The Conference Call is dead! Long live the Conference Call!

We are currently working with a client to integrate some SIP phones with their new VOIP system.  It’s surprising how complicated this can be.  Many VOIP services have a short list of supported devices.  The process got me thinking – I don’t even remember the last time I got an invite to a regular conference call.  I get invites to Teams calls, Zoom calls and Webex meetings, but I never get invites to conference calls anymore. Even if no one on the call is using video, every call I join lately is still technically a “video call.”   Along these same lines, my wife asked me yesterday – Are there still phone companies? I really had to think for a minute because there aren’t.  Not like there was.  A phone is generally an add-on to your internet service now.

I don’t even remember the last time I got an invite to a regular conference call.

So the question becomes – do I still need a “conference phone” in my “conference room?”

If I join every single meeting that I have scheduled via a Teams, Zoom or Webex app, why do I need a conference phone? I don’t.

What I do need is a simple way to join a video call or a simple way to connect my own laptop or phone to the camera, microphones, and speakers that are already in the room.

why do I need a conference phone? I don’t.


Code3AV has been installing these solutions everywhere lately, and they come in a few different formats. There are systems that are geared towards Teams and systems that are geared towards Zoom and there are systems that will do a mix with BYOD (bring your own device). These mixed solutions end up being the most flexible.

There’s a new way of thinking about video calls. We used to think of video conference devices more like telephones. You would call a person directly. You’d enter a number by hand or search a phonebook directory for the number or ID of the person you wanted to call, or you would call into some type of bridging or conference line service to join multiple callers in a conference.

The new way we do this is to schedule calls through a calendar like Outlook or iCal. We invite all the remote participants to the call and now we also invite the “room” to the call as well.

These new room systems offer incredibly easy to use “one-touch” call join features. The device in the room presents the list of calls it’s been invited to. Touch the call you want to join and start meeting. The key to this solution is to remember to invite the room system to the call.

The key to this solution is to remember to invite the room system to the call.

When you walk into the room and see one button light up that has the name of your meeting on it, and that’s all you need to touch – it really couldn’t be much easier.

There’s still generally a device on the table. It’s just not a conference phone anymore. It’s a Teams room, Zoom room or BYOD conference interface.

The BYOD connectivity is getting easier all the time. Currently there are 2 wire (HDMI and USB), 1 wire (USB-C), and no wire (Wifi) solutions for just about any device you might be using.
As with a lot of new technology, the first versions of these systems which started coming out several years ago felt somewhat clunky, but I find the latest devices to be much more user friendly and reliable. Connect your device via cables, wifi or Bluetooth and join the call from your own calendar.
Conference “phones” are going away, but conference systems are here to stay, and they’re easier than ever to use. They’re also easier than ever to install. We install these systems in a day or two now instead of 7 – 10 days for a fully integrated conference room. Are your small conference rooms ready for video calls? Do you still have conference phones on the table? It’s more affordable than ever to update those systems.

making the shift

Code3AV just spent over a year working with our clients to make sure they could all meet remotely, but now many of our clients are vaccinated and coming back to the office, and so are we.

Code 3 AV has made the shift back to the office, and many of our customers are doing the same thing.  I think that some of the shine of working from home has worn off for a lot of folks.  Obviously, there are a lot of benefits to working from home, but I think we have also found that there are a few downsides as well.  Google “Zoom fatigue”.   I am surprised by how much I want to get back to the office.

  Google “Zoom fatigue”.   I am surprised by how much I want to get back to the office.

I really thought that the hybrid model might be here to stay, and in some ways, I think it is, but not as much as I thought previously.  I think we can all appreciate the flexibility, right?  There is an understanding now that meetings can be as easy or even easier to do remote as they are in person.  Personally, I work well at home.  I can focus at home.  I can get more done faster, and because of that, this year I also learned to speak Spanish, I took up bike riding every day, I lost 40 pounds, and my lawn is amazing –  But, after a year of meeting exclusively online, and working solo – Coming back to the office now, I’ve noticed a few things.   Now that we’re all seeing each other face to face again, I don’t really know how to describe it, but I feel fully engaged.  I feel like I’m firing on all cylinders again.  Work is fun again.  

So – what does this mean to the world of audiovisual?  It means we’re scrambling to make sure that all of the temporary band-aids and workarounds we did to convert our clients’ systems over to remote meetings need to go back to handling live meeting situations again as well.  It means systems that might not have even been turned on in over a year need to be updated and tested.  You may also find that some of your older gear has picked up a few new tricks over the past few months via a firmware update or two.  Call your AV integrator, and schedule a check-up.  We call them “Preventative maintenance” visits. Let’s test what we’ve got, and let’s talk about what you need now. 

