Meeting Room Connectivity – Wireless and Faceplates
Nearly everyone knows how frustrating it is to be in a professional situation where you need to use a display screen but you’re prevented from doing so by what should be simple-to-fix connectivity issues. In fact a 2016 Barco study found that nine in ten office workers experience stress in a meeting as a direct result of technical issues; one of the main challenges cited by employees here was the struggle in finding the right cable to connect their device to the meeting room’s display screen or audio solutions.
The rigmarole of searching for the right ports to connect devices or AV equipment to can interrupt the flow of a whole presentation, or worse, prevent it from even getting started. In practice, this means lost productivity, time and business. And for the team members involved, it’s just unnecessary stress.
The great news is that IT teams and facilities coordinators have the power to help reduce this stress and make meetings work. Hide away from the investment needed, and your employees will spend more time rectifying basic technical issues than they will addressing real business dilemmas. But by keeping connectivity in mind when fitting out a meeting room, teams will reap the benefits for months and years to come with measurable improvements in efficiency, creativity and productivity.
The Importance of Getting Connectivity Right
We will be looking at a range of wireless and faceplate solutions in this article with the aim of highlighting the accessible and affordable connectivity solutions out there that will help your meetings and presentations of the future go without a glitch.
What are Faceplates?
Faceplates are a simple connectivity solution that replicate the connections on your screen to a more suitable place somewhere in the room. They stop the scrambling around to find a connector at the back of a large format display, or precariously balancing a laptop from a pile of papers if your cable isn’t long enough!
They are simply a cover that encases an electrical socket. Usually plastic or metal, the hub of activity behind the faceplate can be covered to keep connections out of sight, while the cables behind it run unseen back to your screen or a distribution amplifier (to run multiple screens).
While a seemingly simple part of the AV setup for meeting spaces (and thus often an afterthought), faceplates can play a crucial role in solving connectivity (and productivity) problems. The TechConnect - TC3- Module and Cable Package, for example, delivers an agile faceplate that houses an array of modules for a variety of devices, and 15 metres worth of cables to run to your screen.
The faceplate itself contains :
- A VGA with 3.5mm mini jack module for audio (don’t forget audio as many professional displays don’t come with speakers!)
- A USB (B-type on front) module
- An HDMI module
- Three blank modules for expanding as you see fit - depending on your device requirements.
The bundle also includes a selection of cables to connect from your presenter’s device to the faceplate itself. This includes a VGA cable, a 3.5mm minijack cable, and an HDMI cable. The tidy, easy to install, plastic faceplate is also clearly labelled with the function of each module to reduce the need for trial and error when users are looking for the right port for their device.
The TechConnect product family is also available in a range of packages for varying cable lengths. This is the length of cable required from faceplate to screen. The range consists of either 3m (9ft), 5m (16ft), 10m (33ft), or 15m (49ft) – to suit a host of conference venues and meeting rooms.
Having the right cables and faceplates in place to make connection straightforward is the first hurdle, but to get the most out of any input in this area it’s advisable to have the right adaptors to hand to cater to the wide range of different devices used by team members.
Even without accounting for specialist devices in use in engineering, medical or design industries, for example, meeting rooms will regularly need to cater for contributors with iPhones, Macs, Android devices, Windows PCs and more. And while you can’t expect to have everything under the sun covered, it will pay to have the most commonly needed adaptors to hand.
A growing number of devices now have HDMI capability, which will offer a simple route to connection. However, we’re not yet at a point where you can assume everyone will have an HDMI port on their laptop, so it’s wise to have an adaptor to hand.
A USB to HDMI adaptor will do the job here, but keep in mind there might be some associated software that contributors will need to install, so you can’t guarantee ease of use from the get-go with this solution.
Meanwhile, for HDMI, your Apple-using team will be in need of a Thunderbolt to HDMI adaptor. There is the option of using USB to HDMI, but Thunderbolt is largely seen as the more reliable option to cater to.
A lot of Apple Macs will also have a DisplayPort connection point. The vast majority of display screens, however, won’t have this as a native connection, so you’ll need an additional DisplayPort to HDMI or VGA cable to cater for this group as well.
