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Confermence Room Redesign

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Chris BlairConfermence Room Redesign
by on Oct 1, 2009 at 10:20:00 pm

We're redesigning and upgrading our conference room and I'd like some feedback on how others utilize wired and wireless data transfer for presentation purposes.

I've built all and cabled all our edit suites so I'm pretty familiar with cabling, signal distribution & routing, sound etc. etc. I've also researched a lot of alternative methods of running signals, such as using Cat5 baluns and convertors and the like.

Our goal is to be able to build playlists of videos at high resolution from our shared storage system (Apace vStor), via Gig-E. We already know this will work because we're already using it for 4 edit suites running multiple channels of DVCPro50 equivalent video/audio.

I've read that VLC (Video Lan Client) is capable of building sophisticated IP connections and playlists and is able to handle a huge array of formats. I use it some for media playback from office PCs, but I've not done much else with it. Is anyone using it (or an alternative) to feed a conference room or similar presentation based setup? I'd like to be able to control what plays and when, be able to start, stop, pause, etc.

Any ideas on what people are already using would be great. We want to also be able to display image based storyboards (PDF, JPG, whatever), scripts, spreadsheets etc. on the monitor.

Any "gotchas" I need to watch out for that make doing something like this different than building an edit suite??

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN

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Mike CohenRe: Confermence Room Redesign
by on Oct 2, 2009 at 5:54:04 pm

Sounds like Mission Control.

Do you do any video conferencing, ie Skype? Maybe a wall mounted web cam and desktop mic with mini jack for a laptop.

Perhaps some power, network and usb ports in the center of the conference table. Nothing worse than being in a suit and having to crawl around on the floor plugging stuff in.

A printer if it is a long walk to the printer room.

Clocks on two walls - keeps people from checking their blackberries to clandestinely check the time, and keeps meetings on schedule.

If using a plasma instead of a projector, make sure it is on the wall that most people seated at the conference table can see without being Linda Blair.

Lighting controls from the table.

Little things like this can make a meeting run smoothly and impress your clients.

We have a little kitchen area in our conference room room - very handy.

Mike Cohen

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Chris BlairRe: Confermence Room Redesign
by on Oct 3, 2009 at 8:19:37 pm

Great suggestions...and we're putting in a little alcove for food service, drinks and the like, although running water to this room isn't an option budget wise.

We do use skype so that's a great idea and hadn't thought of controlling lighting from the table although we have discussed remote control of lighting either through a laptop, iPhone (yep, there's an app for that) or handheld controller.


Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN

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Bob ZelinRe: Confermence Room Redesign
by on Oct 4, 2009 at 6:11:58 pm

I am always facinated by questions like this - of course, due to ignorance in this area. I never understood complex conference room design. I would see it throughout my career - these insanely complex conference rooms, and all anyone wanted to do was push the play button, and see their video. Yet there was more gear than in an edit suite.

When I got involved (when I had the opportunity), I thought I was a smart ass, and said "hey, lets just get something with a remote control and a 10x1 router" - and everyone would say "wow, this is great". But the big boys knew that unlike the professinoal video market (think Creative Cow) - corporations LOVED Crestron, and AMX, and would spend MORE MONEY than pro video houses, just to see a DVD play back.

I get a magazine called System Contractor News, that shows these types of conference rooms, and boy , am I jealous I don't have clients like this. Big bucks for being able to hit the play button and see it on a plasma display.

If you make a complex conference room, you create your own job security. All the boss really wants to do his hit the play button. Companies like Kramer Electronics make video scaler routers (inexpensive) that let you put anything into it, and instantly convert it to the Y Pb Pr or DVI output to feed a large plasma display or projector. You wire it up, like you would wire anything up. If you have the money, and the inclination, you get a Crestron - if not, use the damn remote controls that came with your equipment, or get a cheap universal remote. This ain't brain surgery.

Bob Zelin

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Mike CohenRe: Confermence Room Redesign
by on Oct 4, 2009 at 6:45:52 pm

Bob, as usual, makes a great point - keep it simple.
If an A/B switch attached to a monitor does the job, then do that.

Back in the late 90's I helped run a live 2 day conference once a month for 6 months. We had a conference room linked up to two operating rooms, and both DVCPRO recording and VHS playback all going through a Crestron type touch screen control system. It was whiz bang fancy.

But it never worked right.

The company that installed and designed it was later asked by the hospital to not continue working for the hospital. Thus I spent 4 to 8 hours the night before every event manually tracing wires trying to get the system to work well enough to use during a live event. But the designers could have used Bob Zelin, as they made things very non-simple. In fact this was in Tampa, so Bob was probably available.

Another non-simple aspect was the communication between the OR and the conference room. The surgeon would wear a wireless headset mic - with a receiver attached to the Crestron device in the OR. This worked 50% of the time. The tech in the OR who would position and control the cameras and I in the conference room, wore headset telephone adapters, also wireless. In the OR, there was not an extra phone line. There was an extra phone plug behind some heavy equipment in a janitor's closet nearby, but the system in place when we arrived was to take the telephone from your hotel room to the hospital to get a dial tone, so the techs could communicate. Really.

So I agree with you Bob, sometimes an A/B switch, universal remote or long extension cord is better than $100,000 worth of kit...and often works better.

Perhaps a DVD-R or a basic LAN to your edit system could save a lot of extra expense for playback in the conference room.

Mike Cohen

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Chris BlairRe: Confermence Room Redesign
by on Oct 4, 2009 at 11:52:21 pm

I had to laugh reading Bob's post because the thing I keep saying over and over when we meet to discuss upgrading our conference room is: "I want to keep it as simple as possible but have the ability to access our network, the internet and play videos from our shared video storage without having cables run everywhere on the floor."

What happens now is we have to build custom made DVDs that showcase specific industries or styles of videos. I'd like to be able to build playlists from media already on drives rather than have to spend the time making custom DVD's every time a client from a particular industry comes in.

So I've preached the "keep it simple" mantra throughout. Another good thing, we're cheapskates and we want to spend the least amount of money possible on this, but would like to stop having to crawl around on the floor and running 20' of ethernet and power cabling to plug in laptops and speakers for skype sessions and the like.

We already have a Kramer 8x8 component router that we bought for our edit suites that ended up not getting used (that's a whole other story), and the best offer we got for it on ebay was $300 (it was $1,800 from B&H Photo and has literally never been out of the box.

So other than getting a new 37" LCD TV, a new conference table (the existing one is 14 year old rubberwood table bought from Pier 1) and some new chairs, the only thing we're spending money on is some cabling and a couple a/v convertors, along with having some counters and shelving built to serve food and drinks. I want to keep it simple so anybody using it can intuitively figure out how to control whatever they need.

So I'm with you Bob. I've been in conference rooms where the A/V guys didn't know how to use or switch or setup half the equipment in it. But I would like the ability to build a playlist of videos from a computer (likely MPEG2 TS files), then play and control them from our iPhones or a web browser. Amazingly, VLC will do all of that and it's pretty darn easy to invoke once it's configured on your computers and the iPhone. I was controlling VLC on two networked PCs from home last night with my iPhone, building playlists, pausing, playing, making it full-screen etc. Pretty darn cool. You can do the same thing from a remote computer via a web browser. So you can have VLC setup to play videos from a server, then control it from a laptop in the conference room, change the playlists etc.

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN

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