You may also find that some of your older gear has picked up a few new tricks over the past few months via a firmware update or two.

Take a look at your current spaces.  We’re currently re-evaluating all of our office and meeting space and thinking about how we could be using them more efficiently.  It’s a great time to do a little daydreaming about how the future might look.  Code3AV is not shifting back.  We’re shifting forward.

Is free streaming worth the cost?

When should your organization engage a streaming service provider?

So you want to stream on Facebook or YouTube –

Can Code3AV help with that? We sure can. We have helped many organizations get started with streaming. As integrators, we install and configure your hardware and software production systems (cameras, microphones, graphics creation, etc), and usually we also integrate them with your new or existing conference systems, legislative systems, presentation systems, classrooms or houses of worship. We provide training and make sure that the audio and video leaving your site looks great. Our expertise and focus is on making sure that the equipment you have on site is easy to use and allows you to produce the content you want to share.

How does that content get online?

The audio and video content you create is sent to what’s called an encoder. An encoder is a device or software package which turns your local audio and video into a network stream, which can be sent over the internet. Once that stream leaves your site and hits the public internet, it’s treated just like any other network traffic. Video traffic usually gets a higher priority over other traffic, but most of the internet traffic today is video. Your stream leaves your building and travels through the public internet to Facebook, YouTube etc, and probably (usually) it gets where it needs to go. Sometimes it doesn’t.

What happens when it doesn’t work?

There are times when streaming just doesn’t work, and there are many reasons why this happens. There are many (countless) possible failure points between you and Facebook or YouTube. Some of these failure points are in your control, but the vast majority of them are not. Once that stream leaves your organization, there’s very little you can do when things don’t work. The major content sharing / social media sites don’t really owe you any explanation when the free services they provide don’t work. Essentially, these services are use at your own risk, and your mileage may vary, caveat emptor etc. As far as customer support is concerned, you get what you pay for. It’s free – so…. Having said that, it actually does usually work, and, as I said – it is free, so for many organizations, that’s just fine.

What are the benefits of streaming directly to one of these social media sites?

Your organization probably has an account on one or more of these sites, and your customers, clients, members, students, etc may also have accounts there. It may just be a very easy path for your organization to reach your market. Also, the content you create and share may also be a way to build your brand up on that social media channel. When you publish content under your account, your account gains “clout” on these sites, which helps to promote your organization. Your fresh content creates more visibility. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship for you and the social media company. You don’t have to worry about all the work that Facebook or YouTube do to support and build their sites, and the social media companies get your content and your viewers engaged on a site where they control the advertising and they have access to all the valuable personal data.

What are the downsides?

Well, they’re pretty much the same as the benefits. Your viewers are engaged on some other site, that you don’t own, support or control. You don’t really control the advertising. You don’t own the data. Facebook and YouTube are going to make money when people view your content, they’ll sell advertising to them, and they’ll sell the customer data to other companies. If you streamed directly to your own site, you could be making that advertising money yourself. You could be collecting that data yourself. Another downside is that If there is a problem with your stream, you’ll have a hard time figuring out exactly where the problem is by yourself. Is the issue local, somewhere between you and your ISP, somewhere between your ISP and Facebook, or is everyone having trouble streaming to Facebook today? Sometimes Facebook or YouTube just aren’t working. You could google to see if other people are having trouble at the same time, or try submitting a support ticket to Facebook. If you do happen to be drawing a large number of views, you may actually get some decent support. I’d be curious if you do. I’m sure if your organization is driving a high number of views on YouTube, they may be more attentive to your technical issues as well, but most of us aren’t driving that level of traffic. In most cases, I’d be surprised if you received any useful support, and it certainly wouldn’t be timely.

What can you do if you want more control?

Can Code3AV help with that? We’re not an internet service provider – at least not yet. This is where we would recommend working with someone who is. We would recommend companies like boxcast, churchstreaming or SLIQ. These companies can provide you with a monitored connection. They can view your encoder remotely. They can monitor the stream leaving your site. They can provide useful metrics about your traffic and views. They act as a middle man. They recieve your stream and re-broadcast it to those same social media sites, or to your own site. Often they will save a recorded backup of your stream, in case there is a problem. Now when there is an issue, you have someone with an interest in helping solve it, and the means to monitor it real time and possibly correct it automatically before you even know there is a problem. They can determine if the issue is local or remote. You may think you have plenty of local bandwidth, but when your venue fills with people, is that bandwidth still all there when you really need it? Often these services can help you optimize and shape your stream to get more out of the limited bandwidth you currently have available. Engaging the assistance of a streaming service provider will not keep issues from ever happening, but these providers can be very helpful in determining where the issues are, and in solving them quickly. These companies also often have helpful plugins for hosting your content on your own site as well. Leveraging your own site allows you to be in control of the advertising and the data being collected as well as the user experience and the user interface.

