No Jitter is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

New Meeting Equity Options Are Growing

As a growing number of companies have implemented return-to-the-office policies, meeting experiences have become disjointed. It used to be that remote attendees were at a disadvantage. They couldn’t see those in the meeting room nor could they see what was being jotted down on dry-erase whiteboards or paper. In many cases, those dialing into meetings struggled to hear conversations. And, only when the meeting leader specifically asked for their input could they contribute – if they were even still on the call.


The Tables Have Turned

Fast-forward to today and that paradigm has been turned on its head. Now, it’s the in-room meeting attendees who often find themselves at a disadvantage. When sitting at a table with a traditional front-of-room video system, in-room attendees often can’t see chats and shared content, contribute to virtual whiteboard sessions, virtually raise their hand to indicate that they have a question, or easily participate in polls. If those in the meeting room are less able to participate in meetings, then why even come into the office at all?

But even those who attend remotely still have struggles seeing and hearing people in the room, especially if furniture configurations result in some participants not easily being visible to the front-of-room camera.


Hardware-based Meeting Innovation

In recent weeks vendors, both hardware and meeting apps, have accelerated their efforts to solve these challenges by delivering solutions that provide for equitable meetings; the idea that all participants, regardless of location, should have the same ability to see one another and to collaborate on shared platforms.

On the hardware front, recent examples include:

  • Center-room camera systems from vendors including Logitech and Owl Labs, designed to pair with front-of-room systems to allow the camera system to capture a direct view of active speakers in a meeting. This approach eliminates the side-of-head view and may also include acoustic enhancements to match voice with visual location.
  • Multi-camera systems from vendors including Cisco, Crestron, DTEN, Poly, and Q-SYS that are designed to capture in-room participants no matter where they are in a room, and use software-based intelligence to determine the ideal image to share with meeting applications.
  • Intelligent microphone systems from vendors including Nureva and Shure to ensure audio capture of in-room participants across the entire space.
  • Touchscreens from vendors including Cyviz, DTEN, and Newline designed to easily enable shared content engagement for both remote and in-person participants.

Beyond these devices, vendors are rapidly adding artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities ranging from active speaker tracking, to fencing of open spaces, to audio enhancements that reduce echo and side noise.


Software-based Meeting Innovation

On the meeting app front, vendors are trying to solve meeting equity challenges themselves. An example is Google Meet’s “Companion Mode” that allows an in-room participant to join a meeting through a mobile device, tablet, or laptop, and easily be able to see chats, share content, use gestures such as hand waving, all without joining the video and audio portion of the meeting. Additional examples include capabilities such as Microsoft Front Row to display in-meeting chat on front-of-room video screens, and in-room participant framing capabilities from vendors including Google, Microsoft, Webex, and Zoom.


New Decision Criteria for A/V Meeting Systems

The prevalence of these new systems and software is creating a challenge for those responsible for meeting room design and device selection. Key decisions include:

  • What is the best hardware approach for equipping small, medium, and large rooms as well as open meeting areas?
  • How to leverage capabilities provided by hardware vendors versus those provided by meeting apps?
  • How to justify the cost of investment in new hardware such as touch-enabled video screens for content creation?

These challenges continue to grow as both hardware and software vendors focus on adding features to differentiate themselves from one another. For example, as noted previously, both hardware and meeting app vendors are adding technology to capture and frame all in-room participants. For obvious reasons, the hardware vendors would like to control capture to provide differentiation in their products, rather than just stream all camera feeds to the meeting app vendor who would then determine how to display participants. This later approach, known as multi-stream, creates technical challenges such as ensuring available bandwidth for all cameras, as well as low latency.


Making Progress Toward Meeting Equity

In addition, some emerging hardware platforms, such as center-room camera systems, are not yet certified for popular meeting room apps as the meeting room app vendors have not yet defined certification standards for such devices.

Achieving meeting equity isn’t just a noble goal, it’s critical for ensuring effective meetings in the new world of hybrid work. And it requires careful evaluation of new hardware and software capabilities as well as evolving management strategies to identify and remediate problems and usability concerns.

There was a time, not so long ago, when many in the AV industry were worried that in-room hardware was becoming commoditized. The last few months have shown that innovation in the hardware (and software) space is alive and well. IT, business, AV, and facilities leaders should take a proactive approach toward adopting new technologies to ensure equitable meeting experiences for all.

ABOUT METRIGY: Metrigy is an innovative research firm focusing on the rapidly changing areas of Unified Communications & Collaboration (UCC), digital workplace, digital transformation, and Customer Experience (CX)/contact center—along with several related technologies. Metrigy delivers strategic guidance and informative content, backed by primary research metrics and analysis, for technology providers and enterprise organizations.