Welcome to our Buyers’ Guide to headsets for video conferencing solutions suitable for small to medium sized meeting rooms. In this article we discuss the various options that are available. We also discuss the key things you should consider in order to choose the ideal setup for your workspace. Read our user reviews of our Top 5 products.
The advent of fast, reliable broadband has made high quality video conferencing accessible to everyone. All you need is a computer or laptop with an internet connection. Over the past year many of us have come to rely on video calls to stay in touch with our colleagues, customers and in many cases, also our friends and families.
For many years video conferencing had traditionally been found in boardrooms of large corporates and organisations. Microsofts’ Skype was really the pioneer for peer-to-peer video calling from the desktop. Over the last few years Skype has evolved into Microsoft Teams and been joined by numerous other conferencing platforms . These include Zoom, Bluejeans, Google Meet, and GoToMeeting. As a result high quality video conferencing has become readily available to all.
In this Buyers’ Guide we are going to look at the range of products that are filling the gap between the boardroom and desktop. During the pandemic many businesses have come to rely on video calls as one of their principle means of communication. Video calls have replaced team meetings. They have also replaced face to face meetings with customers and suppliers.
Post-pandemic it is likely that many people will continue to work from home and much business travel will continue to be replaced by video calls. In this hybrid workplace companies are equipping small meeting rooms with the facility to conduct efficient video meetings. Video calls with both remote staff and customers will become essential for many businesses.
We also have a useful Buyers’ Guide for Microsoft Teams Room systems.
Small Meeting Rooms
As we know one-to-one meetings can be conducted effectively from the desktop and can be enhanced with the use of a headset, small audio conference phone and a webcam to improve the video quality. However, the problem arrises when several people in one location wish to have a meeting with remote participants.
The first thing to consider is how many people the room needs to cater for. You need to ensure that all parties can be both seen and heard. The solutions we discuss in this post are typically suitable for groups of up to about six participants.
The solutions can be divided into two distinct styles. Firstly, a single piece soundbar, where the camera, speaker and microphone are housed inside a single unit. Secondly, a hybrid set up with separate camera for the visual, and audio conferencing unit for to receive and transmit the sound. Often the soundbar style are permanently installed either above or below the display, so these can tend to be a little less portable. They can however tend to be an aesthetically neater solution.
Bring Your Own Device
Most of the hybrid meeting room solutions are a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solution where the meeting is hosted on your laptop. Setting up and operating the call is familiar to anybody who is used to using peer-to-peer conferencing. If you are used to using Teams or Zoom, it’s as simple as selecting the conference phone as your input/output for audio and video. Plug in, and away you go. The majority of the standalone, or all-in-one solutions include an operating system that will host the call. Therefore with these standalone devices there is no need to connect a laptop. Below, we review our Top 5 choices for video conferencing solutions for small meeting rooms. We have recently added a Buyers Guide to Wireless Video Conferencing.
Is the video conferencing setup going to be permanently installed in a single room, or might you wish to move it from one location to another?
How many people are going to be involved on the conference call or online meeting? You want to ensure that all of the people will be both visible and audio. The group size is a key factor in determining both the specification of the camera, and the microphones.
What is your, or your companies preferred video conferencing platform? Do you predominantly use Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or one of a number of many other popular conference platforms?
Bring Your Own Device or Standalone
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), sometimes referred to as Bring Your Own Meeting (BYOM) refers to conferencing solutions that are run from a laptop or a computer. With a standalone video conference setup that conference phone actually hosts the meeting.
Konftel C20800 Hybrid
Number 1 – Yealink A20 Android Video Bar
Best Overall Multi-Platform Solution
Previously the Yealink range came with a choice of Teams or Zoom versions. A recent update in the range sees this plug and play video bar solution preconfigured for use on both of these major platforms. This update has propelled the mid-range Yealink A20 to the top of our list. The Yealink A20 is an all-in-one video bar that runs on an Android 9.0 operating system. There is no need for a PC or laptop to host the call. Everything is housed inside the body of the A20 which is designed to sit on top, or beneath your TV or display.
