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How to Get the Most out of Your AV Budget

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It’s easy to think that something is better just because it’s more expensive. And if you are comparing, say, a Kia to a Lamborghini, that might be true. But in a lot of cases, it isn’t. In fact, the cheap seats at the ballpark usually have the best view.

When it comes to audiovisual solutions, expensive doesn’t always mean better either. As you are designing new AV systems, understanding what you should spend your money on—and where you can cut corners—can ensure you get the functionality you need without exceeding your budget.

3 Places You Can Find AV Savings

  1. Don’t pay for unnecessary features and functionality. The latest, greatest, shiniest new AV trend isn’t always the right or best solution. You might be paying for features you don’t need and won’t use. You can save money by choosing a less flashy tool that does just what you need. And a qualified AV engineer can help you tell the difference. “Our engineering staff will select equipment based upon the needs of the application,” said Brent Stanphill, Senior Enterprise Account Manager at Level 3. “If there are options, we will give professional recommendations that could save costs while still accomplishing your goals.”
  2. Take a phased approach. Instead of trying to get all the new AV technology and tools you need in one fell swoop, consider implementing them in phases. By making the most essential purchases first, you spread out costs and get the chance to see how your tools are working and what gaps remain.
  3. Forget the fancy furniture. AV furniture has come a long way since the days of pressed wood and veneers. There is no need to spend extra money on designer furniture to hold your AV hardware. In most cases, regular AV furniture will do the trick and leave you with money left over for purchases that will directly improve the user experience.

3 Places to Spend Big on AV

  1. A good plan and solid design. It’s impossible to choose the right tools and technologies if you don’t know what you need those tools and technologies to do. Spending the time and money to assess your technology needs is imperative to choosing tools that can successfully meet them. A qualified AV integrator can not only help you identify those needs, but also help ensure that your physical spaces are designed to optimize technology use. “Level 3 Engineering will design a room based upon the needs of the client and their budget,” said Stanphill. “The key to a successful deployment is capturing all the technology requirements based on the business’s work flow and making solutions easy to use, reliable, and affordable.”
  2. Quality audio. “Never skimp on audio,” said Jeff Bethke, Level 3’s Director of Engineering. “It’s the main thing people complain about, and when it’s bad, meetings can be worthless.” Good audio, on the other hand, will facilitate efficient and effective communication even for remote participants. It helps keep meetings efficient, worthwhile, and productive.
  3. Commercial-grade components. Consumer-grade AV equipment is certainly cheaper than the consumer-grade equivalent, but it simply can’t meet the needs of corporate AV implementations. Commercial-grade AV is great for your home theater, but chances are you wouldn’t offer to host a board meeting there. Your corporate conference rooms need a more robust, reliable, and durable AV solution.

How to Get Started

To get inspiration for your small meeting room AV upgrade or implementation, download our Huddle Room Catalog today. Then contact one of our AV integrators or engineers to start making a plan that will put your money in the right place.

Download the Catalog

Give Remote Students a Front Row Seat to Better Learning

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How to Give Remote Students the Classroom Experience

Distance learning and extension programs are excellent ways for higher education institutions to increase enrollment and reach without making large investments in new buildings, staff, and other infrastructure. But the colleges and universities that will benefit the most these programs are those that create a remote learning experience that is equal to that of the classroom. Here are three questions to help you determine whether remote students can participate to the same extent and in-classroom students—and here’s how to fix it if they can’t.

How to Make Remote Students Feel Like They’re in the Classroom

Can your remote students share and access content just like everyone else?

There are plenty of classroom tools that help professors and students share content with each other, but what about remote students? Can they see what is being shared in the classroom and share their own content as well?

There are collaboration and content sharing platforms that allow remote students to share with those in the classroom, providing distance learners with the same experience as their on-site peers. Software and apps that allow students to share from their personal devices create yet a more intuitive and equal experience.

Can your distance learners hear everything happening in the room?

