Q&A | The Evolution of Meeting Room Technology

It’s hard to believe that the vast array of advanced meeting room technology available today was virtually non-existent ten years ago. As technology and the needs of organisations evolve so too does meeting room technology. The development of new software and technology has no doubt been fast-tracked over the past few years, but where did it all begin? Sam Wood, our AV Practice Manager, offered some insight into the evolution of meeting room technology from its first iterations to the predicted trajectory in the next few years.

ER: Sam, you’ve witnessed first-hand how meeting room technology has grown over the years. Where did video conferencing start and how has it evolved to what it is now?

SW: Video conferencing first started when technology made it possible for people to video call in real-time with meaningful AV quality. These first Hardware Codec systems were expensive and complicated, mainly produced by brands like Cisco and Polycom who are both still frontrunners in the market today. These systems were eventually phased out because they required a significant investment in hardware rooms, were complicated to use, and were expensive to keep the service ongoing. Further, it required an identical endpoint on the opposite end for it to work. This meant you couldn’t simply connect your laptop or phone to a meeting room like you can now. Hardware Codec persisted until around 2010 when, what we now call Soft Codecs, became available. Soft Codecs include programs like Skype and Zoom in their first iterations, where you could have a video call over the internet via a USB webcam. These were an extension of the first, very simplistic instant messaging chat platforms from the early 2000s.

After acquiring Skype in 2011, Microsoft released a product called Skype for Business which was their first reach into the video conferencing market as a product and platform. From this, they brought out the Surface Hub, essentially an electronic, collaborative whiteboard that also did video calling and content sharing. It was a slow ascent, but Skype for Business was the first real AV breakthrough around sharing, sending and collaborating on documents we saw. In 2016, Microsoft released SRS (Skype Rooms Systems), an enterprise-level product that matured to become Microsoft Teams Room, similar to the version we see today. Covid-induced work-from-home and hybrid working meant that Teams and Zoom skyrocketed in popularity. These are the more advanced products we see today where you can have a similar experience in your meeting room that you would from a remote computer or phone.

Q&A | The Evolution of Meeting Room Technology 1

ER: So then, how do you see it evolving from here and 12 months into the future?

SW: We’ve seen a major evolution of interoperability in the last 12 months. The shift at the moment is moving away from complicated devices that require human touch, to intuitive processing that gives identical experiences regardless of platform, device, or location. Teams rooms are working with Zoom and Webex to give a less fractured integration, so you can have a Teams room easily connect to a Zoom platform in-call. This platform interoperability is enabling people to have less complicated meetings and will require less physical user intervention to meet effectively.

ER: It seems like AI has sped up the evolution process of meeting room technology. What about further down the track, where are meeting room AV and software predicted to be in 3 years?

SW: The advent of AI or ‘machine learning’ is now enabling these products to essentially do the processing and heavy lifting operations that used to be done manually. AI is now allowing very sophisticated camera and microphone processing to work out and automatically frame everyone on screen, even if there are multiple people in the physical space. There’s going to be a shift from long skinny meeting rooms to wider orientations and this in turn will change the way that physical meeting spaces are built and laid out. The motivation behind this is to give the near end and the far end a similar experience in terms of what they see and how they are presented.

Realistically, the 3-year desire is the adaptation of Microsoft’s ‘front row’ which is a layout that involves using much larger displays and the idea is that you’re now going to be presented with a human-sized person on-screen as if they were sitting across the table from you. Essentially you’re bringing the person into the room, as life-like as possible, with advanced collaboration and sharing tools making it easier and quicker to share media. Instead of physically travelling to work and the costs and time associated with this, we are putting up a fourth wall in the office. Very large displays and hardware are now highly affordable. Consistency of experience from near and far ends is now achievable so realism is the new desire, which means using the best quality AV possible.

The evolution of meeting room technology has been remarkable over the past two decades, with video conferencing progressing from expensive and complex hardware codec systems to the user-friendly soft codec applications we have today. Looking ahead, AI and meeting room AV and software will create lifelike virtual interactions. This shift towards realism and advanced collaboration tools will revolutionise the way organisations conduct meetings, saving time and costs associated with travel while ensuring a high-quality AV experience for all participants. Engagis is at the forefront of meeting room technology and its evolution in Australia and is available to assist with your business’s technology upgrades. Get in contact with Engagis today, or head to our website to see how we could help take your meetings to the next level.

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