Videobar Shootout — AV.technology
Choosing the best all-in-one conferencing soundbar: A market comparison by technology specialists Pereira Projects.
Review:/ Grant Bates, Pereira Projects
Video conferencing in workplaces was already an established growth trend as we entered 2020, but through the Covid-19 pandemic we have see an explosion in usage and a proliferation of devices to support conferencing.
There are such a range of considerations including application (meetings, teaching, social), platform (Zoom, Teams, Meet, Webex etc.), environment (room size, acoustics, lighting), technology (microphones, cameras, display, speakers, computing, control) that the choice can be overwhelming. Technology consultants Pereira Projects are well versed in the discussion and integration of the entire gamut of considerations, but here we have narrowed our focus in on the all-in-one conferencing soundbar market. All-in-one soundbars promise a no fuss solution by combining camera, microphone and speakers in a single USB device but not all are created equal. For the purposes of this review we evaluated devices that allow plug and play use with any USB host, and that retail for less than A$2000.
We assessed conferencing soundbars in the following areas:
- Microphones: Speech quality and microphone pickup through 1m, 2m and 4m tests judged by far-end conference participants.
- Camera: Image quality and auto framing/speaker tracking by recording a sequence of room positions and comparing snapshots to assess resolution, sharpness and colour balance.
- Features: LED indicators, privacy shutters, I/O, Bluetooth, wireless presentation, control interfaces.
- Speakers: Audio quality for program and conferencing sources, subjective comparative assessment using the same music and voice sources for all devices.
- Design: Size, build, aesthetic, style, camera position.
- Price: Comparing not only RRP but utilising industry knowledge to compare dealer pricing.
Designed with complete room systems in mind, the Acendo Vibe 5100 offers HDMI input, HDMI output (with CEC), analogue audio in and out, RS232 control and an occupancy sensor input — surprisingly, there’s no LAN connection.
The JBL speakers perform very well — if a little boomy — and far field mics provide clear speech to far end conference participants. AMX has targeted a more architectural finish with the Acendo coming in light grey and black with a nice fabric trim. The basic 1080p 30fps camera seems a bit behind the pack of 4K feature rich webcams on the market now and its location atop the soundbar makes locating below large displays for optimal lens height challenging.
The extensive I/O and premium build place this as the most expensive of all the units included in our review, leaving us to consider the value of instead combining the camera-less ACV-2100 with the likes of a Huddly IQ or Logitech Brio.
A go-to solution for many Crestron-based systems and a useful choice even when combining with other technologies. We love that this soundbar — like the AMX — has an analogue line out that can provide fixed level audio directly to assistive hearing devices. An analogue input also ensures program audio can be fed in from non USB sources.
The integrated Huddly IQ camera has a very wide field of view (150º diagonal, 120º horizontal, 90º vertical) that easily captures near participants in huddle spaces but is worth considering when you need to avoid capturing below table areas within shot. The camera provides 4x lossless digital PTZ and auto-framing, we found the image quality to be pleasantly soft, with neutral colours but were occasionally disappointed with glitchy or unresponsive auto-framing.
At a little over 1100mm wide, the UC-SB1-CAM is one of the largest soundbars around and its 20W stereo speakers provide a powerful and relatively bass heavy sound profile.
During conference audio testing, the Yealink UVC40 was a standout performer, receiving high scores from ‘blinded’ far-end judges for both audio intelligibility and microphone pickup. At the near end, the soundbar speakers highlight vocal frequencies without sacrificing too much in program audio EQ.
No complaints about the camera either, with a default colour balance geared towards skin tones (credit to the ‘AI face enhancement’) and perhaps the smoothest auto-framing and voice tracking we’ve seen. The mechanical privacy shutter creates a cute touch when it is seen onscreen, opening to reveal the video image.
The UVC40 does have a 3.5mm input for non-USB audio but does not offer a line out connection. Still the all-round performance and competitive price point make this soundbar a great option.
Distribution: MIA Distribution
Unsurprisingly, the Bose VB1 provides wonderfully balanced stereo sound when playing back program audio and does a decent job of projecting vocal frequencies when conferencing. Microphone performance was first class out of the box and can be improved further by configuring room dimensions and exclusion zones.
Once enabled, auto-framing works reliably and has configuration options available to adjust PTZ speed, frame size and optimise for sitting or standing. The built-in camera provides high resolution video but colours may be a touch too warm on default settings. A magnetic privacy shutter along with a status LED is provided as a helpful visual indicator.
We enjoyed the low profile aesthetic of this soundbar which may account somewhat for the higher than average price point.
Maxhub UC S10
The lowest priced soundbar we tested, the Maxhub UC S10 may be best suited to desktop use or an upgrade from smaller monitor-based cameras like the Logitech c930. The soundbar is relatively small in size and nicely designed but the protruding camera profile suggests a preferred location above smaller displays.
With low far-end audio test scores and a somewhat tinny 8W speaker the UC S10 couldn’t match it with higher-end competitors. We were excited about the shared audio in/out port but found that connection of an audio sink (like headphones) disables audio from the speaker itself.
