Inflexibility: TelyHD, Biscotti & Microphones

This is a semi-rant on a somewhat common theme for me, getting the best audio quality. In pondering these two new video calling devices from Tely Labs and Biscotti one thing stands out as unfortunate…they both rely exclusively upon an array of microphones built into their respective device. I find this to be short-sighted and unnecessarily inflexible.

Consider of you will the sample video that Jim Courtney recorded speaking with a gentleman from Tely Labs. The video quality is good. The audio quality is good…but it could be a lot better.

At both ends of the call there’s considerable room tone. In particular you can clearly hear that the conference room at Tely Labs is a simple drywall box. It sounds boomy and reverberant.

As I have described elsewhere, I find that the use of a speakerphone is always a last resort. It’s really only appropriate when you have a group of people collected for a call. To use a speakerphone when the call is just on-to-one is to permit the ambient noise and nature of the room to have undue influence in the audio quality.

Around our house this would be a problem. My wife is the sort that hates to have the TV turned off. After 20+ years working for a TV station, and more recently work in public relations, she’s a news junkie. She’s literally uncomfortable when there’s no background noise around her.

So it is that when she’s in the car she will call me using the nice, new Jabra FREEWAY Bluetooth Speakerphone. However, she’ll still have the radio on. Seldom will she turn it off, or even down, to make a call.

Similarly, when she’s at home the TV is always on. Yet it is her habit to use our Gigaset cordless phones in speakerphone mode. Thus I am always struggling to hear her over the background noise. This makes microphone placement and/or speakerphone performance a pet issue for me.

TelyHD in particular makes considerable claims about beam-forming by way of an array of four omni-directional microphones. SkypeKit has reputedly had this capability for some time as all the Smart TVs make similar claims.

While I don’t doubt their claims, as I’ve argued previously, such measures are at best a remedial step that can never be as good as achieving more optimal microphone placement in the first place. This simple fact is why I always prefer the use of a headset over speakerphone.

I certainly understand that most people will find the omni-microphone array to be adequate, even impressive. It’s certainly a decent starting point when you have several people in the room. It’s cheap, convenient and often good enough…which is a fine place to start. Even so, TelyHD, with it’s USB ports, could allow me to do better if it supported a common USB audio device on one of those ports.

If that was the case then I could use my ClearOne Chat 160 to place the microphones and speaker on the center of the table. That way the audience would not be distributed at various distances from the microphones. On a larger table I could daisy-chain two Chat 160s so that everyone could hear and be heard.

Alternatively, if it was just me at one end of the call I could plug a USB headset into the device and have very clear, direct pickup of my voice. I could even use something like my Plantronics Savi W430 or Voyager Pro UC to have great audio and cordless mobility.

I expect that the consumer application for Biscotti and TelyHD will be adequately met by way of the built-in microphones. That said, their impact in SMB situations could be improved by allowing the flexibility to use an external microphone. At least the presence of the USB ports on TelyHD opens up this potential, where it can just never happen with Biscotti.

  • http://voiceontheweb.biz JimCanuck

    Maybe we’ll find out how flexible an Android-based platform can be if they can add a speakerphone interface to the USB port.

    • http://www.mgraves.org mjgraves

      Yes, indeed. Such a move may just force my hand regarding the purchase of a couple of devices to try them for myself. I really need to find some way to monetize this site in order to better fund such adventures.