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Corporate meeting rooms become high-tech wonders: High-definition videoconferencing a growing option

November 12, 2007

Corporate PowerPoint presentations are becoming so passé.

Just as consumers are craving high-definition television sets for their living rooms, corporations and hotels are taking the next step and integrating the technology into their boardrooms and meeting space.

Besides videoconferencing in high definition, other high-tech gadgetry now available for both the business and hospitality sectors includes digital signage displaying messages for employees or guests, and digital room scheduling alerting when meeting rooms are in use.

While some companies are upgrading to high-definition equipment simply to stay current with the times, as is the case with Simon Property Group Inc. at its new headquarters, growing affordability is a factor as well.

For hotels, new technology offers a way to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded market. Indianapolis hotels have yet to embrace high-definition products en masse, but several expected newcomers to the market could drive interest.

"Those types of venues want the best quality available, and high definition is the best quality," said Derek Paquin, director of business development at Sensory Technologies, the area's second-largest custom electronics designer and installer, in terms of employees.

"[HD is] significantly different and significantly better. [Hotels] can provide better amenities and better resources to attract the client."

Sensory Technologies installed audio and projection systems at the French Lick Resort Casino Event Center that can support high-definition functions if the casino decides to upgrade the system.

Is it real or ... video?

The trend toward high-definition videoconferencing began within the last few years, as the format for presentations began to change from the standard-definition screen to a projection or flat-panel display. Similar changes are occurring with laptops.

Part of the motivation is cheaper technology. Having enough bandwidth to stream good, quality video used to be much more difficult and expensive. And the cameras used to transmit the picture also are becoming less costly.

High-definition cameras only had been available for digital camcorders or the broadcast TV market. But now, manufacturers are developing more software and technology to make high-resolution cameras for high-definition videoconferencing.

With the extra quality in sound and video, it makes videoconferencing the next-best thing to a face-to-face meeting, said Chuck Wilson, executive director of the National Systems Contractors Association in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The organization represents designers such as Polycom and Tandberg, and installers as well.

"You create an environment that is stunningly realistic," he said. "It's like the person is sitting with you in the office, almost."

Similar to high-definition televisions, the systems operate at a resolution of 720p (which means 720 lines of vertical display resolution), whereas standard-definition videoconferencing runs on 480p.

Participating in a videoconference is becoming easier, too. It may require a simple telephone call, or dialing into a bridge as one would to access a teleconference. Once connected, conference leaders can not only view two or three locations at a time, but switch back and forth as well.

That's critical for corporations with multiple locations struggling to keep travel expenses within budget, and for executives who value their time.

In Simon's instance, conference and boardrooms are outfitted with the latest in wireless audio and visual technology. The step up to HD depicts quite a shift from its former equipment.

"We do a lot of videoconferencing and teleconferencing with our malls across the nation, and this is a way to communicate with them," said Shawn Suter, the developer's director of corporate properties. "We're just moving up with the times."

Indeed, other corporations are following suit. Carmel-based Electronic Evolutions Inc. has installed high-definition videoconferencing systems at two of its corporate clients. One upgraded its standard equipment and connected remote locations out of the country while the other, tired of traveling, is a new convert who tied four locations together.

Travis Combs, Electronic Evolutions' vice president of production, expects within the next few years the company will install nothing but high-definition systems. That mirrors what is occurring with consumer sales, as Best Buy announced last month that it discontinued analog TV sets.

Paquin at Sensory Technologies echoed Combs' sentiments, noting high-definition videoconferencing soon will be the norm.

For hotels, however, advances in technology can create a catch-22. On one hand, they want to attract guests, but on the other, they may deter them from traveling, said John Livengood, president and CEO of the Indiana Hotel & Lodging Association.

"If you don't have to go to a meeting, you can stay home," he said. "Your clients want to have the capabilities, but ..."

Signs, signs

Frequent hotel guests also are becoming more familiar with the growing presence of digital signs in lobbies, near hotel restaurants and bars, and, yes, outside meeting rooms.

A recent forecast from market researcher iSuppli Corp. in California indicated the indoor-venue market for digital signs, which includes hotels, would reach 683,000 units this year and increase 26 percent annually to 1.7 million units in 2010.

Digital signage scrolls messages on an electronic screen that can be changed without modification to the sign, typically with the goal of delivering targeted messages to specific locations at certain times. So what was print information is now becoming electronic.

Supporters of digital signage say the systems can relieve staff from some of their traditional tasks and allow them to deliver the personalized services that create customer loyalty.

Digital signage and videoconferencing systems can start as low as $10,000 and reach as high as $1 million. An average system typically costs $100,000.

Digital room scheduling is another piece of technology beginning to gain momentum. It links meeting rooms to Outlook Express and includes a screen outside a conference room indicating when the room is in use.
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