Meeting Owl

The Meeting Owl is a web cam, microphone and speaker built into a single housing. Its main purpose is for web conferencing using services like Blackboard Collaborate, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Skype for Business.

It has a couple of unique features. One such feature is its built-in echo cancellation. Echo occurs when audio from the far end is picked-up by your microphone and then sent back to the far end. For example, the folks on the far end say hello. Hello will come out of your speaker. That audio is picked-up by your microphone. Then unfortunately, that audio goes back to the far end. So a few seconds after saying hello, the far end hears themselves saying hello. Minor echo is annoying. Major echo can make communicating virtually impossible.

Another unique feature of the Meeting Owl is its three-hundred and sixty degree camera with automatic tracking. When used in a web conference, the camera shot coming from the Meeting Owl is broken up into two primary sections. The top section is the three-hundred and sixty degree camera shot. It appears as a long thin strip showing the whole environment around the Meeting Owl. Beneath that are tight shots of the participants that are speaking. The Meeting Owl has eight microphones and uses those to determine where sound is coming from. Once it keys in on a sound source, it will provide a camera shot of it. The Meeting Owl can get tight camera shots of up to three different participants at a time.

Optimally, the Meeting Owl is for groups of two to ten people in a room no bigger than 17 feet x 13 feet x 10 feet. For ideal video performance, people should sit no further than six feet away from the Meeting Owl. For ideal audio performance, people should sit no further than twelve feet away. In an ideal world, the Meeting Owl should sit pretty much in the middle of the group. That will keep it equidistant from all of the participants.

The Meeting Owl has two cords. One cord is for the external power supply. That is necessary to power the unit. The other cable is micro USB. That hooks up to a computer. The USB cable is compatible with USB 2.0 and 3.0. USB-C will work with an adapter. Bear in mind that inexpensive cables and adapters may be problematic and can cause audio and video issues.

A computer is required to run your web conferencing software (Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Skype for Business, etc.). The Meeting Owl acts as a web cam, speaker and microphone. It sends the audio and video through the USB cable to the web conferencing software running on the PC.

The Meeting Owl is plug and play. It does not require any special software on the PC running the web conferencing software. Once plugged in, the computer should recognize it as a web cam, microphone and speaker.

Once the web conferencing software is running, check its settings to ensure that the camera, microphone and speaker are all set to be the Meeting Owl.

The Meeting Owl’s camera is a three-hundred and sixty degree camera, so it will shoot the entire environment around the unit. The top portion of its camera shot is the three-hundred and sixty degree camera shot. It appears as a long strip across the top of the image. Below that, it will highlight up to three different participants who are speaking.

The camera features auto focus and auto iris. As a result, it should automatically adjust itself for optimal image quality. If the Meeting Owl is in a dark environment, the camera may have issues focusing and the image may be noisy.

When starting a meeting, make sure the Meeting Owl is selected as the web cam in the web conferencing software running on the meeting PC.

When the camera becomes active, the unit needs to map the environment. It will take up to thirty seconds for the unit to build the map. While the creation of the map is taking place, you will see a Meeting Owl splash screen instead of the camera shot.

For optimal image quality, participants should sit within six feet of the unit. They can either sit or stand. Participants should sit at least two feet away from each other so that the unit can differentiate between individuals. If folks sit too close together, the camera may have issues getting shots of individuals who are speaking.

If the Meeting Owl is having issues getting shots of individuals who are speaking, there are some simple things to check. First off, make sure the Meeting Owl is set to be the speaker in your web conferencing software. For example, if a TV is set to be the speaker, the Meeting Owl will shoot the TV thinking that it is a participant in the meeting.

Make sure the Meeting Owl is not too close to a wall or other large hard surface. If so, sound will come out of the Owl’s speaker, bounce off the large hard surface and then come back to the Owl. The Owl may then see that as an active participant who is speaking.

Participants need to speak loud, clear and towards the Owl. Otherwise, the Owl may not know exactly where the sound is coming from.

