Today’s conference room is certainly not your father’s conference room. Back in the early 90’s, the audio visual equipment found in a conference room consisted of an overhead projector for large transparencies and a manual pull down screen. The more advanced rooms had an electric screen and a LCD projection panel that sat on top of the OH projector in place of the transparencies so that computer images could be projected. Of course, the lights had to be turned off to see the image because the projection light was so dim.

Strangely, you can still buy a projection panel and OHP. If the budget was large enough, a CRT projector could be seen hanging from the ceiling. These were bulky, hard to align and expensive.

To grow, a company has to spend money. Many companies upgrade the technology for their employees, but they often forget the potential of their conference rooms. Before the first piece of equipment is purchased, a company needs to evaluate how the room will be used, the esthetics of the room, and the layout.

The room’s usage is probably the most important factor. Will the room be used for directors’ meetings, sales presentations, employee education, or international meetings? For each of these applications, the basic setup would be a projector and screen. To blend with the esthetics, the screen should be an electrically controlled model, mounted into the ceiling. The projector can be ceiling mounted or contained within a lift, which would drop down from within the ceiling. The basic small conference room is ready.

In today’s business atmosphere, there is a lot more that goes into a conference room. Start with the layout. Most conference rooms are rectangle in shape, designed for a long table. One wall is usually a continuous window or a series of windows. This extraneous light plays havoc with audio visual images. An electric screen shade would enable a presenter to control the level of light in the room.

Some conference rooms have a glass wall separating it from the outside reception area or offices. This wall will also need a screen shade or drapes to provide privacy.

Overhead lighting is the next issue that needs to be addressed. These lights must be connected to a dimmer control. If the room is large, several dimmers should be utilized in case a part of the room needs to be darkened but not other parts where people might be taking notes. A conference room has many purposes and activities and needs lighting to quickly adapt to each situation.

Lutron has light management systems that can handle rooms up to 400 people (I want to see that conference room). A presenter, who wants to use audio visual equipment needs only to push one button and the room lights will dim, the shades will close, and the projection screen will descend. When finished, another button will bring everything back to its original position.

Courtesy of Lutron

Hopefully there is a bare wall at one end of the conference table, with the ideal situation being two unadorned walls at each end of the room. Pick one of these walls as the prime wall or front of the room. Two things need to be at this location.

The first is an electronic whiteboard. Interactive whiteboards are whiteboards, computers and projection screens all rolled into one. Several of the more popular brands are SMART Board, ActivBoard, eBeam, Mimio, and Webster.

Depending on the brand chosen, the boards can be written on with pens, dry-erase markers, fingers or any number of instruments, and there are many additional accessories to fit most needs. A smart board is connected to a printer, so any notes on the whiteboard can be printed out and distributed to participants. Newer boards can be connected to a computer, allowing notes to be saved as a computer file.

Connect laptops and multimedia devices to interact easily with the digital material. Write on the digital whiteboard or over documents, videos, spreadsheets and presentations. Save notes into a single file and e-mail them directly to colleagues, or take them on a USB drive. And when the meeting is finished, the reset room function instantly clears the whiteboard, closes all conferences and applications and leaves the room ready for the next meeting.

The SMART UX60 projector, which is mounted above the board, uses Texas Instruments’ BrilliantColor technology to produce high levels of brightness and contrast. Video, data and application files will look crisp and bright from every position in the room. Note that not all white boards come with a projector.

All though many presenters use a white board as a projection screen, I highly recommend employing a regular projection screen. When viewing video presentations, the image quality will be far superior. To determine the size of the screen, use the audience as a guide. The height of the screen should be approximately ¼ the distance from the screen to the furtherest chair. All of the screen manufacturers have formulas on their web site to choose the screen dimensions and material. The bottom of the screen should be four feet above the floor.

Most screen manufacturers have concealed electric screens. The Draper Signature Series E ceiling-recessed projection screen has an independently motorized aluminum ceiling closure which disappears into a white case when the screen is lowered, hinges concealed.

Commercial projectors are usually much brighter that home projectors, because conference rooms have so much ambient light. The actual lumens of the projector will be determined by the light intensity of the room. LCD projectors put out more light than their DLP counterparts, making them the choice for conference rooms. DLP has a smoother image for action scenes, but most business applications are static so a LCD projector will work very well. I suggest that a 1024 x 768 (or greater) resolution projector be used, as most business images are at this resolution or better.

