm-hmm. That’s correct.

Yeah and this was at the Uber office in Pittsburgh and Garydavid is coming to us from there today while Joey is in San Antonio so we’re kind of spread out all over the place. This was a very comprehensive conferencing project at Uber and you had to come up with a unified conferencing solution that would work in a lot of different places from small huddle rooms to much larger areas. Before we get into that, Joey tell us about SASL and what they have you doing there.

Joey: Sure. Thanks, Bennett. SASL, or San Antonio Sound & Light, we’re a commercial AV integration firm. We do nothing but commercial projects. We specialize in both corporate clients and houses of worship. For our corporate clients we do anything from audio and video conference rooms, all-hand meeting spaces and some digital signage solutions. By far, the largest part of our business is still our house of worship side. We do fine arts auditoriums and small, medium and large church jobs. So we have kind of the expertise to do anything from a large format live sound system all the way down to smaller high-end conferencing solutions. We do architectural, theatrical and effect lighting, lighting control in a lot of hotels. So I mean, kind of a just well-rounded company. We do it all. We’re kind of known as a one-stop shop around our area. [Timestamp: 2:20]

That’s a good way to be and Garydavid, what does Uber have you doing?

Garydavid: I’m doing a little bit of everything from project management to operations to system design. It’s almost like a totality. And then my main focal point is for Uber advanced technologies, the APG group, so I’m here to help them with all their needs or issues or problems and then come up with solutions day to day. [Timestamp: 2:44]

OK and so the ongoing project here is to upgrade some conference rooms in the Pittsburgh office to provide greater usability. Garydavid, I think you already had an experience in a conference room that may have been a good example of quality gear just not tweaked and tuned for best performance. That resulted in the room not being used much so did that experience set the stage for a solution on this project?

Garydavid: Yeah. I mean, a lot of times in the industry we all want to be problem solvers, but sometimes we have to understand the real issues that are causing those problems. And then when I learned from my experience when you determine the issue then you can come up with the solution. And that’s what happened here in this particular instance where an AV solution was provided to an end user with quality equipment it was never configured properly. And then on the end user side we’re putting our trust into the professionals; the AV integrators. Those guys are the subject matter experts. But we all can’t forget that the AV is being used by people – by users – every day, which makes the industry so rewarding but to bring benefits of helping people to communicate. That’s our main focal point. And if we’re not optimizing the equipment, configuring it, making sure we know what we’re doing in a sense rather than just expecting the equipment to be magical and just work, that’s where we actually fail. So I wanted to make sure that we took those principals moving forward on all future designs. So coming up with a solid commissioning document, a punch list, validating to make sure that the equipment that’s being proposed will work in all these environments and will meet the customers’ needs. [Timestamp: 4:18]

And one of the specific problems that you recognized on this was providing power for the various devices that people were bringing in. They had power and charging cables strung around and not enough of them within reach. How did you deal with that problem in these rooms?

Garydavid: I guess I had to take a step back, and this is when I did a needs analysis, but also just people watching within their current rooms. And in their current rooms they have these surface-mounted cable cubby enclosures and then power bricks, power cords everywhere. There’s a slew of different laptops that each require a different power cord. So just from brainstorming and taking a step back, I kind of questioned how we do things as an industry, you know? We try to always spec out these cable cubby enclosures and the intent is for AV connectivity, HDMI 3.5 – you name it, right? And it’s for their laptops, but often forget the laptops need to be powered where if the laptop is not powered, more or less the entire solution is pointless because no one will be able to display the content in their laptop or make a video call using the laptop as a soft codec. So I kind of challenged myself and started putting these power bricks inside the cable cubby enclosures and coming up with a solution that mirrored what we do on a day-to-day basis. Adding HDMI cables in, but adding that power convenience. So having all the bricks mounted underneath the table in a rack shelf, but then able to pull out the power chords from the cable cubby enclosure and plug in for bring-your-own device, for your mobile phone to your laptop. It’s a huge, huge win because it cleaned everything up but it kept that consistency with the basic design principals of someone reaching into the enclosure to grab a cable to connect to. [Timestamp: 6:02]

OK and this is a fairly sizable project that’s still in progress. How many different rooms did you do on this? It was lots of different kinds of rooms.

Garydavid: The project consisted of a three-story building that had to be completely demoed and reconstructed from the ground up. And the project consisted of 50-plus conference rooms, a training room, digital signage throughout all the floors, and then a fairly large all-hands space that also would be converted to a multipurpose space. So it just wasn’t geared towards events, but then people could use it for other principals as well.

Joey: Out of these 50 conference rooms we had kind of four or five different design types. We had several smaller and medium conference rooms and then a couple of large and extra-large rooms. On those smaller and medium rooms we used Biamp’s Devio solution to help get the best audio quality and to send that audio over USB to eMax Mini’s, which were the codec in the solution. These were videoconferencing rooms that used soft codecs, and so we used Devio for just great audio quality in those small and medium rooms. And then in the larger rooms we deployed Biamp’s Tesira solution with their TCM microphones. Those TCM microphones give us the same amazing audio quality and the same user experience from the smaller rooms to those larger rooms. [Timestamp: 7.21]

And keeps a lot of stuff off the conference table, right?