Have individuals move further away from the unit (maximum of six feet away). If folks are sitting too close, the Owl may have issues differentiating between people.

A lot of motion in the room can confuse the Owl. It builds a map of the environment when the camera becomes activate. If there is a lot of motion in the room, it has to rebuild that map. Until the unit rebuilds the map, it may have issues locating folks.

Background noise can confuse the unit and cause delays in getting shots of the participants who are speaking. Keeping background noise at a minimum level is ideal.

When the Owl shows participants who are speaking, by default, it does so using a combination of animations and straight cuts. It may slide the new speakers into view and the old speakers out of view. Modifying this behavior is possible. To change it, look at the back of the unit where the cables plug in. Right above the cables is a button. Press and hold that button for approximately two seconds until the Owl makes a tone. That will change the animations to straight cuts only. Once changed, when a new participant’s camera shot comes up, their shot will pop/cut in as opposed to animating in.

The Meeting Owl has eight built-in microphones that will pick participants up from up to twelve feet away. The closer the participants are to the microphones, the better. Participants sitting further away will sound less clear, less distinct and there will be a lot more of the room’s acoustics in the audio. When a participant is close to the unit, sound will come out of their mouth and go directly into the microphone. When a participant is sitting further away, the sound from the participant will bounce off the walls, ceiling, floor and table. In addition to picking up the person speaking, the microphones will also pick up all of that reflected sound which will muddy the audio. So sitting closer to the microphones is preferable to sitting farther away.

When starting a meeting, choose the Meeting Owl as the microphone in the web conferencing software. If necessary, a separate microphone can be hooked up to the meeting PC and can be selected in the web conferencing software in place of the Meeting Owl. Bear in mind that if a separate external microphone is used, the Meeting Owl will no longer perform echo cancellation. In that case, the web conferencing software will have to handle any echo cancellation duties. If a separate external microphone is used, pay very close attention to the type of microphone and its relative position to the speakers in the room. If the microphone picks up sound coming from the speakers, that can cause echo issues for other participants in the meeting.

Once active, the Meeting Owl can take one to two minutes to adjust and calibrate itself to the acoustics of the room. During that time, echo may occur.

The Meeting Owl has mute buttons for the microphones on either side of the unit. When the microphones are muted, other sites in the meeting will no longer be able to hear you. The mute buttons are towards the bottom of the unit and they have a camera icon on them with a slash through them. When pressed, a red light will come on above the mute buttons on both sides of the unit. Additionally, an orange circle with a white microphone with a slash through it will appear over the camera shot from your Owl. If you intend to mute your microphones, make sure the other participants in the meeting understand that when they see the orange circle with the white microphone in it, that is indicating that your microphones are muted, not theirs.

The Meeting Owl has a built-in speaker. Make sure that it is set to be the speaker in the web conferencing software. If some other speaker is used, be aware that the Meeting Owl may see that as a participant that is speaking and may keep it on camera for the duration of the meeting.

The Meeting Owl has volume buttons that are on the front of the unit. The + turns the volume up and the – turns the volume down. Remember that the web conferencing software probably has its own volume control. If the volume on the Meeting Owl will not go loud enough, check the volume in the web conferencing software or ask the participant to either speak louder, or turn up the level of their microphone.

In case of additional issues, try the following. Disconnect yourself from the meeting and then try reconnecting. If necessary, reboot the Meeting Owl. To reboot it, unplug the power cord from the Meeting Owl for about twenty seconds, then plug it back in. As the Owl reboots, the eyes will pulse. When the reboot is finished, the eyes will dim down and the Owl will hoot. If the Meeting Owl asks you to download an app after the reboot, ignore the request and continue to use it as you normally would. If issues persist, can try using different web conferencing software. If the Owl is using inexpensive USB cables and adapters, try replacing them with higher quality components.

If all else fails, call the Classroom Support line at extension 4357.