How can you Move Cable with That Table?
It can be difficult to manage all the wires, boxes, wall-warts, and power plugs that are often necessary in a conference room setting
When building out a client’s new facility, chances are they will want several different types of conference rooms with as much flexibility as possible. Architects and furniture providers are always eager to please, and there are a number of really amazing reconfigurable furniture systems on the market today. They come with collapsible tables, handy power and data outlets, some cable management, and storage solutions—all good things to have without a doubt. But what they don’t come with is provision for real AV technology.
When I say real AV technology, I mean things like table mics, HDMI input kits, VG A connectors, audio inputs, and control panel ports. All reconfigurable table manufacturers will say that they can accommodate these things, but experience indicates the contrary. Even though there may be physical space to have all these different types of inputs, there’s never an easy way to cable manage all the different types of wires, boxes, wall-warts, and power plugs that are often necessary.
Moreover, the problem is compounded since it’s a good idea to have a mic for every two people if you want to teleconference. That can add up to a lot of wires! Now say you have 24 two-person reconfigurable tables with a mic on each, four HDMI inputs, four VG A inputs, audio lines, power, and data cables for everyone. Complicate things by having a limited budget and pan deck structural accommodation for four floorboxes that are only 3.5 inches deep. No matter how you look at it, you quickly have a cabling nightmare on your hands.
What usually happens is when the furniture is delivered to the site and the project is nearing completion, the AV integrator can finally get into the new room and start wiring up all the tables. A good AV integrator will do a diligent job wiring up the tables so they look great despite all the cabling. Furthermore, if there is teleconferencing capability in the system, a good AV integrator will tune the echo cancellation system for said teleconferencing capability to provide optimal acoustic performance. But the problem is that the room is wired and tuned optimally for this initial table configuration. The first time the room is reconfigured and used in a different configuration, all bets are off. The teleconference system will be out of whack, and chances are the cabling will never look the same.
Now that we’ve clearly identified a growing problem in the AV technology field, the question is: “What can we do about it?” When I begin a project and I’m shown an initial floor plan with reconfigurable tables, I instantly notify my client of the difficulties they will face from a technology standpoint, and recommend against mobile furniture systems. When the client and/or architect quickly shoots down the idea of having fixed furniture systems, several factors must be taken into consideration… a balancing act, if you will.
Balancing Act # 1: Engineer a system that will allow for the simplest setup and breakdown of the technology components slated for integration into reconfigurable furniture systems. This includes the wise placement of the largest floorboxes the deck of your building will support. The more floorboxes you can get, the more cables you can distribute to each one, easing the cable management load through multiple segments of furniture. This will also allow you to distribute more power and data to where it’s needed.
Balancing Act # 2: Develop a system that will feature the most robust teleconferencing technology available today. Build your system around a Polycom, ClearOne, BSS, or Biamp product with serious on-board DSP horsepower for robust echo cancellation. A tabletop Polycom Soundstation with extension mics is not going to suffice in this instance.
Balancing Act # 3: Inform the client what to expect from the usage and performance of the system. Convey your understanding of the system performance to users who drive the need for reconfigurable furniture systems.
Balancing Act # 4: Whenever the room is reconfigured, take extra time to do a professional job dressing and managing cables. Take extra time to test the system for all inputs and teleconferencing quality.
Balancing Act #5: Make sure you budget for a higher level of expenditure when integrating technology in reconfigurable rooms. These rooms will need more switcher inputs, more mic inputs, larger audio routing, and more echo cancelling capabilities. These rooms will also no doubt need a touchpanel-based control system to ease the usage and configuration of the system.
With all these balancing acts, all the extra money, and all the extra effort these rooms require, you’re probably thinking, “No way am I going to do a room like this!” But the reality is that end-users need these rooms, and we are stuck with them.
Because of this, I’m going to issue a call to the AV technology industry: Please develop a solution to this problem in a hurry. A structured cabling system with attachable technology ports for high- and low-voltage signaling is desperately needed. It should be a system that has standardized segments that can be easily attached to the underside of reconfigurable furniture systems. Each low-voltage segment should have anywhere between 100 and 200 conductors that can be assigned to various signals in an equipment rack via a simple-touse punch-down block or similar apparatus. Everything downstream of the punch-down block all the way to the end-user should be modular. It should also possess segments that are easy to pull though a conduit. Maintaining signal integrity will be a challenge, but I have never ceased to be amazed at what the manufacturers of AV technology can develop. AV industry, it’s time to get on it for end-users, consultants, and integrators everywhere!
Joey D’Angelo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a principal consultant at Charles M. Salter Associates. He has worked at Salter for the past 12 years and has completed more than 300 projects since graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He enjoys hearing from readers and plays in a punk rock band.
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