Should I be using a streaming service provider?

Well, that’s the questions, right? Is it good enough if it usually works? When it does fail, Is it ok, if you just post the video later or possibly never? Do you want to be in control of the monetization of your content? Where is that line for you and your organization? Here’s what I can tell you – These services are surprisingly affordable. If your content and your message is important, our recommendation is to engage them. Let us know if we can help!

Code3AV in the news:

Check out this article about one of our latest projects! – https://www.livedesignonline.com/news/versatile-elation-rig-covers-acts-and-more-at-sandman-comedy-club

Virginia’s newest entertainment venue, Sandman Comedy Club. Located in a roomy 1940’s bank building complete with bank vault, the new venue houses an Elation lighting system of WW Profile HP™Fuze Spot™Colour Pendant™ and SixBar 1000™ luminaires that will be used for much more than just comedy. 

Code3AV Completes AV work on the new Sandman Comedy Club

Code3AV has been working with Michael and Carrie Sands on the new Sandman Comedy Club. For this installation, we integrated state of the art lighting, audio and video systems for this brand new performance space. The club opens 4/29, and tickets are available now! come check out this fun new entertainment venue in Richmond, VA! Who’s ready to get out there and have fun again?

Location:

401 E GRACE ST 

RICHMOND, VA 23219

(803) 807 – 3705 

How do we stay connected from 6 feet apart & keep culture alive during a pandemic?

Peter Norman – Code3AV

It’s been over a year since I shut down our office for a “few weeks” last march. I had no idea at the time how long this would last, or what it meant for our small business. We had a lot of questions at that time. We have a lot of questions now, but we’ve also got some answers. Here’s what we’ve done so far, and here’s what’s been working and not working for us and the clients we serve.

Down time:

We had some serious down time in the beginning of the pandemic. The first issue we had to solve was how to keep the team busy when everyone shut their doors. No one was letting us on site. All work was stalled or cancelled. We needed a way to make some kind of progress and be accountable for hours. We offered hours for specific certifications, and let the team pick what they wanted to go after. Show the cert – claim the hours. We divided and conquered every certification we could complete online. We focused on turning our company down time into opportunity as best as we could, which was only possible because of the PPP program. The biggest struggle we had here is that working and learning from home is hard when the kids are having to learn from home as well. Families with school age kids have had a tough year.

Process:

Process is everything. At Code3AV, when we look back at a problem and ask – “How did this happen?” It’s usually because we decided to bypass our process. I’ve become a firm believer in the importance of solid process. Throughout the last year, we needed processes that worked from the office and from home, and we needed to adapt quickly. What we learned: Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your processes, and don’t be a slave to process for process sake. If a process doesn’t serve your team, toss it. If it’s not efficient, tweak it. Our Managing Director began scheduling regular meetings where we dug into the minutiae of our processes. We continue to evaluate our processes regularly. This regular evaluation and review helps us with employee buy-in and it helps make our processes stick.

Teamwork:

Our office space continues to be mostly closed today. Most of us continue to work from home. We realized pretty quickly that we needed some way to be able to collaborate and work as a team. We couldn’t just walk down the hallway to meet anymore. At first, we thought that just having Microsoft Teams available as a resource would be sufficient for our needs.

We discovered that when working from home, we tended to form silos – we were losing our cross team collaboration. We were losing some of our “secret sauce.”

To combat this, Code3AV has implemented what we call “the morning check-in.” Our team leaders join a teams meeting every morning. There is no agenda to this meeting. We simply discuss what we need from each other to be successful that day. Sometimes it’s only a few minutes long and sometimes it’s a good bit longer, but it helps us all to coordinate and focus on the tasks of the day. We turn our cameras on. We see each other’s faces. It’s also a chance for everyone to say what they need to say. Microsoft Teams has been a great tool for us, but we’ve found that we needed to be much more intentional now with communication. The morning check-in call may be here to stay at Code3AV.

