Can the Microsoft Skype Room System, now known as Microsoft Teams Rooms (aka SRS and MSR) do complex AV? By that I mean, can it really deliver the simple Microsoft user experience that we have all come to expect from these systems when the business is demanding extra features from a room or when it’s not a simple 4 person huddle or an 8 person conference room?
Well puzzle no longer, the answer is a definite YES!
So what is a Skype Room System room?
Essentially Microsoft designed the SRS to be a rich, collaborative Skype for Business (now also MS Teams) experience that’s simple to use, deploy, and manage. Enable users to start meetings on time with one-touch join, then instantly project to the display in the room and share to remote participants.
It comprises of the following key components:
- Touchscreen control panel
- A computer (a variety of form factors are on the market from MS partners)
- A special Windows 10 OS build for the Room System – locked into a kiosk mode for users and tuned for dedicated room use
- Cable management flex / dock / extender
- Peripheral devices (Camera, Microphone, Speaker)
- External screens (single or dual displays)
- HDMI input (for content sharing)
- Auto wake sensor triggered by entering the room
So what is a ‘complex’ room?
So what if your requirements for a room mean you need something that is not supported ‘out the box’ with a Skype Room System, but you want to ensure a consistent user experience between rooms in the organisation? Below are just a few examples of what can make meeting spaces ‘complex’ or at least ‘not simple’!
- Ceiling microphones and speakers
- You need to show the presenter’s face when standing facing the audience, so a second rear of room camera is required rather than front of room camera
- Rooms with movable partitions and you need the room to have flexible layout options that combine multiple rooms into one for certain meetings
- Switching the microphones in the room to re-enforce the sound in the room as well as send it out to remote video participants in a Skype for Business or Teams video conference
- Repeat content onto additional repeater displays for larger rooms
- Flexible room layouts mean that the microphones, speakers and screen layouts must change for different meeting types
Often this type of room is perceived as the realm of ‘traditional or standards based video conferencing’ and audio visual wizardry with rooms becoming hugely expensive and the user experience ending up so complex people avoid touching the controls in fear of the room never working again – all of which fundamentally undermine the whole purpose of installing the solution in the first place.
The components of any complex room, whether using an SRS or standards based codec, are actually the same and it is the audio processing, video switching and associated control system that create the complexity. Typically the audio and control system are the most costly and complicated components, so you need to pay special attention to these areas as a poor audio experience will render the room unusable.
Having designed and deployed numerous ‘complex’ SRS Rooms to date which provide many ‘advanced room features’ – but critically ensure the room collaboration controls function identically to a simple huddle (by removing the nightmare of multiple remote controls and multi-layer menu controls panels), there are a number of key considerations and design principles which are key to the success of these rooms.
- Understand the business use cases of the rooms – Don’t brainstorm a field of dreams , ask the business what they use today, what works and what doesn’t. Ask them what causes them delays and challenges today and what they love, you may be surprised what gets used and how!
- KISS (Keep It Simple, Stoopid) – Try to keep the requirements to key functions and where there is a nice to have as it supports a limited use scenario – decide if its inclusion has a larger detrimental effect to the majority of user experiences or pushes cost/complexity over the benefit threshold.
- Standardise across rooms – Start the design with choices based as much as possible on the ‘standard’ SRS components. Only deviate where absolutely necessary, the more deviations that occur to address a requirement, the higher the risk the user experience will become compromised.
- Align vendor choices based on strategic partnerships with your chosen core platform (Microsoft), by that I mean select components which are certified for use with Microsoft. Good examples of vendors in this space are Polycom, Logitech, Lenovo, Creston and HP. This helps increase supportability and reduces the risk of unknown compatibility challenges as the components will have already been put through their paces in the lab before in a number of different scenarios.
Finally, a word on budgeting for SRS based rooms. The core SRS codec, simple camera and audio kit are extremely cheap when compared to traditional VC systems, but the cost is often in the additional components that go to make the overall experience work for end users. You can deploy a huddle space very simply with minimal cost but as the room size increases so do the audio requirements. If you want a good reliable room experience don’t cut corners, which means setting budget expectations early in your planning. A huddle space could cost as little as £5K, a medium 8 person room £8K and a large room £10K. However, these costs are just start points and when you move in to the realms of complex AV you need to factor in components such as DSPs (Digital Sound Processors), ceiling mics, wireless mics, ceiling speakers and many other options which can easily take a room cost up to £50K or more. So, manage your cost expectations early and factor in a supplier’s full site survey in to your timings and budgetary planning.
It’s always a good idea to speak to an expert in the field of Microsoft Skype Room System deployments and integration to avoid learning by experience in your own complex room (which could be costly) and ensure you can get it right first time, by leveraging knowledge and experience to deliver a complex room which is super simple for end users to use (like any other SRS)!
Here’s some examples of some complex rooms that we’ve deployed using an SRS as the codec:
- 3 in 1 room – 3 individual rooms separated by room dividers configured as 3 separate Logitech SRS rooms, each room with its own wireless mic and ceiling speakers. When reconfigured as a single large room the room flips to presentation mode using just one ‘master’ SRS codec and a rear of room auto tracking Aver PTC camera (watch out for my blog on the Aver PTC500s tracking camera) to track the presenter across the stage area. The audio also switches to use a lapel mic and combines all the ceiling speakers into one room array giving a great single extra large room experience.
- 20 person large room – a large room too big for a single mic and speaker solution required ceiling mics, ceiling speakers and in this case twin Polycom Director cameras (EagleEye Director II) and rear of room camera (Aver PTC500S) for extremely flexible camera options. The ceiling mic option avoids any concerns of users moving around table mics and ensures a simple repeatable in-room experience.
- 2 in 1 presentation room – 2 large rooms separated by a flexible divider that again join to make one large presentation area for 50+ persons. This solution used fixed ceiling panel microphone arrays providing configurable controls over the room layouts from a Crestron touch control system, and an additional rear of room camera for presenter tracking. Simple room layout switching was delivered through a contact switch on the partition or via a ‘one-touch’ room scenario option on a Crestron control panel which sits at the side of the room.
If you have a complex Microsoft Skype Room System requirement and need guidance and delivery support – get in touch @Symity.com