Rethinking the Conference Room

Picture this.

You walk into a conference room, and everyone watches as someone (hopefully not you) suffers through the process of fumbling and futzing with cables, dongles and A/V switchers for 5 or more minutes trying to get an image on the screen.

It doesn’t matter what kind or size of company you work for, we’ve all been there. In fact, trying to calculate the amount of wasted productivity for all workers across all industries around the world for just this one scenario would likely lead to a frighteningly high number.

Clearly, this a problem in need of a solution and thankfully, there are several new options coming to market over the next few months. What’s interesting is these new products aren’t being driven by the typical projector, display and other A/V companies, but by Intel and Microsoft.

At Computex this week, Intel unveiled a technology solution for conference rooms they call Intel Unite. Essentially, Unite consists of some Intel-created software that runs on a small form factor, Windows-based, Core vPro processor-powered PC typically hardwired to a room’s projector or large display screen. Individual employees or guests who come into the room are prompted to install a lightweight application by the integrated hotspot functionality of a Unite-enabled PC and, in less than a minute, get automatically connected to the room’s display.

The idea is it’s fast, simple, and just works, with an emphasis on the “just works” part. To that end, the presenter can be using a Windows 7 or 8-based PC or even a Mac, and it’s expected to support Android and iOS in later releases. Unite can also be part of an overall “smart” conference room solution that can integrate remote employees (the app will stream the displayed content to them) and even tap into OIC-enabled lighting and temperature solutions. With the integrated hotspot capability, companies can also use it to enable guest internet access in their conference rooms.

In addition, the software supports the ability to temporarily annotate certain elements on the screen (the annotation marks fade after a few seconds) and to automatically send the presentation to all meeting participants at its conclusion. There’s also support for third party plug-ins and the ability to do split screen and leverage existing collaboration software tools. All in all, it looks like a very thoughtful solution to a very annoying, real world problem.[pullquote]All in all, Intel’s Unite looks like a very thoughtful solution to a very annoying, real world problem.”[/pullquote]

At the other end of the spectrum, Microsoft is getting ready to release their Surface Hub device, which the company first showed at the Windows 10 debut event back in January. Surface Hub is a Windows 10-based PC housed in a touchscreen 55” 1080P or 84” 4K display that sits on a mobile stand. Think of it as a super high-tech AV cart.

The Surface Hub is designed for collaborative computing-style work, where multiple people can be marking up the screen (it supports up to 3 simultaneous pen inputs) or multiple people in a meeting room can wirelessly project to it via Miracast (it also offers regular wired connections). The device includes two 1080p cameras mounted on each side of the screen titled inwards to enable high quality videoconferencing and remote meetings as well. In addition, Microsoft will be integrating some specialized applications into Surface Hub specifically designed for collaboration. Final details, including pricing, on Surface Hub are still forthcoming, but it too looks to be a great way to help rethink conference rooms.

Some might argue these Intel and Microsoft solutions are competitors, but I think we’ll end up seeing them used in different rooms in different ways. It wouldn’t surprise me to see companies deploy a few Surface Hubs in some of their conference rooms and Intel Unite-based solutions in others. Either way, they will both be a great step forward over what most of us have to endure today.

Published by

Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

One thought on “Rethinking the Conference Room”

  1. I’m always a bit doubtful when extra stuff is required to solve a problem caused by stuff missing to start with.
    If all “conference rooms” (most presentations don’t even happen in a conference room) had an HDMI port to the display device,wifi, and power outlets, (and an spare bulb ^^) there wouldn’t ever be a problem. That’s really basic, cheap stuff, and it’s mostly missing.

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