Consistent Conference Commissioning

Calibrated calls can champion confabulation.

AV9000 Checklist Item Under Test: 6.2.13: For conferencing mode, at the ___(65dB SPL is recommended) listening level, the system can demonstrate full duplex operation, with no reports of echo or “speech trails” (as detected from the far end).

Reasoning: In this year’s “The Commish,” I will discuss some potential pitfalls that integrators and designers might encounter in the market segment that Sound & Communications is highlighting that month. In this issue, the focus is on Corporate Facilities.

Testing with a single, known-good source is crucial when commissioning systems in a corporate environment. They most likely have several systems, which were specified by several different designers, which were installed by several different integrators and which were completed over a span of 20 years. If each room was tested to a different source during each installation, each one’s levels and performance specifications are not going to be similar to any other. Insisting, as a technology manager, that every room in your facility be tested to the same “test” system can go a long way in providing a consistent conferencing experience for your users.

The Story: Have you ever had clients complain about how cell phone callers sound on their audio conferencing systems? Some are too loud. Some are too soft. Some are distorted. Some have way too much background noise. And, of course, some sound fine. That is the nature of the beast. Some callers are calling from noisy environments, in which they have to shout to be heard. Some are on a headset with a boom mic in an acoustically friendly environment. It is very difficult to commission a system with a far end that is constantly changing. So, why would you choose to do that when you don’t have to?

Corporate facilities typically refresh entire floors at a time, including several conference spaces on each floor. In an ideal world, every conference room would provide the same user experience. They might have different equipment. They might have a different layout. For a large project, they might even have different installation teams working on the same floor. If the goal is to get the conferencing systems to sound the same, it is near impossible to accomplish that goal without a “single point of commissioning.”

Let’s say we have four rooms: A, B, C and D. Then, let’s say Room A tests with Room B, and then Room C tests with Room D. They all sound great to each other. However, what if Room A calls Room D, or if Room B calls Room C? Have all of those call combinations been tested? You could certainly try all the room combinations to make sure they all sound the same…and that might work with a four-room project. But what if you have a 20-room project? Instead of six different calls with a four-room project (A-B, A-C, A-D, B-C, B-D and C-D), you would need to make 1.2×1017 calls. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” (Sweet Brown Wilkins, 2012).

Instead of checking all the room combinations, what if every room called the same room to confirm levels and performance? Clearly, that makes things a lot simpler. It also makes commissioning systems scalable. Testing to a single, known-good system will work regardless of how many new rooms are coming online. It might also work regardless of geographical region: Instead of just testing all the rooms on one floor to the test system, we could test all the rooms the client has across the world to the test system. Imagine if the conferencing experience for your enterprise client was consistent around the globe!

But I’ll take it a step further. What if not only new rooms were commissioned with this test system? What if all rooms currently in production were recommissioned to this test system every quarter? Now, we have a procedure to make sure all new rooms sound the same, as well as all rooms currently in production, and it takes no more resources than what is currently being used to support them. With a simple tweak (using one room for testing that gets calibrated every quarter), we have a way to assure our clients have the same conferencing experience across their enterprise.

Consistency equals quality. If there is a plan in place to deliver consistent systems to clients, regardless of designer or installer, then everyone wins. It will take some forethought on the client’s part to dedicate space for that test system. Some forward-thinking integrators might offer this as a service—calibrated conference endpoint used for testing with audio meters to measure incoming and outgoing audio, and a pair of trained ears on the line to offer subjective-experience testing. What would a subscription to that service be worth? In a world in which so many manufacturers offer quality conferencing systems in a box, we, as an industry, need to make sure our services continue to provide value. Managing the quality (aka the consistency) of audio for an enterprise-level deployment of conference spaces is one such valuable service.

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