DIY Huddle Room

Ah, the huddle room. Such a funny name for such a useful design.

Small spaces where a few people can quickly bounce around a few ideas, make a plan then break out and take action. Interior design, furniture, lighting, acoustics and of course technology are the ingredients that determine their effectiveness.

Picture yourself and a few compadres crowding around a laptop or even worse – passing around a phone and you get the idea why technology plays such an important role in the huddle. Now imagine having 5 or 10 or more of these rooms and being responsible for making sure they always work and the complexity of these simple rooms starts to be clear.

The Whiteboard
At the bare minimum, a few pieces of paper tacked to the wall can be considered a collaboration system. Nothing beats a whiteboard for quickly penciling out ideas in a group though. These works of art can be photographed and stashed in a project folder for future reference. Electronic whiteboards make it even easier by storing and recalling sessions to the network.

TV at Work
Inevitably, somebody will want to show something from their laptop, tablet, phone, network, internet – you get the idea.

A short throw projector or flat screen display will prevent a lot of eye squinting. How big? A general rule of thumb is to divide the distance to the furthest viewer by 5. This will give you a target screen height. Screens are measured diagonally, so you will need to convert that height into something useful. Here is a handy tool for that.

If the furthest viewer will be ten feet from the screen, a 50″ display will do nicely (10 ft / 5 = 2 ft, a 50″ 16:9 display is about 2 feet heigh).

A nice touch is to install a lift that retracts the display into a piece of furniture when not in use. A big blank video screen detracts from the interior design and can distract participants. In spaces designed to encourage focus, hiding uneeded technology just makes sense.

Sharing is Collaborating
So how do you get your stuff onto the screen? The easiest way is to plug your device directly into the display. You can use a single HDMI cable as long as it is no longer than 20 or 30 feet. Cables can also be extended to the table with any number of connectivity solutions. But phones and tablets usually require some type of adapter which you can count on not being there when you need it.

Wireless is a convenient way to share your screen. A wireless media distribution system streams a users screen onto a network, where it is received by a device that is usually connected directly to the display. The network configuration, user management and usability should be carefully considered.

Consumer solutions like Apple Airplay and Google Chromecast are familiar to most, but present some challenges when deployed to multiple rooms. The user needs to select the receiver to send to, which makes it all too easy to select the wrong one and send your video to another room. There are ways to manage this, but it can quickly turn into a full time job. Deployment on an enterprise network can also be time intensive, with little in the way of support.

Professional grade solutions, such as Crestron’s AirMedia, transmit the user’s screen over a wireless network. An application will need to be installed on the user’s laptop or mobile and the device will need to be on the same network as the receiver. An on-screen display gives clear instructions to the end-user on how to connect. There is also an enterprise application available for group deployments that lets you modify room lists. This gives you the chance to limit the number of receivers that are visible to particular users.

The Mersive Solstice Pod is another interesting solution for transmitting screens wirelessly over a network. It has a built in wireless access point that allows you to keep all of that video off your network. There are plenty of configuration options and useful collaboration features that you may find useful.

Barco Clickshare uses a USB dongle to transmit a laptop screen to a receiver over it’s own network. As long as the dongle doesn’t grow legs, it makes for an easy to use solution. Mobile devices are supported with apps or mirroring depending on the receiver model.

This Wireless Solutions from Gefen uses a dongle that connects to a laptop’s HDMI port for video, and requires an extra USB connection for power. Because it uses the devices video output, no software or drivers need to be installed. But again, the dongle needs to be there when you need it and the extra USB cable makes it a touch more difficult for the normal end user to understand.

If your content is in the cloud, on your network or anywhere online, you could install a built-in PC like an Intel NUC. It can be installed behind the display and controlled with a wireless mouse and keyboard. This is by far the simplest solution, but also the least ergonomic. Using a mouse and keyboard with an over-sized display that is not right in front of you is not an efficient way to work. But if you just need to navigate to a PowerPoint and click next 90% of the time, it is worth considering.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully gives you some ideas on how to handle huddle room technology. Some other topics to consider are audio, videoconferencing, automation, control and monitoring. If you are interested in learning more, drop a note in the comments and let me know.

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October 4, 2016

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