Many remote workers report feeling left out, and the same threat of feeling excluded or not part of the team exists for remote students as well. Poor audio in the classroom can easily exacerbate the issue. Imagine how frustrating it would be to hear the class erupt into laughter, but not have heard the joke. Or to hear the professor say, “You can use that on the test” only to realize you missed the hint. Clear audio is key to equalizing the experience for in-class and remote students. If distance learners can’t hear everything that on-site students can, then they are having an inferior experience and are likely at a disadvantage when it comes time to work on projects or take exams.

Your first instinct to address an audio disparity might be to increase the number of microphones around the room, and that’s not a bad place to start. But improving the quality of your microphone technology will do more to improve the audio experience for both in-person and remote students. For example, beamforming microphones are designed to be more sensitive to sound coming from one or more specific directions of the classroom. Using beamforming microphones, like the newest edition to ClearOne’s offerings —the Beamforming Microphone Array Ceiling Tile, increases the coverage of the entire classroom with each microphone picking up the sound closest to it.

Can your remote students see who is speaking from anywhere in the room?

Classroom cameras often have the same downfall as classroom audio solutions—they don’t capture everything. Many classrooms have just one camera view, usually focused on the front of the room where the instructor is. Remote students can’t see who is speaking in the corner, the back of the room, or otherwise off-camera. That leaves remote students feeling like they’re being left out and not getting the same experience as their peers in the classroom.

Placing multiple cameras around the room can easily fix this problem, and a video switcher can help you move between multiple camera views so remote students can see everything in-room students can. A manual video switcher is a more budget-friendly option. When students want to talk, they press a button at their desk or table and the camera mounted at the front of the room will zoom in on the speaker.

If you have a little more money in your budget, you might consider an automatic video switcher. In some models, the presenter wears an infrared lanyard that can be tracked by the camera as the presenter moves around the room. Another option is a presence-sensing mat that triggers the camera when the presenter steps on it. Ceiling mounted infrared sensors can also trigger cameras to focus on a certain area of the room.

Next Steps

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a quarter of all college students took at least one online class in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. And just over 12 percent of college students took online courses exclusively that same year. Colleges and universities that aren’t equipped to provide remote students with a high-quality educational experience—equal to the in-classroom experience—will find themselves missing out on an increasingly significant segment of prospective students. The solution? Working with a qualified AV integrator to design a comprehensive and integrated system that delivers for all your learners, no matter where they are.

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AV Busting Your Budget? An Integrator Can Save You Money

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AV Busting Your Budget? An Integrator Can Help  

Have you ever started a home improvement project by uttering these famous last words: I bet I can do that myself? Only, you later discover after multiple trips to the hardware store, a string of unforeseen complications, and a lot of swearing that it would have been faster, easier and cheaper to hire a professional in the first place?

Now, have you ever been tempted to start an AV integration project the same way? Before you find yourself cursing at your video conferencing system, consider this. Just like you need the right skills and tools to install a new toilet, you need the right skills and tools for a truly successful AV integration and AV integrators have them. Involving them early in the process can help you avoid mistakes and missteps that will be time-consuming and costly to fix later. For example, according to industry standard expert AQAV, the cost of fixing poor quality AV can approach 20 percent of the total cost of the system, while monitoring and maintaining a good quality AV system only costs 2.5 percent of the total purchase price.

Start Saving with an AV Integrator

Here are three key ways that partnering with an AV integrator can help reduce the overall cost of your AV project.

