I know you’ve been there before. You’ve designed an inspirational work space for clients with gorgeous aesthetics designed to maximize first impressions and productivity, only to have your initial design vision changed during construction. Why does this occur? Obstacles dictating those inevitable changes can be audiovisual (AV) solutions that weren’t planned for during your initial design phase. Making this mistake can result in substantial change costs and impact your ability to deliver a finished project on-time to satisfied clients. Including an AV integrator into the initial design and project team discussions saves time and money down the road, while maintaining the integrity of your initial design.
AV equipment seems like something that should integrate easily into any designed space. If only it were that simple. Depending upon the complexity of AV technology requirements, major design modifications may be required if not allowances aren’t made in the design and construction plans. Here are just a few items that can have a big impact on the final design.
Are you designing for a fully integrated videoconferencing system with ceiling microphones, speakers, a dedicated codec, and control system? There can be a lot of technology involved that you don’t want to see, but is required to make this happen. Where do you put the electronics and sources that drive the system? If a dedicated rack room or closet isn’t available, you may want to scale back the dreams for your space, or get creative with where equipment may live. Equipment racks can be built into the conference table, or a credenza could be used, but many interior designers don’t like the look of racks or credenzas in meeting rooms or multi-purpose spaces. Often, closets must be built last minute in corners of spaces, increasing project costs and negatively affecting room aesthetics. Discussing AV requirements early reduces costly change-orders. That brings us right into the next potential issue:
Is the credenza or table you’re utilizing designed to have electronic equipment installed in it? As the equipment heats up, the cabinetry should include ways to remove the hot air, or bring in cool air from the outside. Without heat management, the cabinet’s internal temperature will quickly heat up, often to a point causing equipment failure. The general “rule of thumb” is the maximum temperature for electronic equipment should be never more than 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Many manufacturers make furniture with built-in fans and rack mounts. This creates an environment that allows equipment to be cooled correctly. Internal fans will try to push the hot air out, or pull in cool air from the surrounding area. Even then, you have to know the total BTU heat specification of the combined equipment and find cabinets that balance heat load with fan noise generated. A good AV provider can help find the right equipment to suit your design.
Windows and lighting affecting displays
There can be entire chapters written on when certain types of display technologies should be used in certain spaces. At this point in 2019, the most cost-effective way to get a large image is still with a projector and screen. But, in rooms with high levels of ambient light, or in rooms where high contrast ratios are required, project images are not ideal. Which direction are windows facing and when does direct sunlight enter the room, if at all, during the day? Flat panels could be better suited. The largest flat panels on the market are around 100-inches, so if the image needs to be larger, tiled display walls may be the right way to go. Or, if the budget allows, a direct-view LED wall will work. The content and work objectives in any space will drive the type of technology chosen. Ambient light can impact the ability to successfully view the content on your display. Not considering how ambient light impacts that technology could be a costly mistake.
Sound abatement for optimal conferencing
Understanding how the surfaces in your meeting spaces will impact acoustics is another element that can affect design. A recent trend in building interiors seems to be all hard surfaces. Floor-to-ceiling windows, solid white sheetrock, low-piled carpet, and minimalist chairs. The problem this creates is that every word and noise bounces off of these hard surfaces. In the world of audio conferencing, echo is created when a room’s microphones pick up the audio coming through the speakers. If speaker sound isn’t absorbed but bounces of the walls, that sound is picked up by microphones in the room. Individuals at remote sites then hear their own voices returning through their speakers, creating frustrating and unproductive meetings.
Audio processors designed for conferencing have created technology to remove echo, often referred to as “Acoustic Echo Cancellation” (AEC). Every manufacturer has a different way it handles the AEC processing, and some are better at it than others. Other options include having more speakers, each at a lower volume to reduce the echo, or adding acoustic panels to help reduce reverberations in the room.
Office furniture aesthetics vs. functionality
Sometimes there’s a disjointedness between the aesthetics of a space and the functionality that is required. Meeting tables are sometimes a work of art, or have sentimental meaning to the company. Drilling holes in the top, or cutting in cable pathways is not allowed in any way, making it challenging, and sometimes costly, to find solutions for microphones or video connections.
When tabletop microphones aren’t acceptable, then microphones hanging from the ceiling can be used. The most cost-effective microphones are always active to ensure all areas of the room are captured evenly, but these often pick up a lot of ambient, unnecessary noise. Recently developed “tracking” or “steerable” microphones determine the direction that speech is coming from, and isolate that voice from the surrounding background noise.
Similarly, a high-quality video connection may be required but mounting holes in the table aren’t acceptable. The cameras could be connected to wall plates. In this situation however, cables are laid across the top of the floor which isn’t ideal in a high-trafficked area. Yes, cables can be hidden under the carpet/flooring but this must be planned for. Wireless video systems are an option, but usually refresh rate/image quality is sacrificed for the convenience factor. Video camera choice should be made after discussing the intended use cases with the building owner.
Engaging an AV integrator during the early design phases of your projects maximizes your design elements and reduces the cost and time spent on change-orders and rework. This not only benefits designers, but leads to increased satisfaction among clients as well. Before you get too far along in the design of your next project, consult with an AV integrator to discuss the positive impacts that they can contribute.