AV Police Squad

Gamers Driving Conference Room Technology

I’m not sure how many people will be reading this. I haven’t heard from several of my dear friends for about a week. No, it’s not the zombie apocalypse. Not yet, anyway. The Nintendo Switch came out last week.

Naturally, this got me thinking about AV systems.

I was at a networking event the other night talking about how conference room technology is becoming mostly software, much to the chagrin of hardware manufacturers. Control systems, video conferencing, matrix switchers and audio switchers are all becoming software applications instead of physical boxes. This isn’t going to happen someday in the future, either. It’s happening now. Just think about DSP audio systems we connect to everyday. The software in that one box replaced racks of hardware boxes. This movement has been happening for a very long time. However, now, instead of one box replacing many, software on a server can replace an entire rack of hardware.

There are several devices that most likely will not be replaced by software, though. These are the room peripherals: microphones, loudspeakers, cameras, displays. People still need to physically meet in rooms as a group and connect to the rest of the world using these transducers.

On the flip-side, conferencing from your desk on your laptop, tablet or phone is becoming second nature for people. They have all their files available. They have audio and video conference software loaded. They can seamlessly escalate calls from email to chat, to audio, to audio bridge, to video, to video bridge. They don’t even think about it. Some people who work on the same floor opt to meet in the cloud for this exact reason. They have everything at their fingertips, and can answer questions or designate tasks immediately instead of having to say, “I’ll do that when I get back to my desk.”

However, when they get into the boardroom, they start to stumble. Do they connect to the system wirelessly or use the beat-up cable at the table? If wirelessly, what SSID do they need to join? If they need to escalate a call, can they call direct, or do they need to have everyone hang up and call into the bridge on separate calls? Is the control system still having problems downloading the company directory? In high pressure meetings where conference room technology is the last thing on your mind, how nice would it be to host this meeting from your desk.

And here’s where the Nintendo switch comes in.

Imagine walking into a beautiful boardroom on the 50th floor with amazing views of New York City. You connect one USB cable (that’s right…one!) to your laptop, and, instantly, you have access to the room’s microphones, loudspeakers, cameras and display. Since your laptop is the only source in the system, as well as the controller, the entire space powers on when it’s connected. There is no need for hardware-based control systems, audio conference systems, video conference systems or matrix switchers. The entire system is driven by your docked laptop. You have access to all your files, all your contacts, the keyboard and mouse you’re comfortable with. It’s a beautiful thing. Now you can run a boardroom-level meeting as comfortably as running a web conference from your desk…but with a way better view. It’s the Nintendo Switch Boardroom.

Gamers have always driven conference room technology. When a new display technology comes out, they are the first to adopt it. When a new way to interface with technology comes out, they are the first to adopt it. When a new way to connect with room peripherals comes out…you guessed it…they are the first to adopt it. We all have this vision of gamers mooching of their parents, living in the basement and working at comic book stores. However, they are responsible for introducing a lot of the technology we take for granted into the mainstream. I think the Nintendo Switch is going to follow suit. Who wouldn’t want a conference system with familiar controls and features that acts the same in the airport, at home, at your desk or in the boardroom?

These portable devices and apps are incredibly powerful. The people designing the interfaces for these apps have a lot more time, money and resources to devote to human interface studies than we do. The iPhone and many of its apps do not come with operations manuals because there is no need for them. I’ve seen a lot of control system touch panels that use iPhone-style graphics, but without an operations manual, many users would be lost. (Just because it looks like an iPhone, doesn’t mean it functions as easily as an iPhone.) Having a person’s laptop drive and “be” the entire system is a logical next step in conference room technology. And, with the Switch’s help, it may happen a lot sooner than people think. It even has a Link app already. (Shout out to my Zelda fans out there!)

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