Video Call Performance
Once the device is signed in to your Teams or Zoom Room account, initiating a call is as simple as inviting the room into your meeting. Control is via the optional CTP18 from which you can control the call, the camera, and easily start and end calls. It’s 20mp camera features a 133° wide field of view, ideal for smaller rooms. The built-in 8 MEMS microphone array and speaker provide full duplex sound. Loaded with AI technology like auto framing and speaker tracking, the A20 delivers a high quality meeting experience that is incredibly simple to use. The benefit of a Room System is that you don’t need to connect, or even bring a computer to the meeting. The Yealink A20 is cable of content sharing and can also used with a whiteboard to enhance the collaboration experience.
Yealink A-Series Product Range
The Yealink A-Series range also includes the smaller A10, and larger A30. The user experience and the features are consistent across the range. The A10 is aimed at the home user, or for huddle rooms. The Yealink A30 which features an additional 90° camera is aimed at the medium sized meeting room with effective coverage of up to 6m. This dual camera design enables the user to focus on the speaker with one camera, whilst maintaining a wide angle panoramic view of the room. For even larger rooms there are Windows based solutions with a dedicated mini-PC. These include the MVC640 and MVC840 which cater for even the largest board rooms. For an in depth look at Teams Room systems we have a Buyers’ Guide to Microsoft Teams Rooms.
Number 2 – Poly Studio X30 Video Conferencing System
All-In-One Video Bar Solution From Poly
Poly, formerly Polycom have for a long time been the market leader for both audio and video conferencing solutions. The Studio X30 is an all-in-one solution designed specifically for the small meeting room market. Unlike the Bring Your Own Device solutions, the Studio X30 eliminates the need to use a computer to host the video call.
No Host Computer Required
The Poly Studio X30 is a completely standalone solution. This means unlike some of the hybrid BYOD units no PC or Mac is required to host the call. Not only does it provide a 4K camera, a speaker and quad microphone array, it also provides the platform to host your conference calls. The optional TC8 is a handheld tablet that provides convenient access to the controls and enhances the whole experience.
When you first connect you can select from a range of conference platforms. These include Poly’s own RealPresence, Microsoft Teams, Zoom Rooms, 8×8 Meeting Rooms, LogMeIn and GoToRoom. An easy to follow wizard will install the platform of your choice. One draw back of this system we found is you tend to be ‘locked in’ to a particular platform. If I make a call via Teams, and want to use it for a Zoom call, it requires a full system reset. We feel that the ‘no host computer’ approach along with the lack of platform flexibility that Poly have taken with the Studio range make it more suited as a ‘one per room’ approach for larger corporates.
Although the camera lacks pitch, tilt and zoom functionality we were impressed with speaker tracking and framing features. By taking advantage of the 4k resolution, it achieves these effects by cropping rather than zooming and moving the camera. The Studio X30 was able to follow a speaker as they moved around the room. Working together with the microphone array it was capable of keeping track of who was talking and the NoiseBlock technology was effective at suppressing unwanted background noises.
The Poly Studio X30 is also available without the optional TC8 control surface. For larger rooms and more participants the Poly Studio X50 also adds 5 x digital zoom and 120 degree field of view, again available with the optional TC8 control unit. The Poly Studio range is completed by an entry level Poly Studio USB which is a BYOD version of the Poly video bar design. The new Poly Studio X70 sits on top of the range, and with dual camera is ideal for larger rooms. The Studio X70 is also available with the TC8.
Number 3 – Jabra PanaCast
Best for small meeting rooms
With its 180 degree field of view, the Jabra PanaCast is the perfect choice for small meeting rooms. This is created without distorting the image by stitching together the images from its three 13 Megapixel 4K cameras. The result is a very natural looking picture. Participants huddled around a small semi-circular table will appear side by side, in focus with a natural perspective. For their first foray into the video conferencing market, with the PanaCast, Jabra have certainly landed a great product.
The Panacast range has been extended with the introduction of the Jabra Panacast 50. The Panacast 50 has the same camera functionality as the Panacast, but features an integrated soundbar. This introduces excellent audio handling capabilities in a single stylish unit, ideal for small meeting rooms.
Another brand new addition to the Panacast family is the Jabra Panacast 20. The Panacast 20 is a 4K Ultra-HD webcam, perfect for remote and hybrid workers. It brings the same cutting-edge video handling capabilities to your desktop.
Plug and play
The Jabra PanaCast is small, weighing only 100g and measuring about 15cm. This therefore makes it extremely portable. USB powered, we had it up and running in under a minute. We would recommend downloading the optional Jabra Direct app which gives easy access to some of the more advanced settings. It’s certified for use with Microsoft Teams and is compatible with Skype, Zoom, Webex, GoToMeeting, Amazon Chime, Vidyo, BlueJeans, Panopto, Slack, Rainbow, Fuze, and more.
