This year Zoomtopia was held on October 3rd and 4th at the San Jose Convention Center. This is an interesting conference as it’s end-user focused unlike trade shows such as Infocomm. It’s also an opportunity to hear about the new features and focus directly from the company as sometimes it can be difficult to get the information. It’s helpful to get an idea where Zoom is headed as a company and when they will get there. There are two major areas of future focus that are obvious today, AI and Meeting Equity.

AI: AI Companion seems to be a response to Microsoft’s Copilot.  It’s a rebrand from their original offering, ZoomIQ, but it does operate with a full generative AI engine and offers it at no cost.  This free offer should beg the following question: “If the service is free then am I the product?” But, there’s more to this market space.  Copilot works on an individual level using ChatGPT’s engine to write professional emails as well as creating Powerpoint decks from sources online.  For AI to be used in the Enterprise where IP is tantamount, Zoom will need to extend to other personal collaboration solutions.

This will need to be answered by tech journalists and IP attorneys, but most high tech companies that I work with will not utilize an AI assistant as they don’t control the flow of sensitive data. This will continue to be an issue until data ownership can stay within an organization at all costs.

There are solutions from companies like Vyopta which ensures data stays within the organization. Perhaps when looking at integrating AI into Zoom meetings, 3rd party solutions may provide more data privacy.

Meeting Equity: So Zoom on your computer has been quite a success right? Our devices have better cameras and microphones and frame our faces at a decent proportion to the frame. Can this be achieved in a large conference room?  We can install a PTZ camera with three presets in a Zoom Room, but these controls are rarely accessed by users. 

Many camera manufacturers have been instituting auto-framing and Zoom has been offering multi-stream or smart gallery for the last 4 years, but few experiences have been successful enough to not generate complaints or at least confusion from users.  How does a machine automate the directorial decisions that would be made by a Broadcast TV crew?  

Zoom did release their solution called Intelligent Director, however they restricted the camera angles to Left, Center, Right of the front display.  At this point, we don’t have a way to automatically switch between direct camera angles from the four walls of the room to emulate how a user would look from their own laptop. It’s still one square of video per camera.

However, some manufacturers have provided a solution, by placing a camera and microphone array in the center of the table or suspended from the ceiling. Taking its cues from the Meeting Owl, Logitech’s new Sight camera is first to market for a high quality Zoom Room experience. If you enable the front and center view, it creates 4 vertical individual windows with one PIP window that captures the entire room from the front. Further testing needs to be done on having less or more participants than 4 in the room which it seems to be addressed.

Expected very soon is the Neat Center which is the same concept as the Logitech Sight.  What Neat offers with all their products is the best in class ability to dynamically place people in their own cropped video windows no matter how many people are in the room.

What else caught my eye at Zoomtopia?

Jabra Panacast 50 - They have a USB version and standalone running Android or Windows.We found the original Panacast did a nice job providing a true 180 degree view, but it also had lines at the seams and ran too hot that it hurt its reliability score.  This new product could be the best choice for rooms with D-shaped (or peninsula) tables where people are super close to the display.  Facilities folks didn’t like that you lose two chairs of usable headcount. Now, using the Meeting Equity concept, you can regain those areas. We will be testing out the microphone pickup range and how well it’s 4k camera can present people clearly up to 18 feet away as well.

Nureva - The HDL 310 and 410 are microphone/speaker combinations that are hard to believe how well they cover very large rooms.  One of our clients utilize this product in an installation which is 50 x 70 feet in size.  What stands out to me is the way it handles gain structure and their proprietary technology to negate the proximity effect other beamforming microphones all must deal with.  Turns out that they can connect to a Logi Rallybar, Roommate or Neat Bar Pro, for appliance-based rooms and might become our standard for boardrooms and divisible spaces where we would like to avoid installing ceiling microphones, DSPs, speakers and amps.

Allo - This is not a Zoom Rooms solution, but I found it to be the most usable collaboration tool.  We are using their product to share PDF versions of CAD AV drawings. We are discovering more features that surprise us as we use it daily. The Google Drive integration notifies in a dashboard format about users accessing shared docs. That increases real time collaboration for just getting things done. It gives back more value than what you actively put into it. Ultimately, after all of the project collaboration that you do with Architects, Facilities, IT, and Construction Trades, the open canvas nature of product can easily transform into a client-facing dashboard for Day 2 system support.

February 2024 Deadline for Android 5.0 Devices Extended for 12 months

Whatever happened to the speakerphone on the table? - Well the Crestron Mercury as we know it will no longer be supported by Zoom *now 2/25. This is unfortunate as it was the best audio performer we have tested and punched well above its price weight class extending range out to 20 feet from the table. It also had better frequency range on both the microphone and speaker than systems costing 3 times more. So, do you need to upgrade your hardware?  You probably should do it by April 2024 to stay on track with updates to the application and OS.

I put together a slide deck for our own team describing the market options today in 2023/2024 to replace these units. Feel free to check it out at the link below and let us know if it all helped your own organization’s choices.

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