As we emerge from the pandemic, I think Code3AV and our clients are finding that this new hybrid style of business meeting where some people are using meeting spaces in the office, some people are in remote offices, and others are at home or mobile, is just the way business is going to happen. It’s the way students are learning. It’s the way local governments are running. This new hybrid way is here to stay.

we’ve found that you need to be more intentional now with communication.

Code3AV has spent much of the last year working with our clients to build or adapt existing systems to include automatic camera switching with Teams and Zoom integration, closed captioning and streaming capability to bring all of these locations together and make it feel seamless to the participants, presenters and to the public. From a technology perspective – We’re talking about solutions that are hybrid, automatic and touchless.

Culture:

Code3AV is many things, but more than anything, it’s a culture. We have a culture of playful teamwork, excellence in execution, and client satisfaction. Clients work with us and stay with us because of our culture. It’s the key to our success. We needed to find a way to keep promoting that culture from 6 feet apart. I still struggle with this one. Here at Code3AV everyone needs to participate to make it work.

We needed a way to keep promoting our culture from 6 feet apart.

We have a culture of pausing to celebrate our wins. It’s easy to get caught up in the machine and keep moving on to the next task. We’ve had socially distanced lunches outside. We’ve sent out care packages of snacks and online movie rentals to the Code3AV families, This year we ordered new company jackets for everyone. Last week we rented a movie theater and invited the office staff to see a socially distanced / limited capacity “Back to the Future.” We could only have 10 people there, but it was fun and it was my first time at the movies in over a year. It lifted my spirits for sure. I look for creative ways to encourage company pride, camaraderie, and positive attitudes. There’s a lot of darkness and loss out there right now. Leaders need to fight that darkness. Code3AV often comes together as a company to support good local causes. I’d like to encourage more of that this year as well. Nothing feeds the soul better than serving those in need. What has your company done to keep your culture alive?

Keeping the Interface Simple

3 techniques for keeping things simple:

At Code 3 AV, our focus is always on keeping things simple and easy to use. Many of the conference rooms we have built recently have had no need for a user interface of any kind. By installing occupancy sensors and detecting video sync from a laptop input, we have been able to make some of our more basic systems operate intuitively without any user interface at all. Devices power up, route signals and power down as they detect the user’s presence or actions. But, If your organization has a conference room with more than a couple of inputs, it probably has some type of interface for choosing which input to view or what level the volume should be. One of the most popular choices for conference room control is the touch panel. In my experience there are really three key elements to making sure a touch panel is easy and intuitive enough for anyone to walk in and use

Keep things familiar:

My first stop when I’m working on a touch panel for a new client is to look at any existing control interfaces they have for other conference or training rooms. If you already have a standard “Dashboard” for your conference rooms that you are used to, there’s no need to complicate things with something entirely different unless you are unhappy with what you have been using. Use your existing interfaces as examples of what you would like. If you are unhappy with what you’ve been using, use them as examples of what isn’t working for you. This might be a good time to talk about having those interfaces redone to match the new style being created for this new system. My next stop when designing a touch panel interface is always your web site. This will give me most of what I need to know regarding the style and aesthetic I should be trying to achieve. Most clients spend a long time making sure that the web site is a strong reflection of themselves. Keying off of these design ques is always a step in the right direction. Your existing web site often makes for a great example of the graphic design style you like, and you’ve probably already spent time making it easy for people to navigate it. Your touch panel has similar goals.

Limit the number of steps:

Keep it simple. The more steps you can automate in the process, the easier the system becomes for the user. I try to limit the steps to accomplish any task to 2 or 3 button presses. This seems obvious, but when every device in a system gives a hundred different options for how to do something, a programmer can often get caught up in offering flexibility over simplicity. Even complicated systems can be made simple if you focus on what’s needed.

Keep it focused:

The previous point leads right into this one. Define the activities that the system is really used for. Make sure that your interface focuses on making these activities simple. Don’t complicate an interface with too many choices. The equipment may be capable of all kinds of features and uses, but just because it can do all those things, doesn’t mean it needs to. If flexibility is required on occasion, ask for a super user page with all of the other flexible options and buttons, but keep the main interface clean and simple for the other 90% of the time. If there are more than 20 buttons on a page, it’s probably too complicated. 30 minutes spent with the programmer discussing what the system needs to do can save hours of time spent programming the system to do things it was never intended it to do, which can leave you with a system that’s just too complicated for users to operate.

Code3AV has a new CTS-D!

Congratulations Steve Payne! Steve has been with Code3AV since we started. He manages our service department and is responsible for quality assurance and integration standards. We are excited to announce that he recently upgraded his CTS certification and passed the CTS-D exam!