USB Host Switching in Conference Rooms

2020 November 19

USB Host Switching in Small Conference Rooms

 

The Problem with Switching Peripherals to BYOD

In modern conference rooms, especially those equipped for teleconferencing, USB-based peripherals are commonplace: conference camera, microphones, document camera, keyboard and mouse, just to name a few. These devices are typically connected to a main USB hub which is attached to a local PC in the conference room which runs the teleconference service, audio and video. When a guest enters the room with their own laptop (a “Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD), it is convenient for the BYOD to assume control of the USB peripherals so the conference room guest can present, having access to the room’s full resources. Though the main USB hub can be manually unplugged from the local PC and connected to the BYOD, this creates a connection management problem for both IT managers and conference room users.

 

Why the problem is hard

Most of today’s USB peripherals and high resolution cameras take advantage of the SuperSpeed data transport rates of USB 3.0 and 3.1, which can run up to 5Gbps. Multiple peripherals generating data at these rates requires carefully designed hardware that simply is not available in the commodity-priced, consumer-oriented USB market. 


This leads to problems when using common, consumer-grade USB port-selector switches USB port-selector switches. These are often used to provide a 2:1 connection, allowing one of two hosts to connect to the main hub. 


However, commonly available consumer-grade port selectors typically support only USB 2.0 data rates and may have reliability issues with USB 3.0 connections. Many of them also implement non-standard or custom cabling options, so are consequently not useful for connections required in a conference room. Even with a generic USB port selector switch in place, control of the switch is implemented by a series of manual push-buttons or an A-B dial. 

Figure 1: Typical consumer-grade USB port selector


Using manual switches puts the responsibility of switching to the correct host on the conference room occupants, who may then require additional familiarity with the room’s equipment configuration.

Finally, the inability of consumer-grade or even many professional-grade switches to handle USB 3.0 data rates can spoil conference room experiences for both the presenter and, most importantly, the presenter’s clients. Cameras are forced into low resolution modes, sensitive and intelligent microphone systems cannot exploit their full capabilities, and in general the investment in high performance conference room gear is lost for the lack of a hub capable of handling the output.
 

The solution

USB hubs and switches from Acroname provide an elegant solution that can be quickly deployed out-of-the-box to auto-switch between two hosts with no software control required, or if a more advanced installation is desired, managed via an included GUI or through higher level room-control software.

Unlike consumer grade USB hubs, which have high failure rates and cannot handle the data throughput generated by high quality USB peripherals, Acroname hubs are industrial-rated and allow conference room owners and installers to maximize the performance of every component in a modern conference room. Through their pedigree and history of being used in manufacturing floors around the world, Acroname hubs are extremely stable and designed to handle a wide variety of faults in real-world conditions.

Every Acroname hub is incredibly tolerant of misbehaving peripherals. Each downstream port on the hub implements overcurrent and back-charging protection. As an example, should a faulty device be attached that shorts out a given port, the Acroname hub will detect that condition and disable just the offending port until either the error can be corrected or the offending device is removed. The rest of the hub and other connected devices remain operational. Should a battery-powered device back-power the hub, the same behaviors would apply. 

The Acroname USBHub3+ is also designed to provide high power, so conference room attendees can charge phones or tablets from it without worrying about an over-current or thermal shutdown affecting other attached devices. Since the USBHub3+ can provide up to 14A continuously across all ports, it is capable of providing more than enough power for general peripheral connectivity duties in addition to charging.

As a software-controlled hub, the USBHub3+ can be configured to the needs of a given installation. As example, during power on, certain downstream ports can be disabled by default - or that when the hub is powered on, any enabled downstream ports are sequenced on with a delay between each port, helping host machines enumerate complex peripheral configurations.

Finally, Acroname hubs are extremely stable devices. It’s not uncommon to run the hubs in a powered state for years without requiring a power cycle or reset. And, upon powering up, any saved configuration settings will be applied just like the hub was configured by the installer. 

 

Auto Switching

USBHub3+ ships with Auto-Switch mode enabled by default and this behavior can be tested and deployed in minutes. Conference room installation professionals and IT managers find the Auto-Switch mode of USBHub3+ provides an elegant and effortless method to offer conference room occupants access to in-room USB resources.

By default, the USBHub3+ will “auto-switch” between its two host connections. In Auto-Switch mode, users should leave the Up1 connection attached to the local PC in the conference room. The Up0 connection should be connected to a cable available for visiting presenters, to which they would connect their own computer (the BYOD). When that occurs, the USBHub3+ will detect the new, active connection and automatically switch its host input to the BYOD. When the cable is removed from the BYOD, the hub connection returns to the PC installed in the conference room, which is still attached to the Up1 input.





Figure 2: Typical connections connection to an Acroname hub for automatic host switching

 

 

Software control

The Acroname USBHub3+ is an 8-port USB 3.1 hub that is programmable: behavior such as turning downstream ports on or off, port link activity and amperage can be actively controlled and monitored over USB by software running on an external PC or host system. Acroname hubs can be controlled in a variety of manners: using HubTool, a free utility available with the BrainStem communication API library download, or by using one of our documented APIs, including Python C++, C# and C.

Programmatic control is helpful for environments where finer control and monitoring of the hub or its individual ports is desired. With this level of advanced control, your systems can also control access to specific USB ports depending on the room configuration or even monitor power on a specific port to detect if a damaged USB device has been connected.
 

Figure 3: Typical conference room connections to an Acroname hub


A conference room controller with a USB output such as a Crestron UC Engine can be used to issue monitoring and control commands to the USBHub3+, indicating which host connection should be enabled or even which specific downstream USB ports should be enabled. 

Individual control of USB ports in this manner can make for extremely flexible room configurations, such as choosing different peripherals for different camera setups and speaker locations, disabling some USB microphones and selecting others, and other choices.
 

Figure 4: Advanced control connection to an Acroname hub


Benefit to the customer

For conference rooms, Acroname’s USBHub3+ provides a simple and easy way for conference room designers and support teams to support high-performance peripherals, and also allow for switching between an in-room computer and visiting computers. 

Acroname hubs support designers’ and installers’ need to create rooms that are hassle and trouble free for installers, speakers, attendees, and importantly, the people who maintain these rooms. 

 

         
Figure 5: Example conference room with and without ad-hoc computer


 

For more information

Please visit the USBHub3+ product page at the Acroname Store. Or, to discuss the Acroname hubs’ suitability for your particular application, reach out to an Acroname expert at support@acroname.com with your specific questions!

 

 

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