Joey: Absolutely. Very, very clean rooms. I mean, you walk in, you don’t see a bunch of stuff on the table. And you know, that’s another piece of Garydavid’s design – just really helped deliver something amazing to the customers with his power solutions in all the cable cubbies. [Timestamp: 7:40]

And do you find that in conference rooms you seem to get a frequent combination of little or no training and a quick departure from the original installers and when they try to use it they have the bosses all there and nobody wants to look dumb so they may be a little hesitant to get into the technology and figure out how to use it?

Garydavid: Based off of my experience, especially coming from the government world, before FDOB, the first day of business, you have to really make sure that these systems are beyond bulletproof. So you have to come at it as the approach as the integrator, but also as the end user; on how are they going to be using the system and are there any hiccups or anything that might be broken or not fully working before the handover. So it’s coming up with the complete commissioning document, testing and then testing some more, and then coming up with a lot of punch list items, just as you would if you a GC, right? Because a lot of times we miss all those marks or those check boxes because we’re so worried about the schedule. So we made sure that we have the appropriate time to fit this into the schedule to knock all these things out. So when the projects were handed over to the customers, they were already working. They would walk into a room and maybe an iPad was down and they would question if the room was working or not. I think that’s what was one of the big wins and it will always be a big win within all the projects that we do is to make sure that done means done – not undone. [Timestamp: 9:02]

Now at the beginning I think you went through a very thorough process in getting user input as to exactly what they wanted to accomplish in these conference rooms so that you could design a professional looking solution with just what they needed to have.

Garydavid: That’s correct. I wanted to provide that flexibility and more or less keep the theme of the invisible comfort, which is the same experience that we provided within all the room types. And a lot of it is just the basic principal that InfoComm teaches us, but until you actually apply those principals to all room types you don’t really get to see the main reason behind why they stress all their standards. A perfect example is determining the appropriate screen size, right? Nine times out of 10 we should all be doing that to make sure it fits into a small room. But you don’t really get to see the main impact that it has until you do all different room types and then you’re having users come into a room, they’re able to sit anywhere within all the same room types, and be able to determine and make decisions and recognize the content shown on the display. So it’s that invisible comfort, where they’re comfortable sitting anywhere. Or it goes with that same principal with what Biamp provides, whether it be the Devio microphone or the TCM microphone. Where it’s that invisible comfort. Where people are able to walk into a conference room and sit or stand anywhere and have that natural conversation with the group inside of the room or to the far side and be confident that their voice is going to be captured but they’re not having to lean over or they’re not having to sit closer to a microphone. So by putting those microphones up in the ceiling, people weren’t even aware that there was microphones in the room; not even the architects, which to me was a big win. Technology doesn’t become the focal point. The meeting room is the focal point to have meetings or conference dates. The technology is just in there help enable collaboration.

Joey: When we were planning out the design and where the microphone placement and everything, I know it was real important for us to make sure that we had good, even coverage throughout the room. Because I lot of times in these conferences, people are not always sitting at the table. They’re going to get up. They’re going to move around. They’re going to maybe pace around the room, go up to a white board and take notes. And so in our microphone placement and again, the choice of choosing these hanging pendant mics from Biamp, we were able to deliver good audio quality no matter where a participant was in the room walking around. These mics tracked them and it just works great. [Timestamp: 11:32]

That must have been a primary challenge in this for both of you in designing one uniform system that everybody could learn how to seamlessly operate both in the small huddle spaces and the bigger conference and training rooms as well.

Garydavid: It kind of fell into place. I know Biamp did it on purpose, but it wasn’t really known or exposed at the time, where we had this perfect solution for small, medium and possibly depending on large room size, right, which is the Devio solution. But then there was that missing puzzle piece for extra-large or overly-large rooms. And there are other manufacturers out there that have ceiling microphones, but they’re just a little bit aggressive. A lot of architects don’t really want to see them in the space and again, it’s that invisible comfort. People don’t want to know that there’s technology in the room. So with Biamp coming out with their TCM microphone and having it the same platform, the same structure, the same look, the same feel as the Devio microphone, it was just a huge win. And to the users it’s the same microphone; and in a sense it is, right? It’s just configured a little bit differently. But I think that’s what put the cherry on top of the entire design was all the rooms looking, in a sense, the same especially when it comes to the microphones and the speakers and, more or less, the display sizes where a small just gets enlarged in a sense with quantities to become a large or extra-large room. [Timestamp: 12:55]

We’re going to get into more detail on the specific conferencing gear used. This is a big ongoing effort to give them a unified solution that they’re perfectly at ease using. I know that required some serious and detailed consideration before you actually dove into installing the hardware. We very much appreciate your time on getting with us for the opening part of it. We’re taking with Joey Loeffler Vice President with SASL in San Antonio and Garydavid Royce with Uber in Pittsburgh. A huge Biamp based conferencing project. Many thanks and I’m looking forward to hearing more about this one.

Joey: Thank you, Bennett.

Garydavid: Thank you.

Quiet technology and a professional appearance are now standard issue in the Uber ATG conference rooms and users can focus on their presentations instead of system operation. Garydavid Royce at Uber and Joey Loeffler at SASL will be back next week with more on video, sound and acoustics in the new Uber conference rooms right here on the SVC Podcast.

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