Expand Your Conference Room With Chromebox for Meetings
February 2, 2014 •Stephanie Fisher
If your organization is a ROWE like Mojo is, you probably have some team members that work remotely at least some of the time. Whether it be from home, from a coffee shop, or while traveling, we all know that work can happen anywhere.
Or maybe you are a multi-location company with team members all over the state or the country and you need an easy way to collaborate as a group. Sure, you can use Skype or Google Hangouts to meet 1-2-1 but what if you have a group meeting with more than a few people?
Until now, you had to rely on awkwardly placing laptops at the end of conference tables, messing with clunky speakerphones, or spending a lot of money on fancy video conferencing equipment. However, Google has a great new product that we could not resist trying out here at Mojo. It's called the Chromebox for Meetings.
It's basically a hardware kit that is integrated into Google Hangouts. I got mine from my buddy Alan Cook at CDW and he did an awesome job of speeding things along and getting the license provisioned so we could start using it right away. If you want to get one for your office (or if you have any other tech supply needs), give Alan a shout at AlanCoo@cdw.com or 877.325.6618 and he will hook you up with amazing customer service.
When I first received the Chromebox for Meetings, it looked a little bit intimidating since there were quite a few parts to configure but it ended up being no big deal once I got things unpacked.
The Chromebox for Meetings consists mainly of these components: webcam, speaker/mic, hardware box, cables, and remote. The main unit is a small box a little bigger than a ROKU or Apple TV. It has USB and HMDI ports so you can connect it to your TV as well as plug in a keyboard (in addition to the webcam and speaker/mic).
The webcam is your basic Logitech webcam that is designed to perch on top of the TV. I don't know if there is anything unique about it specific to the Chromebox for Meetings but it looks pretty standard.
It's really easy to adjust and sits nicely atop the TV screen.
Next, I plugged in the speaker/mic, which is the most useful and significant element in the system. I say that because audio quality is usually the problem when conducting remote meetings.
The speaker and microphone are combined into one small unit that sits on the table and connects to the Chromebox for Meetings unit via USB cable. And holy cow... it sounds great! As we tested the audio with remote team members, the feedback was that sound quality was excellent. Even when we compared sound by sitting at different parts of the conference table (both near the unit and farther away) there was no degradation in sound quality.
After plugging everything in, the next step was to enroll the device. Upon startup, we had to set a few preferences and then sign in with a Google Apps account. I got stuck here because the device was not yet provisioned by Google and CDW so I gave Alan a shout and he sped things along for me (thanks, Alan!) and the next morning I was all set. I signed in, configured a few more settings, and then the final step was to connect a resource to the Chromebox for Meetings.
We had a resource already set up in our Google Apps account "Conference Table" so I connected this resource to the Chromebox for Meetings (this is all done on the web via your Google Apps admin interface). What this means is that now all we need to do is add the Conference Table resource to any meeting and it automatically creates a Google Hangout that anyone on the invitation can join.
For example, we have a weekly team meeting called "Team Huddle" on our calendars. I added the "Conference Table" resource to the appointment which means that anyone who is remote can jump into the meeting by clicking the link on their calendars and they are connected via the Chromebox for Meetings.
The user interface is pretty nice. When no meeting is in progress it displays the next upcoming meeting on the display (if there is one scheduled soon).
All you need to do is select the meeting and start the Hangout with the included remote. All set! The video quality from an attendee standpoint is crystal clear. The reports we got during testing were that is the was the best audio/video quality we've ever seen.
The webcam view is wide enough that it shows pretty much everyone at the meeting with room to spare.
So what make the Chromebox for Meetings to unique and useful when compared to just using a laptop to conference people in?
For one thing, the audio and video quality make a huge difference. When you're not worrying about dropped phrases and choppy video, it makes collaboration much easier. It feels more like you're actually there. Because the speaker/mic are one unit, there is no echo and it sounds clear and natural.
Next, the ease of setting up meetings is awesome. Before, we would have to say "can someone Skype in so-and-so" and we would perch a laptop at the end of the table and try to make it work with limited success. Now, we can just click a button on a remote and start the Hangout.
Another thing that helps is that it makes remote team members "life sized" because they show up on the TV screen which makes it feel more like they are in the room.
So in all, we're very pleased with Chromebox for Meetings. The total cost is about $1500 which is much lower than "big company" video conferencing systems.
What do I love about it most? It reduces the friction between in-office meetings and remote team members. Anything that streamlines collaboration leads to better results and I would say this device is well worth the investment.
Are you using Chromebox for Meetings? What has been your experience?
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