Bose VideoBar VB1 – Review

Image from Bose’s website – that is not my arm

We have a pretty nice conference room at my school and it gets a lot of use too. It has a great 80″ display, nice tables with power built into them and comfortable chairs. We also have integrated speakers in the ceiling, lots of natural light and easy connections to the display. There is one thing that it has always been missing and that is a good video conference option.

We have tried to bring in a VOIP phone but unless you were sitting right next to it, you couldn’t hear the person. We tried hooking up a smartphone to the speakers with an adapter, but that required someone to sit at the front and they would always have difficulty hearing people in the back of the room or if a group of people were talking it was difficult to hear any of them clearly, then we tried hooking up a computer and run a Zoom meeting. The problem was the camera was not a wide angle camera and so it only captured 65% of the room which usually means we sit a bit far from the camera or we reposition the tables. Then the microphone on the laptop was difficult to hear, even if there were only 8-10 feet away especially if they turned their head away from the mic.

We reached out to some vendors and one recommended we try out the Bose Videobar VB1 (that’s quite the name I know). We had a demo unit for two weeks and it worked very well.

Price

This solution isn’t cheap. It runs around $1200, but it just may be worth it. There are no licensesyou need to pay for or extra software or driviers that area needed. It is truly plug-in-play meaning that you can pull it out of the box, connect it to a computer and you’re good to go. It comes with a very nic and robust stand. The stand will allow you to adjust the camera up or down a little which is nice and the stand is very stable.

There is an optional mounting kit that you can purchase. This will let you mount it to the back of a TV or to a wall. It can be mounted above or below the screen. The VB1 doesn’t care – it’ll give you a good picture regardless.

Features

This thing will display a 4K image. Really not too necessary for Zoom or any video conferencing but it’s good to know that it is not some grainy 720p image that a lot of laptops offer. Not only that but it is a wide angle lens. It will show 123° which means it will capture not just to the left and right side of most any room, it will also capture those people who may be sitting close to it.

While the picture is nice, it’s the sound that is fantastic. The Bose produces very good sound for video conferencing. Bose makes some nice sounding equipment and this has been tuned specifically for voices, so they come through very clear and despite it’s smallish size, the VB1 produces enough sound to easily fill our conference room that is over 20 feet long and 13 feet wide (approximately 6m x 4m). In fact, I like the voices out of the Bose VB1 as opposed to our ceiling speakers.

Finally there are the many, many microphones. There are 8 beam steering microphones in fact. That means you can limit the field of what they record. For example if there is a coffee machine running in the back of the room behind everyone, you can limit the range of the microphones so it will nearly remove that sound. It’s pretty neat.

The microphones work wonders. You can be anywhere in our conference room and it all sounds the same. No need to shout or even raise your voice to be heard. All one has to do is talk in a normal volume. While testing it out, I had to remind people that raising their is not necessary and it will just sound like you are yelling at them.

Using it

Pull it out of the box and plug it in. It’s pretty simple really. It has needs its own power (as one would expect) and you can connect it directly to a display, but what we do, is to connect it to a Mac Mini (any computer would work) and then connect the Mac Mini to the display. We connect it our computer via USB-C which makes it very simple. Here it is mounted above our display.

It looks like it is part of the TV – ignore those cables though 🙂

Once it has power, it turns on and then you can select it as the webcam for Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, WebEx, whatever you use. It works great.

There is a remote that will allow you to zoom in and move the camera, and it works well, but it’s not too necessary. There is also a feature called Autoframing that will automatically zoom to include all participants. The problem is if people come in and out or move during a presentation. It seems pretty slow.

There is software you can download and use. On an Intel Mac it had no problem. On an M1 Mac it is unusable – period. It is incredibly slow and you constantly get the beachball of death. You really don’t need it though.

On Zoom (not sure about Skype, Teams, Google Meet or others) I had to tell Zoom to use an HD image. If not, the image looked pretty bad.

Sample

Here is a quick recording. You can see how much the camera picks up and how well the mics work. One thing to note is that this recording is from Zoom. It was compressed to shrink its size down. The actual video quality of the VB1 is much higher than you see here. The sound is captured from the Bose as well.

As you can see and hear, the Bose does a good job.

Conclusion

It is pricy but it certainly seems worth it. The vendor had said that there are some schools who are mounting it on interactive TV’s and putting the whole thing on a cart making it very portable. I am not sure that is a good fit for our school, but this does fill a need we have had.