Since the projector will be ceiling mounted, weight is not an issue. Actually, a heavier projector will be more stable as part of a permanent installation. The important issue is the screen size and the projector’s location. The projector must be able to handle an interchangeable lens should there be an air vent, light fixture, or ceiling beam support preventing installation of the projector mount at the proper throw distance. Keystone adjustment is be an added value in case the projector cannot be centered on the screen.

Another feature to look for is dual lamps. A meeting could be a disaster if a lamp burns out in the middle of a presentation, especially if the meeting is on a tight schedule. Standing on the conference table to change a lamp is not good etiquette. One such projector is the Mitsubishi WL-2650U.

There are a variety of companies that manufacture ceiling mounts and lifts. If there is sufficient clearance above the drop-down ceiling a concealed projector lift can be used.

If the clearance is minimal, or the projector is in constant use, a standard pole ceiling mount will suffice, but be sure that it has adjustments. You can never have enough adjustments when installing a projector.

Don’t forget the sound system. The speakers should be mounted in the ceiling and spaced for even sound no matter where a participant is seated. Use only the highest quality speakers so that the presenter and the video/audio come across clearly. Never end a meeting where the audience is confused as to what was presented because they could not hear plainly. Obviously, if the room is small, the presenter might not need a sound system.

Hi-Fidelity Conference Room Ceiling Speakers by Bogen are perfect for areas needing exceptional sound. The recessed design allows the speakers to be mounted in the ceiling. The low-distortion speaker design, coupled with a computer-matched venting system, delivers high intelligibility and exceptional low-frequency response for both music and speech reinforcement.

If the conference table is long and the participants will be hard to hear, when speaking normally, microphones should be placed at each seat and connected to the room sound system. has a good Application Guide for installing conference room mics. The piece is called, “Microphone Technology for Conference Rooms.” Other microphone companies are Brähler, Revolabs, Sennheiser and Shure.

There are many occasions where phone calls have to be made or received during the meeting and have to be heard by all of the attendees. For such circumstances, a clear conversation is critical. Conference phones, such as Polycom, must deliver superb voice quality and expansive microphone pickup 360° so that the speaker on the other end of the conversation sounds like he or she is in the same room.

Polycom speaker phone

At the far end of the conference room, a flat panel TV should be mounted so that the entire audience can view it. I suggest the TV be at the back of the room rather than the front in order to keep down the clutter and enable two associated presentations to be easily viewed. If the TV is mounted at the front of the room, it would have to be mounted off to the side as not to block the smart board or projection screen. Angled viewing is awkward.

If the conference room is very small, a LCD or plasma TV will satisfy the audience, but in larger venues, a projector is a must, as flat-panel TVs have a size limitation of about 80″ diagonal, whereas a projector can throw an image up to 300.”

All presentation systems within a conference room, including video conferencing can be controlled from one panel. Companies, like Crestron and AMX, offer total seamless integration of lights, shades, HVAC, audio, video and teleconferencing.

One product is often missing in conference rooms, but should be there. It’s a visual presenter. It operates similar to the old OHP, but uses a video camera. A presenter is ideal if 3-D objects, or printed documents need to be displayed on the projection screen.

The last conference room system is video/audio/data conferencing equipment. Not all companies need conferencing, but for companies that regularly meet with people in different geographic locations, this equipment saves thousands of dollars in travel, not to mention the time that a business trip would take. If videoconferencing was around years ago, I would not have had to travel fourteen hours on a plane to Hong Kong. Key companies in this area are Polycom, Tandberg and VTEL.

One size in teleconferencing does not fit all companies. A company will need to evaluate what its goals are before making a final choice. Before making a purchase, go to the Video Conferencing Guide at Tandberg, which has the questions to ask before you start your conferencing search.

VTEL has the iPanel system, which uses a fully integrated PC and high-def LCD HDTV panel, which connects to any broadband IP network by way of a cable modem, DSL or enterprise LAN.

Designing and installing a conference room is not for the amateur. Today’s conference room needs an expert integrator’s touch.

Len started in the audio visual industry in 1975 and has contributed articles to several publications. He also writes opinion editorials for a local newspaper. He is now retired.

This article contains statements of personal opinion and comments made in good faith in the interest of the public. You should confirm all statements with the manufacturer to verify the correctness of the statements.