Large conference rooms meant for massive group meetings are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Huddle rooms, smaller spaces designed for immediate group collaboration, have been rapidly taking their spot. Instead of renting out the massive board room for your group of three, or trying to split the space between multiple groups, smaller huddle rooms offer closed off, private work areas without taking up unnecessary space.

Technology in Huddle Rooms

While they rise in popularity, these small conference spaces haven’t really caught up in technology. As huddle rooms were only designed for small groups of maybe three to six, they could tend to be an afterthought in planning. Unlike the larger board rooms, they were often ignored when it came to considering video conference solutions, possibly in hopes to keep down costs. However, as the way people work has evolved, so has the demand for technology enabled spaces – especially these huddle rooms. The small, collaborative nature of huddle rooms offers the ideal platform for video conferencing locations. Usually with a central desk space these areas allow groups of three or four to gather, collaborate, and with the right solutions, virtually connect with coworkers or host audio and even video conferences.

However, outfitting a huddle room for video conferencing is not without its challenges. As these spaces are typically a bit of an afterthought, huddle rooms have some of their own unique tech requirements. The physical structure of these rooms differs from the larger conference room therefore the spaces create a different set of needs for their cameras. Of course the video and call experience of these larger rooms is not to be expected for huddle spaces, but it is still important to employ adequate solutions that are reliable and easy to use. No one wants to be squished in front of their tiny laptop webcam with poor audio and video quality.

What matters most?

1. Ease of Use and Clutter

Limited space brings about a variety of issues beyond the necessary camera technology. You have a camera and a screen, but what do you hook it up to? As previously discussed BYOD approaches are limited in their effectiveness, but certainly lean towards easy to use (we’re all familiar with our own laptops) and clutter free. When introducing new equipment to huddle spaces it’s important to consider the space available, and space required. Of course it’s possible to purchase an independent computer to remain in the huddle room for conferencing, but then you run into the issue of requiring space for a physical computer, a monitor, a keyboard and mouse, the camera, cables must be managed to keep the area neat. As well, a separate PC would require its own IT support and can be bogged down by any other activities clogging up the VoIP system during a video call.

2. Costs

Technology in huddle rooms probably wasn’t given much consideration during planning. Smaller spaces might rank lower on priority, so it is important to keep costs down wherever possible. With the technology needed to enable a  large board room with video connectivity being so expensive, it would be reasonable to expect huddle rooms to utilize a “bring your own device” (BYOD) approach. This of course can save costs, but puts the burden on the user and could lead to its own set of issues. Employees would be expected to bring their own capable computers, one group member would be required to sacrifice their computer simply for the video conference, and quality would be severely affected. With recent developments in Video Conferencing solutions, between stand alone cameras and all-in-one display devices, the cost to adopt the necessary equipment for your huddle room has dropped dramatically, generally right under the $5000 mark.

3. Camera Quality

Part of what helps bring down the cost for huddle room technology is the shift in priority for the equipment needed. In smaller rooms, it is not as important to look for the camera with the strongest zoom to see everyone at the far end of the conference table. Ideally, the cameras deployed in these huddle spaces should be equipped with wide field-of-view cameras. Generally smaller square spaces, huddle rooms demand a wider field of view to include every group member in the shot. The BYOD approach will suffer in this aspect as well, as laptop cameras are very low in quality and are designed for more one on one conversation.

Designed with Huddle Rooms In Mind

In order to adapt huddle rooms to facilitate collaboration and support the new ways in which people work, there are a variety of video solutions with this goal in mind. As spaces and requirements vary, so do the market offerings and even concepts behind web conference solutions for huddle rooms. All of these solutions work to combine ease of setup and use, a quality camera, while remaining the cheaper alternatives to more inclusive video conferencing hardware.

Standalone Camera

If you are looking to keep the cost as cheap as possible, and don’t mind relying a bit more on a BYOD approach, standalone cameras have come a long way from your cheap USB webcam. Usually a powerfully camera and microphone mount, standalone options include those that mount directly on top of a display, requiring you to only have a monitor and the camera in the room. Other offerings are similar to the webcam approach, but are so much more. These powerful standalone cameras could be plugged into a display, or if workers want to bring their own device they can hook it up to an available HDMI port. The cameras also generally include integration with the latest cloud software and video conferencing software so setup is as simple as plugging in, selecting the camera in your software, and making the call.

  • PanaCast 2 – PanaCast now offers a 4k, panoramic, plug and play USB camera that utilizes a BYOD approach. The camera is capable of 180 degrees horizontal and 54 degrees vertical field of view and a 4k resolution of 3840 x 1080. Beyond its hardware, the Panacast 2 is designed to seamlessly integrate with popular conferencing apps like Microsoft Lync, Skype for Business, Cisco WebEx and Google Hangouts. While remaining a simple product, the PanaCast 2 packs a powerful punch and offers a solid introduction to outfitting your huddle room at a cheap cost.
  • Polycom RealPresence Debut – Advanced beyond a simple USB camera, the RealPresence Debut is a camera, microphone and speaker all wrapped into one. The Debut is designed to sit on top of, or hang from below a display to enable any monitor or TV to make and receive video calls. The Debut comes with a full HD 1080p camera, Polycom’s Lost Packet Recovery system to keep video clear and lag free. Setup is simple and includes connecting two cables and setup through RealPresence Cloud-enabled video services.