Zoom vs Google Meet: Zoom wins

I applaud Google and Microsoft for their efforts for beefing up Google Meet and Microsoft Teams respectively, but honestly speaking, if you are looking for a video conferencing application for your school or district, then Zoom is still your best option.

Google has added some nice features to Google Meet. They even have their own official blog page from Google: https://www.blog.google/products/meet/

But Google is not terribly interested in servicing schools here. They are going for the broader picture which is the everyday Gmail user to get people on their platform. Let’s take a look at the features for the free version now:

  • Blurring the background
  • Showing more participants at a time
  • Unlimited length of meetings
  • Integrated with Gmail and Google Calendar
  • Screen sharing
  • Chat window
  • Record meetings
  • Live Closed Captions generated in real time (surprisingly good)
  • Can allow people to call into a meeting
  • The ability to mute/unmute participants

I am sure there are more feature that I am forgetting but what I want to emphasis is that this is a lot of features and it’s free! However, when you are teaching virtually it is a different scenario than a casual call with a friend or family member. The teacher and students have an objective to reach and have a path to get there. Teachers need to better control the meeting. Here is what Google Meet cannot do:

  • Keep students muted
  • Restrict who can use the chat
  • Allow for nonverbal communication (thumbs up, down, raised hand, etc.)
  • Remove students from a class and not allow them to return
    • Technically you can do this in Google Meet, but you must give it a nickname
    • They also must be a member of your G-Suite organization
  • Turn off video and microphone of participants
  • End the meeting for all

Now Google does have plans to beef up Google Meet by adding many of these features. You can read all about them here: https://www.blog.google/outreach-initiatives/education/new-meet-features-for-edu/

The catch is you need to be a G Suite Education Enterprise school. This is not a free upgrade either. They have an introductory rate of $2/user/month. User is anyone who has a Gmail account.

I know that you get a lot more features than just an improved Google Meet with the Enterprise edition, but holy smokes that gets expensive real quick.

Let’s say you have a school with 500 users (450 students and 50 faculty). That means you’ll be paying over $10,000 the first year alone! Then when it goes up to $4/user the cost doubles to over $20,000. Yeah, that’s a lot of money.

Now let’s talk about Zoom and what you get with the K-12 account:

  • Keep students muted
  • Restrict who can use the chat
  • Allow for nonverbal communication (thumbs up, down, raised hand, etc.)
  • Remove students from a class and not allow them to return
  • Turn off video and microphone of participants
  • End the meeting for all
  • Breakout rooms to further differentiate the meeting

Zoom on the other hand only charges you for “Licensed” accounts. These are the accounts with all those fun features that Zoom offers and it costs about $90 per user. That means we are only paying for those 50 faculty accounts (for our 500 student/staff example) so that costs $4500 per year. Yep – a whole cheaper.

Microsoft Teams

Now you might be an Office 365 school. On one of the paid plans (let’s go with the A3 plan). This means you are already paying for Office and a number of other apps. Switching to Zoom is a harder sell in that case, but I would still argue for it.

I would argue that Zoom is a better tool for teachers to better control the video conferencing environment. Now Teams is getting some serious updates coming soon, but still this is a product that was designed for business and adults. It was designed to create a space with focused project based conversations and an emphasis in sharing resources in a contained and searchable environment.

I’ve played around with it and I think it does this well, much like Slack. As a video conferencing application though, I think it falls short.

I’m going to wrap this up. Basically I feel that Google and Micrsoft are trying to transfer a square peg into an octagonal peg so it will better fit in a round hole. Zoom isn’t perfect but when you consider the options that are out there for schools, I think Zoom’s solution is a better fit than any competitor I have seen so far.

Episode 181 – Zoom

Tony and Patrick are back talking about distance learning, recommendations about video conferencing (including Zoom) and a lot more. Please subscribe to our podcast from Apple our searching for us on your favorite podcasting app.

  1. Happy Easter/Spring Break
  2. Zoom
    1. Zoombombing
    2. Zoom and privacy
    3. Zoom alternative
      1. Microsoft Teams
      2. Google Meet
      3. Skype
    4. Recommendations
      1. Zoom Basic (non-compliance) vs. Zoom K-12 (FERPA, COPPA, HIPPA compliant)
  3. Cybersecurity Part 5 – Where Did Your Resources
    1. https://itbabble.com/2020/04/12/cybersecurity-part-5-where-did-you-put-your-resources/
  4. Graduation 2020?
    1. July in person graduation
    2. What does a virtual graduation look like?
      1. Not popular
      2. Not a good product
      3. Think about music, time, speeches

Download this episode HERE