  1. Integrators help you choose the right tech—and show you know how to use it. You know what functionality you need from your AV tools, and you might have even found what looks like the perfect solution. But is it the most cost effective one? AV integrators are familiar with the wide variety of solutions on the market and can likely find you something that delivers the same results for a lower cost. AV integrators can also provide training for your employees—including IT staff—so everyone knows how to use the technology in a way that maximizes your investment.
  2. Integrators improve purchasing partnerships. Your purchasing department is a key member of your integration team, but if they are kept in the dark until the very end of the process what they buy and what you need might not be the same thing. Integrators can act as a liaison to your purchasing team, helping to leverage technology you already have and making sure any new technology purchases are compatible and meet your needs. Integrators also have strong vendor relationships they can leverage to get you the best pricing on commercial grade hardware and software.
  3. Integrators can minimize unforeseen expenses. Just like multiple trips to the hardware store can add up, so too can going back to fix avoidable problems in your AV installation. Worldwide, the cost of lost work and rework caused by poor quality AV exceeds $15 billion. Full-service integrators like Level 3 provide a multi-disciplinary team that can help you through every phase of an AV project, including design, engineering, integration and aftermarket support, so you know your project is getting done right the first time. This is especially true of Level 3—as an AV 9000 certified integrator we adhere to the highest industry standards for every project.

Next Steps

No matter the type or size of your AV project, a qualified AV integrator can help you get it done faster and more cost effectively. Schedule a free consultation today to learn more.

Why an AV Engineer is Critical to Your Next Integration Project

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How an AV Engineer Makes the Most of Your Budget

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but a lesser known proverb says that on every successful audiovisual systems integration team is an AV design engineer.

AV integration projects are rarely the work of a single person—they are a group effort. And making sure the right people are in that group is critical to your AV project. With an AV design engineer on your team, you can rest easy knowing that the planning, implementation, and installation of your AV system is in good hands.

What Can an Audiovisual Design Engineer Do for You?

So what does an AV engineer do that makes them such a valuable part of your team? Here are a few of the skills and benefits they bring to the table:

AV engineers have a specific set of skills that are important to any AV integration and installation project. An AV engineer can start helping you as early as the planning stage of your project, offering insight into which tools, solutions and platforms are best suited to meet your needs and fit your budget. They can also help ensure that the technologies you choose are interoperable and can work together without additional configuration or integration from your IT team.

“[An AV engineer] helps the client be responsible with their spending,” said Jeff Bethke, VP of Engineering for Level 3 Audiovisual. “The value is that they understand what you need, and they can come back and say, for it to do this, this is how we would approach it using best practices, quality products, and quality vendors. We try to find the common space where the function meets the budget and those two things are comfortable.”

Without the expertise of an AV engineer in the design phase of your project, you risk overspending on technology that doesn’t even deliver what you need. Which is, as the saying goes, a lose-lose situation.

Still not convinced? Imagine that instead of building an AV system you were building an airplane. Would you build an airplane by yourself without the assistance of an aeronautical engineer? If you wanted to get off the ground—or not crash immediately, the answer is probably no.

So why should your AV system be any different? You might not be risking a physical crash, but deploying an AV system without the input of an AV engineer can certainly disrupt if not destroy your meeting productivity, collaboration efforts, and the morale and satisfaction of your employees.

“You need technical people who understand the systems, the individual components, and how they work together to deliver the function,” said Bethke. “No one piece alone delivers any of this stuff.”

This is especially true as companies and organizations incorporate more complex and emerging technologies into their AV roadmap, such as artificial intelligence and virtual and augmented reality.

An AV engineer can help ensure your AV design meets not just your needs today, but needs and solutions that may arise in the future as well. As integrated systems become more advanced, AV design engineers become more of a necessity than a luxury, especially when it comes to providing a unified and positive user experience.

“In today’s world you can’t separate the meeting room technology from the end user’s experience at their desk, on their laptop, or on their PC. They are completely linked now. They are totally integrated,” Bethke said.

Your AV design needs to consider not just the actual tools and technologies you are using but the workflows those tools and technologies are facilitating, like scheduling meetings, reserving rooms, and launching and joining audio and video conferences.

At this point, you might be convinced that what you actually need is AV expert, an IT expert, a network expert, a software expert, and a communication expert. The good news is, an AV design engineer is all those things rolled into one.

