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Executive Q&A: NEARITY Moves Toward Meeting Equity

Andy Xin, NEARITY
(Image credit: Future)

SCN: When did you start NEARITY, and what are your responsibilities?

Andy Xin: I founded NEARITY back in 2018. In addition to leading the company’s overall direction, I also continue to be heavily involved in overseeing R&D and engineering. 

SCN: How has your background prepared you for your role?

AX: Prior to founding NEARITY, I had been running a company that supplied enterprise-grade computing solutions. I gained a lot of insight into companies’ evolving IT device needs from a business perspective. It was clear that AV capabilities were already intrinsic in enterprise work, and that trend has further accelerated as remote working proliferated during the pandemic. One of the things I noticed was that as laptops got smaller and thinner, built-in audio and video capabilities were not improving significantly. This was part of the inspiration for NEARITY to develop professional AV accessories to supplement laptops’ built-in functionality.

Nearity Logo

(Image credit: Nearity)

SCN: Where do you see the Pro AV industry heading?

AX: One of the ultimate goals of the AV industry is to make online meeting experiences as close to their face-to-face counterparts as possible. There have been many innovations in this field in the past five years, but there are so many different scenarios to cover that achieving this is still complex. People could be chiming in from their home office, a Starbucks, an open-space office desk, or a meeting room (opens in new tab). Each scenario needs a different AV device to make the experience optimal. You can’t simply make one device that covers all use cases—but as a manufacturer, if you offer multiple devices, you want the user experience to be consistent across all of them. NEARITY has been working on this problem for the last four years, and offers optimized products for a wide range of environments.

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SCN: In addition to the separate devices, you sell all-in-one speaker/mic/camera units. When is an all-in-one unit the best choice?

AX: All-in-one units are ideal for smaller spaces like huddle rooms (opens in new tab) and small meeting rooms, where they can sufficiently cover the room from both an audio and video perspective. By combining the camera, speaker, and microphone into a single unit, they offer a very space-efficient and visually unobtrusive solution. They also minimize wiring requirements, which saves both installation effort and the number of ports that you need to use on the connected laptop. Our all-in-one units such as the NEARITY C30R can also be daisy-chained with our A20 SpeakerMics, so if the all-in-one camera is enough to capture the whole room but you need additional audio coverage, you can pair an all-in-one with additional audio endpoints.

Our goal is to make the hybrid or virtual meeting experience replicate the in-person meeting experience as closely as possible.

SCN: You announced earlier this year that MVD is distributing your products in North America. How important do you see this region for your future, and how is your progress so far?

AX: The North American market represents a tremendous growth opportunity for us, and with our solutions well-established in Asia already, the U.S. is our most important strategic initiative. While we’re off to a good start in North America, the reduction in in-person trade shows in recent years has made it difficult for integrators and customers to truly experience the advantages of our products. We were excited to exhibit at InfoComm in June so attendees could experience the NEARITY difference first-hand, and look forward to carrying that momentum into the rest of 2022 and beyond. 

SCN: What is the greatest challenge you face?

AX: As a global company, we want to attract and hire the best R&D talent to make world-class products. We have invested heavily in audio technology innovation, and continue to look for talent and expertise to expand our team. We also are expanding our sales team to best serve the unique needs of each country. In addition to working with distributors such as MVD (opens in new tab), who have extensive local-market experience, we want to make sure we are hiring the right people in each region to best support our systems integrators, resellers, and customers. 

SCN: There is a lot of competition for conference room AV products. What are some of the unique technologies that NEARITY offers?

AX: One of our unique strengths is our audio algorithm innovation. Deep learning can be used to solve some very tricky problems with audio, and there have been significant advances in the past couple of years. For example, traditional echo cancellation could not totally cancel out all echo, so nonlinear echo suppression was often used to cancel the rest of the echo—but it could also detrimentally affect important speech. This can be solved quite effectively with deep learning, and we are one of the first companies that has combined deep learning with traditional signal processing in practical, real-world products.

SCN: How important are features like speaker tracking and auto-framing in today’s corporate environment?

AX: These features are very important in helping achieve "meeting equity" for all participants. As mentioned earlier, our goal is to make the hybrid or virtual meeting experience replicate the in-person meeting experience as closely as possible. In a face-to-face meeting, an attendee will turn their head and focus their attention on the person who is speaking; speaker tracking and auto-framing are the closest equivalent to being able to simulate that experience for remote participants when using just a single camera.

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SCN: Besides “buy NEARITY,” of course, what advice would you give an integrator looking to outfit conference rooms and huddle rooms across a corporate building?

AX: As discussed earlier, each type of room may need a different type of device to ensure optimal experiences. The ability to offer scalable, optimized solutions for each space from a single vendor like NEARITY makes life easier for both systems integrators and their customers. Integrators can meet the requirements of any room without needing to support multiple different vendors’ products, and their end users get a consistent operational experience regardless of which room they are using for their meeting.

SCN: What new initiatives are we likely to see from your company?

AX: While our initial products all focused on video and audio endpoints such as speakers, mics, and cameras, we plan to expand our portfolio with additional offerings such as collaboration whiteboards that can make the AV experience even more interactive and immersive.

Mark J. Pescatore
Mark J. Pescatore

Mark J. Pescatore, Ph.D., is the content director of Systems Contractor News. He has been writing about Pro AV industry for more than 20 years. Previously, he spent more than eight years as the editor of Government Video magazine. During his career, he's produced and hosted two podcasts focused on the professional video marketplace, taught more than a dozen college communication courses, co-authored the book Working with HDV, and co-edited two editions of The Guide to Digital Television