For portable Apple devices, be they iPhones or iPads, things get a bit trickier given the company’s fondness for changing their devices connectivity structure. The simplest option is to connect wirelessly using AirPlay, but let’s look at the adaptor options for physical connections as well.
There are two main options for portable Apple devices, which one works for each device will depend on its age:
For iOS devices with Lightning connectors, you will need a Lightning Digital AV Adapter, or a Lightning to VGA Adapter.
For older iOS devices with 30-pin Dock connectors then the answer is an Apple 30-pin Digital AV Adapter or a Apple 30-pin to VGA Adapter.
There are two schools of thought for Android devices too. Firstly, some tablets will actually function direct to HDMI, most likely through a mini or even micro version of the connector. In this case, it’s a simple case of having the right HDMI cable to fit your display screen or projector and ensuring it has adaptors to suit the user end. Even those that don’t can sometimes be connected using a microUSB to HDMI adaptor.
Option number 2 makes use of Mobile High Definition Link (MHL) or the more recent SlimPort technology. Like HDMI, both options support video and audio and are capable of delivering to a maximum 4K resolution. MHL is supported by a wide range of manufacturers, while SlimPort is still a relative newcomer, but popularity is picking up.
These cables will plug into the microUSB on the mobile device and it’s just a matter of the device owner knowing whether or not their smartphone or tablet uses SlimPort.
Ditch The Cables And Go Wireless
Adaptors are great when they match up to the devices in use. But what about those occasions when someone’s device won’t connect, or perhaps there are too many people in the room to all have access to a wired connection? Wireless connectivity has a reputation as being unreliable but technology has come a long way in recent years and the advantages over wired connections make it well worth looking into.
When looking at wireless connectivity, we need to consider the type of devices being used within the meeting room and also the meeting dynamics themselves.
If you’ve got a very strict IT policy, everyone has HDMI on their devices, and you’re working with a smaller meeting room then the cost effective Vision TC2-HDMIW7 Wireless HDMI Kit will work perfectly. Once paired to the receiver that is plugged in at the screen, the transmitter dongle will send up to 1080p resolution video content to a projector or large format display across a 7m range.
If you’ve got multiple presenters though, this still involves the passing of the transmitter each time a presenter is changed.
You’ll see from the above - that’s a lot of “ifs”!
This is where new and exciting solutions like the Barco Clickshare come into play. Much like the Vision solution - there is a hub plugged in at the screen side (or a distribution amplifier for multiple screens) but the major difference is that it’s USB. And everyone has USB. This avoids the DisplayPort issues with Apple products and the current trend of minimising everything (miniHDMI and more) for ultra-thin devices.
If you’re presenting from an iPad, iPhone or any android devices, there are also apps for these portable devices too.
Finishing the Solution with Audio
Once you’ve got your display connected, you’ll also want to consider audio connections.
Narration, music and sound bites all help deliver that extra edge to a presentation. When team members are viewing something visually rich and listening to relevant information that supports what they’re seeing, that’s two senses fully engaged making it far less likely that their attention will drop.
From a technical basis, things get a little trickier when sound is involved and you may have to involve other intermediary solutions such as amplifiers or soundbars connected to the screen. We’re always available to help talk you through this.
The good news is that most professional large format displays can be easily hooked into an audio output, such as an amplifier or sound bar so that whatever display input is chosen, the audio accompanies it perfectly.
The key to this is getting the audio solution linked to the screen input, rather than the presenter’s device so that each presenter doesn’t have to configure both visual and audio inputs separately. Many soundbars have bluetooth connectivity, but you wouldn’t want the confusion of pairing this soundbar to each device, then connecting audio via bluetooth for each presenter!
The simplest solutions are to use either the 3.5mm mini jack connected to a headphone socket or HDMI into the screen. If you’re going to go wireless, the Barco Clickshare carries audio from the USB output too, making everything even easier for the non-tech savvy audience.
Whether simplifying your meeting room’s cable network or eliminating wires from a large conference room stage, there is a plethora of faceplate and wireless solutions on the market to suit any venue size and a variety of budgets. But it’s well worth investing the time and effort to document connectivity requirements before investing in new audio visual equipment; how the team connects to the main devices is much more than an afterthought - it’s central to usability.