Build your own

One step further beyond a standalone camera would be to build your own system. Similar to the idea of outfitting a huddle room with a dedicated computer, the build your own option looks to cut down space and introduce an easy to use platform. While remaining smaller than the average desktop PC, these standalone boxes can be equipped with your own peripherals including a display, touch screen or keyboard and mouse if necessary, as well as your own choice of camera. The benefit of adopting a build your own solution is the flexibility – if your huddle room already has a large display, or you hope to utilize touch displays to remove peripherals, or even want to attach more cameras or route multiple rooms to one box, these setups allow for growth. Build your own devices are also dedicated to video conferencing and communications, therefore these devices will not require full IT support and remain easy to use.

  • Google Chromebox – Integrating Google services, the Chromebox is a build your own system that allows users to attach an HD camera, microphone and speaker, as well as a remote control as opposed to relying on a keyboard and mouse. The Chromebox hardware is made by Asus, and includes an Intel Core i7 Processor, HDMI, Displayport, USB 3.0, Ethernet and built-in WiFi. Google’s HD camera supports full HD 1080p video with an autofocus lens and automatic low-light correction.
  • Logitech Conferencecam Connect – Designed specifically for huddle rooms, the Logitech Conferencecam Connect combines a build your own system that allows you to connect to a display or PC of your choosing. An added benefit of a built in camera allows the Connect to work as standalone device for BYOD setups, or bundled with an Intel NUC unit similar to the Chromebox for extra power and flexibility. The Connect supports full HD 1080p video, as well as 720p calling for clients unable to support 1080 streams.
  • Panasonic HDVC – The HD Visual Communications systems from Panasonic are build your own devices that allow for multi-site connection. One single unit from Panasonic can support up to 10-site connections, up to three monitors for displaying images and data, and even allows mobile users to participate in video calls. The full HD camera again supports 1080p video, and Panasonic’s Rate Control function will adjust data traffic based on network congestion to mitigate any interruptions.

All in one

The most powerful solution that hits all of the unique huddle room requirements would be an all-in-one device. While offerings aren’t as wide as other options, these all-in-one systems are generally a standalone device that simplifies the setup even further with everything you would. Instead of a build your own dedicated system, the all-in-one devices combine a display, touch screen, and built in camera with software support. These devices incorporate software, hardware and connect to a cloud service all while remaining neatly tied up in a single package designed for smaller spaces. Of course with being the most inclusive product, the price point will be a bit higher as well. However, most all-in-one video conferencing devices still remain under the $5,000 mark. Dedicated to only conferencing needs these machines require even less IT support, a touch screen makes them incredibly easy to use and a lack of required peripherals makes setup a non issue.

  • Polycom Real Presence Group Convene – Polycom’s all in one solution is made to work with their Realpresence Group 310 or 500 with EagleEye Acoustic cameras, and aims to minimize clutter. A 27 inch, 1080p display allows for easy viewing and can even be paired with a second or third monitor to increase work space. Because of its integrated design, the Group Convene allows you to adjust the camera downwards to view what’s on your desk, and is wide enough to capture a whole room. Built in audio, integrated cable management and a desk or wall mount help to make the Group Convene  simple to setup, and take up as little space as possible while remaining a powerful video conference device.
  • Cisco DX Series – Available in three sizes including a 7in, 14in and 23in display, Cisco’s DX series comes already equipped with a business-class HD camera, as well as a touch screen and external device support. USB and HDMI ports allow you to expand the system with peripherals and even utilize the display as a screen for your own computer, or content sharing from your computer right in your video conference. The DX series aims to replace your desktop computer, but offers the same ease of use, clutter free setup and calling features seen on other all-in-one huddle room devices.
  • Google Chromebase – Designated by Google for smaller spaces, the Chromebase is a 24in all-in-one video conferencing solution that could fulfill all huddle room requirements. The all-in-one comes equipped with an Intel Processor and 4GB of RAM, Wifi, Ethernet and Bluetooth connectivity. For your video conferencing needs, the Chromebase has a full HD 1080 touch screen, a built in camera, 4 microphones and even stereo speakers. Integrating Google software, Google Hangouts supports a chat with up to 25 members at once, and even mobile users offsite.

Flexibility For Your Huddle Room

No more are the days of reserving the massive conference room for your small group’s video chat with huddle rooms becoming more and more popular. When outfitting these collaborative areas with technology, it is paramount to consider cost, and as well as the space available. Different devices and solutions at varying price points open up the possibility for any size business to equip these spaces with the tools groups need to work as productively as possible. Whether you are looking to equip each space with a standalone camera or all-in-one touch device it’s important to provide the proper tools necessary to adapt to the new ways people work.