The traditional barriers to video conferencing have long-since come down. Advances in technology and the adoption of agile working practices have seen over 80% of businesses utilising some form of video conferencing. Of course, video is only half of the solution. I can’t overstate the importance of audio quality in a conferencing solution.
On a fundamental level, humans are not great at dealing with multiple stimuli, especially when it comes to sound. During a typical video conference, there are a lot of sounds competing for our attention (besides the people doing the talking). There’s ambient noise, echo, static and a variety of background noises to contend with. Research suggests that audio issues impact around 40% of conferences.
Here’s something to think about. You can still have an effective conference with audio only. The same cannot be said for video only. Unless your audience are all adept at lip reading, you’re just pulling faces in front of a camera. The tech knows this too. When faced with bandwidth issues, most VC endpoints will drop the video to ensure the audio is preserved.
A variety of issues can impact on the audio quality on a conference. Echo, reflection, low volume, quietly spoken presenters, even the acoustics of the room itself can contribute towards a poor audio experience. So, what can we do about it?
Reduce ambient noise levels
Effective acoustic treatment can solve a myriad of problems; including echo, reflection and noise transference (both from around the table and from outside the room). Cost-effective solutions are available that can be installed during a construction phase or simply retro-fitted to existing spaces. These include acoustic wall and ceiling panels, baffles and free-standing panels.
Make sure you have enough mics
If you’re the sort of person who thinks you and 3 colleagues huddled round a mobile phone makes for a good conference experience, then this one isn’t for you. In an ideal world, you should allow for one microphone per participant. Most conference mics are directional and actively reject sound sources from the side or the rear.
Get the microphones as close to the participants as possible
If you were making a phone call, you wouldn’t place the phone on the other side of the table and shout at it, so why would you do the same with a mic in a conference. Good mic placement will ensure crisp and clear sound. Sometimes, due to cable runs or room aesthetics, this isn’t possible. Don’t fret, the technology is there to solve that. Beamforming and Steerable ceiling mic arrays are just as effective as a table microphone.
Processing, processing, processing
There’s no point having the latest microphone technology, strategically placed loudspeakers and a state-of-the-art video conferencing system if they are acting independently and fighting each other for attention. A good quality, well-configured DSP is the glue that holds it all together. Most come with a comprehensive suite of processing blocks, including compressors, limiters, AEC, mixers and router.
However, sometimes less is more. A balance needs to be struck between fixing an acoustic problem and ensuring that the vocals are kept natural. Equally, a good gain structure and varying volume pre-sets are a must. Not every conference is created equal and inbound levels from an audio bridge can differ vastly from that of a video conference.
Ensuring the participants on the far end of a call can hear you clearly is one thing, but what about the others in the room? An amplifier with enough headroom to prevent distortion and correctly placed loudspeakers are key components. Video conferencing audio should ideally come from the direction of the room display at the front of the room, whereas program audio and audio-only conferences can benefit from ceiling speakers.
Video Conferencing, whether on-premise or Cloud is fast becoming the communication method of choice for enterprises. The video component, with an “it’s like we’re all in the same room” experience is the hook that draws people in but neglecting the audio component can reduce the value of video conferencing and impact user adoption.
Analyse your space, choose the right technology and adopt VC best practice to make the most of your investment in collaboration.
For more information, contact an audio consultant or call us now on +44 (0) 800 319 6094