One of the most obvious trends of the past year has made videoconferencing as critical to white-collar jobs as the office chair: working from home is now A Very Big Thing. The global pandemic triggered the rapid acceleration of remote work — Zoom, for example, saw its usage in Q2 of 2020 rise by a staggering 4700 percent year-over-year.
And, as CEDIA’s senior director of technology and standards Walt Zerbe notes, the move to remote work is likely here to stay. “I think it’s permanent,” he says, but adds a caveat: The user experience isn’t quite where it needs to be. “We’re trying to make the most of the tech that we’ve got today, but we’re missing the true social collaboration part of it.” Meaning actual eye contact, gesture — the things that make human interaction feel, well, human. That experience will likely improve with advances in AR and VR, but, until then, we’ve got to make the best of it.
Peter Aylett of the European firm HTE (hte.design) says, “I’m a big flag waver of the whole concept of the ‘performance home office.’ I’ve been talking to a lot of architects and interior designers and suggesting, ‘I think you now need to have space within that home, within that building, that is the workspace.’ Be that for a child or for an adult, that should be multimodal. It should be really flexible, it should be adaptable, but it has now become an essential use-case for the majority of homes. That’s a really exciting opportunity for the industry.”
How’s It Sound?
Your clients will likely want the best “home office” they can afford, but so should you — after all, shouldn’t a technology integrator have a terrific videoconferencing rig? Rule number one is, naturally, ensuring that your connection is terrific — it should go without saying at this point that a physical cable beats Wi-Fi.
Next? Sound. “I think audio is the most neglected part of this,” says Zerbe. A thorough look at the space comes first — if the room’s not built for two-way sound isolation at the outset, you can add sound absorption and diffusion, which can include everything from drapes to custom panels to the very learned look of a wall of books.
“You should research a little bit about microphones,” Zerbe advises. “I personally like using a dynamic microphone instead of a condenser microphone. While condenser microphones sound really good, they pick up everything — they’ll pick up your paper shuffling, they’ll pick up stuff two, three rooms away.
“You also want to be cognizant of microphone patterns. A cardioid pattern microphone rejects all the noise from the back, and a hypercardioid has a very tight little pattern that rejects all the noise from the sides of the mic as well.”
Zerbe also steers away from Bluetooth connectivity for your mic and your headset: “Bluetooth is always compromised. It’s never as good quality as a headset that is wired or a USB microphone.”
Location, Location, Location
As far as cameras go, Zerbe says, “Most platforms aren’t going to have the bandwidth to do 4K, so I don’t think it’s necessary for you to get a 4K camera, although they’re great. Additionally, by the time it actually goes into your app, the signal’s going to be really compressed.
“I’d be much more concerned about the location of the camera and the lighting you’re using,” he advises. Zerbe notes that a good camera position creates the illusion of eye contact — looking directly into the camera helps provide that vibe. Additionally, Zerbe’s home office setup uses adaptive lighting that can change temperature, and he’s constantly experimenting with the ambient light in the room to find the perfect temperature for his face.
Security’s another concern, of course, especially as the home network takes on more and more of the data once overseen by corporate IT. And it’s yet another area where a good integrator can make the case that technology pros are essential in every room in the connected home. “We, as an industry, need to learn the language of corporate IT,” says Aylett. We need to be able to make sure that we can be their outsourced IT department to be working in people’s homes to do the connectivity and make sure it’s reliable and secure — and that it looks good, too.”