In today's interconnected world, effective communication is the cornerstone of success for every business. And with remote operations and WFH now integral to ‘the new normal’, the need for seamless and immersive conferencing has bedded in as a permanent requirement for the connected age.
For the worker at home, that’s Zoom, Teams or Google Meet on a laptop: soft codec solutions. But the weakest link in conferencing is often the hard codec solution back in the office: the conferencing equipment in a meeting room with multiple participants, where outgoing microphones sound muffled, external participants have trouble being heard, and the outgoing camera offers only a distant view of the whole room. Sound familiar?
Biamp has a new solution, and it’s one that doesn’t involve spreading little microphones and speaker boxes all down your conference table. The Parlé VBC 2500, from Oregon pro AV company Biamp, is a conferencing video bar which aims to clear the table, while also cleaning up your sound quality.
After an examination of this compact but powerful package, a number of advantages in this general approach become clear, while the technical solutions provided by Biamp are particularly impressive.
Calls to the bar
The Parlé VBC 2500 bar is a solid and sturdy unit some 94cm wide, standing 16cm high when mounted on the table stand that comes already attached. Like the soundbars you might use to improve TV sound at home, the Parlé video bar is designed to sit below your main screen at the end of the conference room, though it can also be easily wall-mounted, using templates and brackets included in the package.
It connects to a host device, Mac or PC, via USB-C; indeed it can be powered this way if the host can deliver 60W over USB-C, otherwise you plug in the supplied power pack. There’s excellent cable management around the back, and we note also a Kensington lock tab, for those offices where things need to be, well, tied down for reasons of security.
Biamp provides Camera Controller software for the host computer, to allow software updates and hands-on camera control. But the big benefit of the VBC 2500 is how little attention it needs in this regard; it is happy to do all that automatically. And that smart operation begins as soon as it’s plugged in, when you press the ‘Launch’ button.
Sound is everything
The ‘Launch’ procedure not only identifies and handshakes with the host system and any accessories, it begins an auto-tuning procedure that physically maps out the conference room and then optimises the bar’s audio output for that space.
It’s no secret that the success of any conference call lies in the audio quality, and yet traditional desktop speaker phones often fall short in delivering a natural experience, let alone an immersive one.
So the first and perhaps biggest of the video bar’s advantages is simply its sound quality in the conference room. The VBC 2500 benefits from having the cabinet size of a full soundbar, yet tuned specifically to voice delivery using multiple low-distortion drivers, passive radiators and smart audio processing.
The result is a remarkable upgrade on small desktop speakers. External participants sound full, with a real presence in the room, giving them an equal share in meetings, not the feeling of hanging out online at a distance.
Tracking the action
Those external participants also enjoy a tailored view of what’s happening back at HQ, thanks to the VBC 2500’s remarkable capture technologies.
For audio capture, the video bar contains no fewer than 27 separate microphones, which work together with Beamtracking technology to identify and clarify the active speaker – or multiple speakers, in which case the bar will intelligently mix conversations from different sections of the room.
The system can track both horizontal and vertical locations, even when a speaker is moving around the room. Near and far participants are equalised using acoustic echo cancellation and automatic gain control, while intelligent noise reduction differentiates speech from keyboard tapping or paper rustling, so that all that goes out to external participants is a clean and clear voice feed.
It proves a highly effective system, noting only a distance limit of around seven metres for its powers of selection, so that this is a system best employed in small and medium conference rooms that fall within those dimensions. It might also perfectly suit the education market in rooms of that size.
The bar’s wide-angle 4k camera is capable of streaming up to 2160p at 30 frames a second, and it uses this inherent quality to electronically pan, tilt and zoom up to five times, highlighting the active participant as identified by the microphone tracking.
The provided software also allows you to deactivate the auto-tracking and manually control the camera, as well as mirroring or flipping the output, applying backlight compensation, selecting 50Hz or 60Hz output, or more. So you can leave it on ‘auto’, or take full control.
And should you need to mute the audio or blank the video for private discussions, there are clear red and green LED indicators around the camera to ensure you know what’s on and what’s off at all times, and a privacy shutter to cover up the camera entirely, just to be sure.
The Parlé VBC 2500’s achievement is not only that it improves audio quality and optimises video framing so that everyone feels more fully immersed in the conversation. Its greatest wonder is that it does all this so well automatically, tailoring itself to the specific room via that ‘Launch’ auto-calibration, and requiring very little input thereafter.
This video bar’s high technology keeps the conference table clear, focusing on participants while leaving them to focus on the information, not the equipment. This is likely to save time, and so money, while surely improving the connection and collaboration between remote workers and those in the room. It just brings you all together better, and easier. So hey, let’s talk.
Microphone technology: 27-element digital array
Pattern: active Beamformed
Pick-up range (25dBA noise floor): > 7 metres
Processing: Acoustic Echo Cancellation, AI-filtered noise reduction
Drivers: 2 x 60mm full range + passive radiators
Field of view: 120 degrees
Digital zoom: 5x, electronic pan/tilt
Video resolutions: 720p/1080p/2160p @ 30fps
Power sources: USB-C 60W; external power supply 12VDC, 4.74A
Dimensions (hwd): 100 x 940 x 64mm
More information: https://www.jands.com.au/biamp-parle-vbc-2500-conferencing-video-bar