Earlier this week, Polycom made some significant technology announcements that will help revolutionise the workplace of the future. These technology innovations might not be immediately obvious to the non-technical user, but the overall collaboration experience will be positively impacted. We want to ensure that we can maximise the end user experience whilst minimising the human intervention required - the less the user has to do to optimise their collaboration session, the better!
Let’s look at how these innovations benefit three distinct groups of users:
1) People in a conference room
2) Participants joining from outside the conference room
3) Anyone in a conference call
Conference Room Experience
A great example of how Polycom is optimising the conference room experience would be the introduction of our new EagleEye™ Producer solution. If you have ever been in a videoconference before, you will surely have had one or more meetings where no one dares to touch the remote control to move the camera. You might have a conference room designed for 10 or more participants with only two people present. The camera is left alone and is set to its maximum, zoomed out wide-angle setting.
The end result is that the participants are small specks in the large conference room void. Many of the benefits that come with visual collaboration – such as seeing the body language, non-verbal facial cues etc. are lost. The overall experience is effectively reduced to an audio plus content session. This kind of behaviour results from the fact that there is still a bit of a fear factor about interacting with the technology. Users are concerned they might damage something, or are just uncomfortable with taking control. The end result is a less than satisfactory experience for all participants.
Polycom EagleEye Producer solves this challenge by automatically creating an optimum video experience. It will automatically detect the room participants and then control the camera to ensure that all conference participants are framed appropriately. If more people enter the room, or if people leave the room, the camera will automatically reframe to the remaining participants. This way the video experience is optimised, yet completely automated.
There is an added side benefit to the process because EagleEye Producer automatically detects faces and records the number of participants present in the meeting room. From talking to customers it seems that the world lives in perpetual meetings, and meeting rooms are nearly always occupied. The ability for an administrator to understand the usage patterns, occupancy levels of the room etc. can significantly help them with planning decisions. For example if an organisation has large meeting rooms that are almost always occupied by only –two or three people, it might make more sense to change some of them to smaller rooms. The usage data will help ensure the organisation can make informed decisions.
Innovations for the workplace of the future
While EagleEye Producer is focused on enhancing the conference room experience,other new solutions announced are focused on optimising the collaboration experience, recognising that today’s workspaces are evolving. The Polycom innovations of automatic face brightening for RealPresence desktop (currently a test feature), Acoustic Bubble™ and Acoustic Fence are all designed to help make video collaboration from the workplace of the future a great experience for both the local participant and the other people on the call.
An ever-increasing number of people are connecting and collaborating by video from environments that are not optimised for that kind of media – noisy open plan offices, for example. It could even be a case of connecting from a location where the lighting or sound conditions are not ideal - such as a hotel lobby, a home office or other ad-hoc location.
Polycom’s automatic face brightening plays a key role in optimising the video experience in the workplace of the future from a user’s desktop. Conference rooms are usually designed with video collaboration in mind - lighting levels, camera placement and so on are carefully considered early in the planning stage. For desktop users they are usually limited to wherever their desk is and have no control over lighting levels. The same might apply for a user connecting from home, or a remote location such as a hotel lobby. Often in this case a user might have a bright area such as a window behind them, so their face ends up in permanent shadow. In this scenario much of the value of video collaboration – the ‘ as good as being there’ experience – is lost. Automatic face brightening recognises this scenario and automatically adjusts the exposure level of the video stream in real time; the user’s face can be seen and hence all the benefits of a video collaboration session can be realised.
Acoustic Bubble (for Polycom RealPresence Desktop) and Acoustic Fence (for Polycom RealPresence Group Series) are both focused on optimising the audio experience in the workplace of the future. They minimise the background noise and distractions from an open office environment when a user is collaborating over video. As an ever-increasing number of people join a video collaboration session from their desk, or an open plan project space the greater the potential for background noise to interfere with the overall experience. Polycom’s audio innovations use multiple microphones and sophisticated audio processing to ensure that the conference participants hear the speakers audio, and not that of others around them in the open plan office, coffee shop etc.
The short video below does a great job of highlighting what the Acoustic Bubble can deliver - the experience is automatic, and transparent to the users, but the end user experience is radically different when Acoustic Bubble is enabled. We’ve gone even further to add a visual indicator that helps a user know if they are speaking to camera but are muted. There is nothing worse than launching into a two minute monologue only to be cut off by seeing far end participants indicating that no one can hear you!
The meeting experience
Having your video system tell you are on mute when you are speaking, definitely enhances the overall collaboration experience. But what about the opposite situation? I am sure many of you have been on a conference call (audio or video) when everything grinds to a halt due to someone else, a late joiner for example, not going on mute appropriately. Innovations in collaboration help make the experience natural and an extension of everyday business processes, however people sometimes forget they are connected on a collaboration call. Background noise, keyboard typing, paper shuffling all can be very disruptive to the meeting. They often then lead to that round robin shout of “who’s that?” “Not me!” “Please can everyone go on mute!”
Polycom NoiseBlock is a new enhancement for our RealPresence Collaboration Server solution designed to address exactly this problem. Polycom’s sophisticated audio processing can identify and detect distracting background noises and automatically mute the offending participant! When that user starts speaking their line will then be automatically unmuted. This automatic enhancement of the conference experience ensures that collaboration sessions are natural, engaging and productive. You can watch a video of Polycom NoiseBlock, and see how disruptive something as simple as a bag of crisps can be!
There is no longer any doubt that the workplace is changing and our working environments, tools and processes are changing. Real-time collaboration, multi-media multi-channel engagement is now the normal model for most organisations. These new innovations and existing solution enhancements from Polycom ensure that the user continues to have an optimal meeting experience, irrespective of their environment, automatically and transparently. Welcome to the new world of collaboration!