Hotel Online Special Report

What Hoteliers Need to Know
About Flat Panel and High
Definition Televisions
This article is from the upcoming Spring 2005 issue of Hospitality Upgrade magazine.To view more articles covering technology for the hospitality industry please visit the Hospitality Upgrade Web site or to request a free publication please call (678) 802-5307 or e-mail.
by Jake Buckstead, March 2005

Are you planning to buy flat panel or other higher resolution televisions for your hotel(s) in the next few years?  If so, you have something in common with millions of American consumers. 

Market research firm The Yankee Group has forecasted that almost half of all U.S. households will have a higher resolution (digital) television within the next three years. 

If the dizzying pace of consumer digital TV adoption isn’t enough to make your head spin, consider this – the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated that all new TV sets with screens 25 inches and larger, manufactured on or after July 2006, must include digital tuners capable of HDTV reception as specified by the standards of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). This means hoteliers planning to purchase new televisions within the next two years (and after) will have to make a decision regarding HDTV no matter what.

Lessons Learned from Early Adopters

Over the past few years, the hospitality industry has witnessed the installation of digital flat panel televisions – a number (though not all) being HDTV capable – by some early adopter hoteliers.  Initially, it appeared that many of these televisions were installed more for room design and aesthetic reasons than to deliver the entertainment experience guests find most appealing.  However, these early installations encountered a number of issues, including:

1  Picture Quality. Digital HDTVs are generally capable of 720 (progressive scan) or 1080 (interlaced) lines of vertical resolution, whereas analog televisions only display approximately 480 lines (interlaced).  When an HDTV is fed an analog video signal, it “magnifies” the lower resolution signal to fill all of the pixels in the screen.  This causes imperfections in the source signal (such as analog noise or interference) to also be magnified, sometimes producing a poorer picture than what was shown on the original analog television.

2  System Integration. Early adopters of digital televisions often had to purchase monitors that could not function as a television without an external set-top box (STB) that contained the tuner components.  A number of these hoteliers also wanted to provide DVD/CD players and sound systems along with the new televisions.  Numerous obstacles arose when trying to get these components to work together seamlessly (with an easy-to-use guest interface). Accommodating the cabling, installation, ventilation and security issues that go along with having additional components in the room also proved to be difficult. 

3  Installation Challenges. With flat panel televisions, many hoteliers envisioned wall-mounted display devices freeing them from the need for bulky and expensive armoires.  However, wall-mount scenarios also presented a number of construction, logistical and maintenance issues.  Walls needed to be constructed with the ability to support panels weighing anywhere from 60 to 150 lbs. Aesthetic issues arose regarding the installation of conduits and panduits for cable management (not to mention housing of the STB required to make the television work).  These requirements, along with the need for brackets and wall mounts, also increased the cost of a new TV installation (although eliminating the armoire did reduce furniture costs somewhat).

We can learn a great deal from the early adopters to make a successful migration to digital televisions (especially flat panel models) a success in your hotel(s).

Provide Digital Video Signals and Higher-Resolution Video Formats to Digital/HDTVs. 

Transporting video digitally to the guestroom will ensure clean, crisp picture quality with no imperfections to be magnified by the digital television.  Delivering high resolution video (especially HDTV-formatted video) to your new flat panel and/or HDTV will help maximize your investment in these televisions, since guests will continue to be “wowed” when they turn on the television (due to the stunning picture quality), not just when they walk in the room.

In order to deliver digital video signals to your guestrooms, you have to consider the three primary sources of digital video as well as how to bring them into your hotel and deliver them to your guestrooms. First, we’ll look at Off-Air Local Broadcasts.  Digital video signals, including HDTV formats in many cases, are available to 99.69 percent of U.S. households from local over-the-air broadcasters such as ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX.  The second source is from satellite and cable (digital channels) including many in HDTV format (HDNet, ESPN HD, HBO HD), which are also available across the United States.  The third source is pay-per-view (PPV). An increasing amount of on-demand video programming (including HDTV content) is becoming available for digital transmission to the guestroom. Availability of this content is subject to licensing restrictions and may vary depending on your hotel’s pay-per-view provider, as discussed below. 

The reception, re-transmission and delivery of digital video signals to your guestrooms require specific technology in both your hotel “headend” and the guestroom. Specific equipment is required to “transcode” the off-air and satellite channels provided in your free-to-guest (FTG) lineup from the source onto your hotel’s MATV network.  Your PPV provider also needs to provide a system that can transmit video (including HDTV with its higher bandwidth requirements) digitally to the guestroom.  And finally, your televisions must have the ability to tune and decode digital video signals, including HDTV formats.  Also, many satellite-delivered networks, along with Hollywood studios, require robust content security (including state-of-the-art encryption and conditional access) for their content to be delivered digitally to guestrooms, especially in HDTV formats.  Both the “headend” and in-room equipment (including the television) must support the digital rights management (DRM) requirements mandated by the content providers. 

Be sure to ask your TV vendor, FTG provider and PPV provider if their solution can deliver content from all three sources (off-air, satellite and PPV) digitally to the guestroom, in an HDTV format, and with content-provider approved encryption and conditional access.  Doing so will ensure your guests can enjoy the best possible picture quality and the most available HDTV content, maximizing the return on your investment in your new digital televisions.

Plan Your Entire Guest Entertainment Experience Upfront

Before you finalize a room design and construction budget, make sure you’ve decided what the total guest entertainment experience will be.  This decision includes the type of televisions (digital vs. analog, flat panel vs. tube), what video content (analog vs. digital and HDTV formats) will be offered, and any other electronics (such as a sound system) that may be available in the guestroom. 

Work with your TV vendor, FTG and PPV provider(s) to find the requirements for the equipment, cabling, power, ventilation, and installation to ensure those requirements are accommodated in your design and budget. 

Ask for advice on system integration solutions from your vendors and providers to help verify that your in-room electronics and services will work seamlessly together.  Also, make sure your design, purchasing and construction team(s) are involved in finalizing these requirements so everyone knows what needs to go into the room, how much weight the walls and furniture need to support, how everything will be integrated for an easy-to-use guest experience, and how much everything will cost. 

If you’re constructing model rooms, start with a prototype installation to prove out your concept. This strategy will not only help you ensure you have everything you need, but also make sure the look is exactly what you want. And don’t forget to hide the cables appropriately. 

Taking advantage of the lessons learned by early digital TV adopters and approaching your digital TV migration from a comprehensive, guest focused perspective will start you well down the path of a smooth, cost effective and successful deployment of your new digital televisions.


©Hospitality Upgrade, 2005. No reproduction or transmission without written permission.


Geneva Rinehart 
Managing Editor 
Hospitality Upgrade magazine 
and the Hospitality website


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