Hotel Online  Special Report

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HDTV In The Guest Room: How To Enter the
New World of Digital TV With Confidence
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By David M. Bankers

Do you really need to install high-definition TV (HDTV) in your hotel? The question is no longer “if,” but “when.” Research by the Yankee Group indicates that out of 106 million total U.S. households, more than 48 million (45%) may own HDTV displays by 2007. More than 95% of U.S. broadcasters are already broadcasting a digital signal. And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has imposed a staged conversion on television manufacturers that will affect every new flat panel and conventional tube TV set within the next three years. The first FCC mandated milestone – calling for 50% of all television sets 35 inches and larger to include a digital tuner – occurred in July of this year. Smaller sets will be impacted next year, and by 2007 all televisions will be required to ship with an integrated (built-in) digital tuner. 

In other words, the time is now for hoteliers to become educated about their options so they can make intelligent, cost effective decisions in preparing to migrate their properties to digital television. 

Myth: Flat Panel = HDTV

While the widescreen, crystal clear HDTV picture is winning new fans every day, there are as many misconceptions about HDTV as there are available TV display options. “Digital TVs range from the sexy wall-mounted plasma and LCD flat panels, to familiar-looking tube-type units,” explains Richard Lewis, Senior Vice President of Technology for LG Electronics. “But not all flat panel TVs are HDTV capable; some can only display enhanced images, not true high-definition content.”

Lewis adds that two types of HD displays are being manufactured today. Displays with built-in (“integrated”) digital tuners are identified as “HD built-in” or “HD built-in digital cable ready” and are the only devices that can technically be called “HD televisions.” Units without integrated tuners are designated “high-definition (HD) ready” and require a set-top box or other external digital tuning hardware. Before they buy, hoteliers must know whether their solution will utilize an integrated or external tuner. If an external tuner is involved, they should consider issues like the added cost of the tuner; the compatibility of the tuner with their video-on-demand (VOD) system; where they will locate the tuner in the room; the cabling between the tuner and display unit; and whether an extra remote control is required. 

The Wow Factor

One thing that’s certain is that HD display prices are dropping fast. For about $800, a hotelier can choose from a number of tube-type HDTV sets with built-in digital tuners. Even though these TVs do not have the streamlined look of a flat panel unit, they deliver an outstanding picture that is, in many cases, actually brighter than flat panels and offers sharper screen contrast and imaging. If operators prefer a wall-mounted device, a 30-inch flat panel plasma or LCD display can be had for around $2,000 – again, with the digital tuner built in.

But before you invest in HD displays, be aware that they will only deliver a sharp high-definition picture if the content from your off-air broadcasters, cable, satellite, and VOD sources is provided in an HDTV format. This makes your in-room entertainment content provider your most valuable partner in helping negotiate the risks associated with compatibility, technology, and future broadcast standards.

Sound Advice

Remember that digital broadcasts and in-room entertainment content also deliver enhanced Dolby® digital sound quality – which makes it a good idea to upgrade guest room sound systems along with your displays to deliver the full HDTV experience. Dan Sawyers, Manager of Hospitality Account Development for Bose Corporation, says that Bose has developed a guest room audio solution that has become very popular with hotels by using small speakers to fill a room with sound. "In conjunction with LodgeNet's technology, Bose systems provide superb 'surround sound' for digital programming and on-demand movies, as well as regular mono television programs,” he explains. “Adding quality sound is easy to do, and guests really notice the difference." 

Best Buys May Not Be The Best Solution

Lewis cautions that consumer digital TV sets are not the best investment for hoteliers. “LG and other manufacturers design commercial HDTV sets specifically for hotel rooms,” he says. “These sets are sturdier than consumer models, and they also will include volume-limit controls, auto shutdown features, and channel-locking functionality that ensures the hotel’s ‘welcome channel’ is the first thing guests see whenever they turn on the set.” He adds that commercial sets are far more likely to support a hotel’s VOD system, whereas with a consumer set your in-room entertainment offerings may actually shrink by being limited to broadcast and cable/satellite HD content. You should also look for a set with a DVI (digital video interface) or HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) input as another way to help ensure long-term value. 

Enlist an HD Technology Partner

One factor that’s easy to overlook is your in-room entertainment provider – specifically, their ability to establish controls that protect digital programming from theft. Most leading media sources insist on this security before delivering the premium broadcast and VOD entertainment your guests want. Established providers with full service solutions can enable the delivery of all the programming your guests have come to expect – regardless of the source.

If you’re adopting HDTV now, one of your primary concerns should be whether your in-room entertainment provider can bring together the mix of digital cable programming, satellite shows, off-air network broadcasts, and VOD entertainment you and your guests want – and how easy their system is for guests to use. This sounds simple, but each of these programming types has its own delivery format. Not only that, but experts believe digital signal standards may be in flux for another five to seven years. For hoteliers, that means it’s critical to choose a reliable, single-source entertainment provider that is able to deliver a wide range of digital content now – and can continue adapting its digital TV offering to future changes. 

Upgrading a hotel to digital television represents a considerable investment. Before you make the leap, do your homework. Know your guests. Assess your competition. Understand what HDTV is – and what it isn’t. And ask your in-room entertainment provider if they have the relationships, resources and expertise to deliver on every aspect of the HDTV solution:  hotel network infrastructure, in-room hardware, a broad range of content, and a user-friendly experience for guests in the room. The time you spend will be more than worthwhile in helping your hotel and your guests get the most out of in-room entertainment in the digital age. 
 

David M. Bankers is Senior Vice President, Product & Technology for LodgeNet Entertainment Corporation, one of the world’s largest providers of interactive television systems and broadband services to the lodging industry.

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Contact:


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LodgeNet Entertainment Corporation
Ann Parker
Director of Corp. Communications
3900 W Innovation Street
Sioux Falls, SD  57107-7002
605-988-1000
communications@lodgenet.com
www.lodgenet.com


 
Also See: Radisson Encore Hotel Serves Up Customized In-room Service: Laptop, TV Internet for Corporate Travelers, TV Wedding Highlights for Leisure Guests / August 2004
LG Electronics And LodgeNet Develop First HDTV Satellite Programming Solution For Hotels / June 2004
Lodgenet Announces Major Milestones; More Than One Million Rooms Served Overall, Nearly Half Of Company's Interactive Room Base Now Digital, On-Screen Controls Enhancing Entertainment In 435,000 Guest Rooms, Digital Control Rights Secured From All Major Studios / June 2004
Doubletree Novi Doubles In-Room Entertainment Revenue, Enhances Guest Service With Interactive TV Upgrade / May 2004
IT Security: Pebble Beach Company Powers Toward a Perfect 10; Parent Company Of Three-Time Conde Naste Winner Uses Advanced Security Tools For High-Speed Internet Access / April 2004


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