We ITS techies recently made a meeting cart — a mobile unit with a computer, large screen, wireless keyboard and mouse, and webcam, to make it easy for a group to use AnyMeeting to include off-site folks. While putting some finishing touches on the meeting cart in Pickett and Eliot House’s Rice Room, one of the guests asked how to make such a thing. It’s not terribly difficult, but it will take about $2000 and an afternoon to put together. Here is a quick parts list and some thoughts on building a meeting cart.
TV – This is likely to be where the bulk of your budget goes. Do some shopping to find a good fit. In the UUA’s case we decided to go with 55 Inch LED TV’s as they are fairly large without costing too much over $1000 (When we bought the TV’s we are using now 60 inch screens cost around $1600). Its also important to make sure the TV you pick out has the right ports on the back. The ones used at the UUA all have several HDMI ports (good for adding more things later) and a VGA/computer audio hook up (great for using a laptop to power the screen). I’d recommend looking at reviews on a site like Amazon.com to make sure you are getting a decent deal. Note: Avoid Plasma displays as they can burn in an image if left on for too long with a static picture.
Computer – The computer is the brains of your meeting cart. To power the UUA’s meeting carts we used a Dell Optiplex 3010 Desktop which at the time of writing can be gotten for about $600 with a Quad Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, Windows 7 Professional, a 250 GB hard drive and CD/DVD burner. That said, another desktop or laptop should be just fine. Get at least 4GB of RAM and make sure the computer has a display port out or HDMI out for getting the picture to the TV.
Wireless Keyboard/Mouse – Decent wireless keyboard/mouse combo’s are generally fairly inexpensive. Two models from Logitech have been treating us fairly well. One is a wireless keyboard and track pad while the other is a more traditional keyboard and mouse. Pick something you think people will be comfortable using.
HDMI Cable – This cable connects the computer and TV. Since it carries sound and video you don’t need to worry about more cables. The major thing to worry about here is that the cable is long enough (a 4 to 6 foot HDMI cable should do nicely), though it is always a good idea to double check that the ports on the TV and computer match the cable. Note: With the computer above Dell does not include an HDMI port, instead opting for a display port, meaning that we needed to buy a Display Port to HDMI cable.
Power Strip – You’ll need to get power to the TV and computer somehow and the best solution we’ve hit on so far is a power strip with a 15 foot cable.
Wireless Card (or Ethernet cable) – This is optional depending on whether you have a wireless network or plan to run an Ethernet cable to the computer. Amazon sells a well reviewed wireless USB card or a 25 foot network cable. Just grab which ever is most appropriate for your location.
VGA Cable (optional) – While a 15 foot VGA/Audio Cable isn’t strictly required it’s a handy option and lets just about anyone plug in a laptop and send a picture to the TV.
Velcro Strips – Great for securing all the equipment together. We used it to attach the webcam, power strip and wireless card to the TV cart. A small pack of the stuff can be found at most hardware stores or Amazon has Velcro strips for sale as well.
Webcam – Depending on what you need to use this setup for, a webcam may be vital or optional. With more and more meetings taking place via services like AnyMeeting and Skype, the we opted for a nice HD webcam from Logitech another option would be a wide angle webcam to get a good view of everyone near the meeting cart.
External USB Mic – (optional) After using meeting carts around the UUA we’ve settled on using conference phones or an external USB mic for audio since webcam microphones tend to be less than a perfect audio solution.
A Few Notes on Assembly
If your meeting space has a table and you intend to use this for video conferencing, you’ll probably want to set your wall mount or cart so that the bottom of the TV is 1 to 2 feet above the top of the table. You may also want to consider mounting the webcam to the bottom of the TV rather than the top (perspective looks much more natural for remote attendees).
Use the Velcro strips or something like them to the attach the webcam to the base of the TV. Use several strips to attach the computer to the provided tray on the cart. Finally, the Velcro is useful for attaching the TV remote to the side or back of the TV so that it doesn’t get lost.
Attaching everything to the cart/TV/computer takes about two hours and is generally fairly straightforward. Be compulsively neat!
This section was the toughest to figure out, and everyone will want to do it a bit differently, but here are a few suggestions.
You may wish to set the computer to never sleep since the screen turning off in the middle of a meeting or powerpoint can be annoying.
Turn down the resolution on the computer to make everything appear larger. This can be very important if your space is large as some attendees may not be able to see otherwise. Here is a quick guide. Note: The settings we ended up with are 1280×720 on the resolution and 150% on the font size.
Make your computer automatically logon when it starts up so it’s always ready to go.
Set the computer to update automatically.