Built in wireless screen sharing and an Android OS are nice features. The unit does need to be manually powered on from a button at the rear, similarly, auto-framing has to be enabled through a handheld remote control, and while the magnetic lens cap is neat, it is likely to go missing. We feel these things firmly place the UC S10 within the home/consumer market and make it challenging to recommend for pro AV or enterprise settings.
Yamaha has brought its loudspeaker pedigree to the soundbar sector with the CS-700 producing clear audio through its left and right tweeters and ‘mid-woofers’ but it was the microphone performance that scored exceptionally well.
The camera provides a serviceable image but is limited to 1080p at 30 fps. With no auto-framing available, the ability to save a home position via the PTZ camera control app is useful. The CS-700 uses a manual privacy shutter and provides a range of controls on the front of the unit. These controls synced with PC and platform controls when testing within Teams but can also be individually disabled if required.
The jury is out on the ’90s boombox aesthetic but with its solid audio performance, the addition of analogue audio I/O would probably bring the CS-700 close to the top of the pile regardless of what you think of its appearance.
Distribution: Amber Technology
The AVer VB130 stands out with its built-in fill light and relatively compact design. Higher than average scores during microphone testing impressed us, but the 6W speaker’s performance was more in line with mid-tier soundbars.
Video quality was very noisy and pixelated despite the camera’s 4K specs and on the 120 degree ‘wide room’ setting the edge of the image became significantly distorted. Auto framing and speaker tracking worked reliably but without the PTZ transition smoothness found in some other products. Disappointingly, the fill light did not have much impact in either bright or low light settings.
Another point of difference is the range of configuration options — web, remote and USB app control allow adjustment of camera tracking modes such as auto framing and voice tracking, tracking speed, setting audio fences, presentation zones, modifying fill light temperature and more.
Distribution: Amber Technology
[Editor’s note: Amber Technology, distributor of AVer products, has pointed out that the AVer VB342+ videobar would be a more appropriate contender in this evaluation (rather than the VB130). Details here.
Unable to get our hands on Audio Visual Distributors’ own offering for testing so soon after release, our assessment was limited to a demo call with AVD using the soundbar on their end and a desktop review of its features, aesthetics and price.
The auto framing of the 4K camera performed smoothly on our test call with steady transitions and decent image quality. It’s worth noting that remote ePTZ is available but any home setting will be lost after a power reboot.
Microphone quality seemed solid with barely any difference in voice pickup between 1m and 5m from the soundbar.
The AMC-G309 has a familiar, inoffensive, ‘Meetup style’ design and is of the most affordably priced soundbars in this market. We look forward to putting one of these through its paces when stock becomes available.
Distribution: Audio Visual Distributors
The Meetup is hugely popular, somewhat thanks to Logitech’s early reaction to the market’s need for an affordable all-in-one device and leverage of their far reaching distribution chains. In the past four years the market has caught up and it is no longer the most competitively priced nor best performing. The Meetup however is a known quantity and works decently well in most scenarios.
We found the 4K camera produced a great image, if a little distorted by its wide field of view, and auto framing using mechanical pan-tilt, with 5x digital zoom proving very effective. Audio from the smallish speakers is clear but can become fatiguing during long meetings. Microphone quality and pickup distance is quite good but for best results additional expansion microphones would be recommended in rooms with more than six people.
More info: Logitech
Neets SB2 + 4K Webcam
While technically not an all-in-one soundbar, an honourable mention goes to the pairing of Neets’ SB2 soundbar and 4K Webcam. With Biamp’s acquisition of Neets, we are still waiting to get a proper look at these units in person.
The camera and soundbar are available on their own at quite an economical price but can also be bundled with the Solvo in the Neets Collabo 2.0 packaged solution. With the Solvo functioning as a conferencing hub, BYOD conferencing and wired LAN is made available via a single USB host connection. The hub can handle 3x USB peripherals, 3.5mm stereo input, and 3.5mm stereo output (!) with a CEC-enabled HDMI output to a display.
A primary driver for any technology decision is the problem being solved. Specifying fit for purpose solutions means there is no one size fits all (in-one) conferencing soundbar, as specific needs and challenges should be considered on a case-by-case basis. What we have confirmed from this review is that the preference for an analogue audio output is not satisfied by many players in the market. If properly providing hearing augmentation in small meeting spaces without the addition of DAs or DSPs is a requirement, you are left with only a few options in either the solid Crestron UC-SB1-CAM or the AMX ACV-5100 which has a few more features but is priced accordingly.
AMX, Bose, Crestron, and Yamaha all deliver very high standard, professional AV solutions. However, it was the Yealink UVC40 that really impressed and scored highest in the categories that often matter most: microphone quality, camera image, framing algorithms and price.
From the Editor: Thanks to Grant Bates and Pereira Projects for their work on this comparison test. NB: AV.technology didn’t commission this review, it is simply republishing the findings with permission from Pereira Projects. If you’d like to know the comparison scores or which camera took which image shown here, then head to the Pereira Projects site , give Grant a yell or phone the office (02) 9089 8622