During a call we were impressed with the intelligent zoom feature. The image dynamically adjusted to the number of participants. When someone left or entered the meeting room, the picture adjusted accordingly. A concern for a camera cable of such wide angle views was that you could easily end up with a lot of empty space, but the PanaCast kept the participants in a very natural looking focus throughout the call.
The sound quality was adequate, but not brilliant, which for such a small unit isn’t a big surprise. The dual microphones claim to be able to pick up sound effectively from about 3m. If you intend on using it in larger rooms and groups of any more than 2 or 3, we strongly recommend pairing it with a Jabra Speak 710. This provided an audio experience to match the cameras remarkable video performance. The introduction of the Jabra Panacast 50 addresses this issue bringing excellent audio to your small/medium meeting room. The Jabra Panacast 50 ScreenBeam adds wireless connectivity and content sharing, removing the need to physically connect to a host computer.
There are no product variations, but the are a range of accessories available for the PanaCast. The PanaCast wall mount on top of a TV or monitor, but there are also both a wall mount and specially designed table available to ensure you can place your camera in the optimum position. The Panacast Hub is a useful option, enabling you to connect your computer with just a single cable.
Number 4 – Ipevo Totem 120 Conference Camera
Best Budget Option
The cost of video conferencing equipment can be prohibitive, particularly to smaller businesses. However the continued rise in the frequency and importance of video calls have made a video solution for small groups an essential for all businesses. Even those without a dedicated meeting room with a permanently installed solution need the ability to have several participants in one place on a call. The Ipevo Totem is a game changer, giving you the option of two great conference cameras, both at a price point of under £300.
Two Great Options
The Ipevo Totem is, small, compact and extremely portable. There are two versions, the Totem 120, which also doubles as a high quality document camera. The camera can be angled downwards and field of view can be switched to 80° perfect for sharing documents in your video call.
The Ipevo Totem 180 uses two 4 MP cameras to capture the who room. The clever technology then seamlessly stitches the image together to provide a 180° view free from spatial distortion. This allows you to maximise the use of your space and ensure that everyone involved with the meeting is in frame. The AI auto framing adjusts the image to optimise the view of the meeting participants, adjusting is someone enters or leaves the room. You can also adjust the view to 120° at the touch of a button. The Totem 180 has two omnidirectional microphones which come with a built-in noise-reduction. This ensures that everyone’s voice is clearly heard on the other end of the online conference.
The Ipevo Totem is a plug and play BYOD solution that simply connects to your room display and your laptop with a USB-C connection. It is compatible with any platform including Teams, Zoom and Google Meet. Small and compact, it can doesn’t need to be permanently set up and can be moved from room to room, or carried with you in a laptop bag. But the real selling point, particularly for SME’s with limited resources, is that the high quality performance at an entry level price point. For more details on the Ipevo Totem, find our in depth new product review.
Number 5 – Logitech Meetup Video Bar
Premium Brand ‘Bring Your Own Device’ Video Bar Solution
The Logitech Meetup is a high quality plug and play sidebar solution ideal for small meeting rooms. Unlike the Yealink A20 or the Poly X30 which have an onboard Android operating system, the Meetup requires connection to a host PC.
With a 1080P camera with pan, tilt and 5x digital zoom the Logitech provides high quality images. It’s 120° field of view ensures all meeting participants are included in shot, even in small rooms where they are situated quite close to the screen. The triple omni-directional microphones are effective to a distance of 2.4m. The Meetup is expandable and an additional microphone is available as an option.
The unit can be attached to the wall with the supplied bracket, the unit can also be sited on top of your display with an optional mounting kit. It is also supplied with a remote control that includes an option to control the pan, tilt and zoom. You can also use Logitech’s ConferenceCam Soft Remote app for iOS and Android to control the unit.
Testament to the performance of the Logitech Meetup Video Bar is that it is used in the high end Logitech Tap Microsoft Teams Small Room Bundle. The Tap room bundles use a dedicated room computer, pre-configured with a customer install of Teams. Should you plan to upgrade to a full Teams Room system in the future you would be able to use the Logitech Meetup as the camera component. All you would need to do is simply by add the room computer and Logitech Tap user interface.