Next Steps

Level 3 AV’s approach is to put the needs and experiences of the end users first. Audiovisual equipment that operates flawlessly is useless if it doesn’t do what you need. Ready to start designing the system that best suits your needs, your budget, and your users? Get in touch today.

Do You Need a Video Collaboration Expert?

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Do You Need a Video Collaboration Expert?

Even if skinny jeans are “in,” they may not be the best choice for you if you don’t like the way they look and feel. The same logic goes for choosing video and other collaboration technology—just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for your organization.

Providing employees with technology-rich meeting and collaboration spaces is important, but the most commonly used video collaboration and conferencing tools might not be what’s best for supporting productivity and user work styles at your organization. Here are some ways to ensure you choose technology that is the right fit for your huddle spaces and conference rooms:

Plan Before You Purchase

The most efficient and cost-effective way to shop is to decide what you need before you go and then stick to your list. That way you don’t impulsively choose things you don’t need or won’t use (like gummy bears or skinny jeans). The process for choosing and buying new audiovisual (AV) equipment should be the same.

First, determine your goals. Don’t begin by thinking in terms of technology. Think in terms of capabilities, work styles, and the kinds of work your teams want to accomplish. That way you won’t be influenced by what’s popular. Do teams need to live stream? Do they need to present to remote groups? Do they use or ignore the technology already in meeting spaces? Do they walk past the current presentation system and just use their laptops? If so, why? Are existing solutions too hard to use? Consider all the applications and use cases within your organization and remember that not every department or team will use a tool in the same way. User suggestions, requests and complaints, as well as any usage data captured by your current video conferencing system—if you have one—can help you accurately identify requirements.

Once you’ve uncovered clues about how employees want to work—and actually work—you can begin to research which hardware and software tools are available to meet their needs. Consider which ones will work with other systems in use at your organization. Regard how users will work in your designated collaboration spaces. Because audio considerations are often overlooked when evaluating video collaboration solutions, review your spaces to see if there are acoustical limitations, unusual room dimensions, etc. Is there an option to choose ongoing management, maintenance, or support? Narrow your choices down to ones that won’t require customization or enhancements—you’re trying to make work easier for everyone, including yourself.

How to Choose the Right Solution

Once you’ve done some initial research, it can still be difficult to make the right choice. This is a good point in the process to solicit the help of a certified AV design engineer. An expert can help you review considerations such as:

  1. Set-up complexity. A qualified integrator can help you understand how long it will take—and how much it will cost—to install each of the solutions you are considering. They can also help you with related items such as understanding network requirements and planning for future upgrades.
  2. Features and functionality. No user has a good experience with a solution they struggle to use. An integrator can walk you through how to start or join a meeting, how to connect multiple devices, how to share screens, how to use recording features and how to include and accommodate remote users.
  3. End-user experience. Is the software intuitive? Can meetings and collaborations be launched quickly? Will meeting organizers have all the tools they needs to accomplish their goals? If you—or your integrator—answered no to any of these questions, keep looking.
  4. Budget and ROI. If it’s not in your budget, it’s not the perfect solution for you no matter how great it seems. How do the benefits compare to the price—both now and in the long term? Remember to consider both one-time and recurring costs, such as maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. The best solution will also allow you to gather usage data that shows how people are using the tool, what problems they are experiencing, and how well the tool is helping them meet their goals.
  5. Infrastructure requirements. A qualified AV engineer or integrator can help ensure you are implementing a holistic, flexible, agile and future-proofed system.
  6. Access and security. Ensure that those who need to access your system can—and that others can’t. AV design engineers can make sure your system is web-enabled, mobile-compatible, and cloud-accessible, while also ensuring your network isn’t overburdened and your assets stay secure.

Next Steps

The right video collaboration and AV tools help even the smallest company enjoy a large, global presence. Video can be used to engage anyone, anywhere while also maximizing productivity. Contact us to speak with one of our certified AV professionals to discuss solutions by Skype for Business, Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans, Cisco, Polycom, and many more and help you determine which video collaboration solution will best fit your needs.

 

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