Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  November 2002

Integrating Videoconferencing Products
(and Budgets)

One pitfall that many owners encounter that makes the budget jump is underestimating the impact of the word “videoconferencing” when it appears in the initial description of a system.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

AV system users usually know what they want when it's time for a new system or even a whole new facility. They have certain functions, equipment and often, a certain budget in mind. These three things don't always match up, however, and the budget is usually the biggest mismatch. Typically this is a result of what is commonly called the Internet Box Sale Syndrome—where initial budgets for a new AV system are based on individual pieces of equipment priced on the Internet without the benefit of having experienced a full-blown contracted integration project.

Purchasing equipment directly and installing it using in-house personnel can be a very cost-effective and manageable mode of operation for relatively straightforward standalone systems. However, most building owners aren't set up for full-scale AV integration in-house, just as they aren't geared for full-scale building design and construction in-house either. They contract out these services as the need arises.

When the bottom line isn't

For $10,000 to $20,000, many rooms can be outfitted with a “hang-‘n'-bang” system, including a fixed projector and screen in the ceiling or on the wall, a DVD player and VCR plus inputs for a computer with a wall-mounted control plate to select each source.

However, systems can get more expensive and complex to design and install when there are more sources, more displays with different images, a more elaborate control system, sound reinforcement and perhaps, yes, videoconferencing. At some point it becomes impractical for an in-house design and installation, not to mention the additional room and infrastructure design that is usually needed.

Users and owners who have survived a large integration project have a better idea of what integrated systems cost, as well as what it takes to actually get a large system completed, but that's another story. Establishing the budget for a new system that hasn't been designed or even fully programmed to determine the detailed requirements is no simple task. It requires a lot of experience with installed systems to have a good feel for what will be a $20,000 room on up to a $500,000 room based on a user's description of what he or she wants to do in the space.

To make matters worse, there is a Catch-22 for many owners and end-users in this process: The users and/or the AV/IT staff have to come up with a budget for the organization to allocate funds for a particular project before the time, information and expertise is available to establish a truly realistic budget number. Once the project gets rolling and the AV estimate comes back two, five or 10 times higher than the previously established budget, the opportunity may have passed to get the needed funds.

Videoconferencing can multiply budgets

One pitfall that many owners encounter that makes the budget jump is underestimating the impact of the word “videoconferencing” when it appears in the initial description of a system. It can be an even more elusive problem when the videoconferencing function is obscured behind the words “distance education” or “distance learning” in the list of functions for a particular space. Once these terms enter the picture, the impact on the AV budget is often a quantum leap from the budget required for the same system without videoconferencing. Why is this?

The answer lies in the scale of the system and the impact the videoconferencing function has on the room. In a system where 25 or more people require interactive, two-way videoconferencing by ISDN, IP or any other connection, a set-top or roll-about unit probably won't do the trick. An image size requiring projection is usually needed, and to accommodate multiple views and sources, additional cameras and switching inputs are necessary. More audio inputs are also required along with echo cancellation, since there may not have been mics needed for the audience in a presentation-only system.

Additional control programming and hardware for the videoconferencing functions will increase the overall price, too. For larger rooms, the jump in cost can be even more significant (and it becomes less feasible for everyone to be mic'ed). That said, if the room/seat count is small enough (5-15 people), then the videoconferencing add-on may indeed involve only the cost of a set-top or roll-about system, but it's important to know the breaking point for the jump up to a larger integrated system.

Infrastructure costs money, too

Okay, we've established that the red flag needs to go up (along with the budget) when the V-word comes up. But wait, there's more! The flag gets even higher as we look at the domino effect of this technology. Sure, the AV system gets more complex and expensive, but what about the infrastructure? In a standard presentation system, the lighting, acoustics, power, conduit, cooling, space planning and equipment integration need to be addressed, adding some cost to the base building compared to a room without an AV system. However, once videoconferencing enters the scene, more needs to be done to the room to make it work.

For example, where the lighting infrastructure for presentations (two or three carefully planned zones of standard parabolic fluorescent ceiling fixtures, for instance) may add some cost to the base building, the increase to allow for good videoconferencing raises the bar (and the budget) a bit more. Additional directional lighting fixtures may need to be incorporated and walls need to be lit. And the presenter may need to be lit for cameras while the image on the front projection screen two or three feet away needs to have an acceptable contrast ratio. Not a simple or inexpensive problem to solve. Rear-screen projection can make the lighting vs. image problem a little easier to solve, but there are additional square footage and projection mounting costs involved.

And what about the acoustics? Echo cancellation goes beyond the typical room environment and needs better-behaved acoustics than a standard presentation room might require. More acoustical wall panels, heftier wall construction and maybe another door or two for a sound lock. Is this reflected in the AV budget? Almost never. Even if the AV budget was well-crafted at the pre-design phase of a new building, the impact of the infrastructure in the base building budget is rarely considered.

All of these infrastructure items have a cost, and understanding this in the early phases of a new project, particularly the “can-I-have-some-money-please” phase, can make all the difference in the “do-we-have- enough-money” phase that ultimately follows.



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