AV Police Squad

Conference Rooms In A Box: Should We Worry?

I am just getting back into the swing of things after an incredible InfoComm. As I get older, my body doesn’t bounce back quite as quickly from a late night as it did in college. The same is true for the post-InfoComm hangover. It’s not so much from the partying, although that does play a role. It is mostly from reflection. I am so bombarded with information at the show, about products, processes, politics, pilotage, and a bunch of other “p” words. It is a lot to process. (See what I mean about the “p” words?)

A big theme among the manufacturers was a conference room system in a box. This is not really all that new an idea, but they are getting better and better. A friend of mine had a demo unit from one of the largest manufacturers at the show in his hotel room. We took it out of the box, and within 20 minutes, we had a fully-functional video conference system, including 4K tracking camera, beamforming stereo microphones, full-range loudspeakers, touch panel control system and a fully populated contacts list. We were making calls using the display in the hotel room, using the hotel’s Wi-Fi! All that functionality came in the form of something that looked like a speaker-bar on steroids, plus the touch panel.

And it worked really well. That’s the scary part.

Oh, yeah, and this “conference room” only costs a few thousand dollars.

The technologist in me was blown away.

The system costs basically nothing. It works as specified. It is set up in minutes. The camera tracked us pretty well, although the room was wider than it was designed for, so a few people were cut out. But we were using the hotel TV and Wi-Fi, sitting on beds!! The far ends could see (most of) us clearly. They could hear us clearly. It is just an incredible piece of technology.

The integrator in me was petrified.

This “system in a box” sells for nothing. It works well. My five-year old could set it up with minimal coaching. What do my clients need me for? I wouldn’t be that nervous if there was just one manufacturer doing this, but there was a distinct trend at the show. No less than 10 major manufacturers had something along these lines: a well-performing, scalable conference system that could support up to eight people in a stupid-easy to set up form factor. What does this mean for the industry?

Those small conference rooms that were many integrators’ bread and butter are now commoditized. They can be deployed quickly and effectively with little effort or cost. Profits from those small conference rooms will disappear.

You still need some AV art and science to integrate meeting rooms that support more than eight 8 people—this is true. Large, flexible rooms will always require a proper AV designer and installer. There are also new services that can spring up from these new technologies in terms of asset management and analytics interpretation. However, architecturally speaking, are the trends moving toward many small huddle and UC meeting spaces, or do people still require many large conference rooms? I’m not sure. The answer is most likely culture- and client-specific.

There is a global trend toward automation and commoditization. Driverless cars and drones are going to put millions out of work in the near future. Kiosks are going to put hundreds of thousands of cashiers out of work. Amazon will have a smart-home setup service rolling out soon. (really?!)

Small, business-class conference rooms can now be “hanged ‘n’ banged”. As an industry, we need to start diversifying our services to stay relevant.

Like I said at the beginning of this blog post…there was a lot to take in at InfoComm this year.

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