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Room with a View


In today's world of flat-plasma screens, powered by high-definition cable and satellite signals, the television has grown way beyond a 19-inch "boob-tube" hidden behind armoire doors. Today's designs are sleeker and sexier, and thanks to the advent of hard-disc recorders and "on-demand" services, hotels are now able to let guests watch their favorite movies and shows at their leisure.

According to Ellis O'Connor, executive assistant manager of the Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel in California, the television is one of the most important mediums we have today for communicating in the modern world.

A basic room at the five-star, five-diamond Peninsula Beverly Hills comes equipped with a 30-inch flat screen LCD tethered to a VCR/DVD combo unit, which is capable of playing music in MP3 format, digital photographs, and can be attached to a laptop. "A small, cheap television just isn't going to work," O'Connor says. "Something that you can buy for $50 or $100 doesn't meet up to the expectations of a guest who is prepared to pay an average rate of $535 a night."

On the wall
Taking high-end television technology one-step further, the proprietors of the Hydrangea House Inn have installed Philip's ( latest innovation, the "MiraVision" Mirror TV in each of the Inn's nine guest rooms.

"There have always been televisions in hotels and inns, but I didn't like the set-up where they were just hidden in a closet," explains Grant Edmondson, one of the Hydrangea's owners. "When I saw the new Phillips televisions, I knew that it was perfect for us because it didn't seem like a television, it looked like a mirror--until of course it was turned on."

One of the biggest drawing points for Edmondson was that the unit didn't disturb the ambiance of the room--the televisions are mounted on a mantle above a fireplace. The LCD display is integrated and has been coated with a special film, which allows almost all light through (for the mirror), or none at all (for watching the TV). The unit is available in sizes ranging from 17- to 30-inch, in portrait or landscape format.
Edmondson hasn't gauged a return on the new investment, prices of which range from $2,500 to $5,500, but the television is used in advertisements for the inn. The televisions are equipped with a standard local cable connection, and can be connected to a computer system for use as a monitor.
Not to be outdone by its luxury competitors, Mandarin Oriental, New York recently announced that it will be the first hotel in Manhattan to offer plug-and-play live broadcast capabilities, providing guests with services for live television feeds, video conferencing and Web streaming.
Hotel guests can book the services to broadcast content ranging from live news casts, filming keynote speakers or capturing wedding nuptials for live Web streaming. Upon short notice, plug-and-play broadcast capabilities can be activated to provide live television feeds, video conferencing and
Web streaming. Because of advanced broadcast cable installations within the Time Warner Center, these options can occur without the need of a satellite truck or the lengthy process of contracting a camera and sound crew.

That technology, not surprisingly, is carrying over into the guestroom. The hotel offers home theater-style entertainment units with flat screen LCD Samsung ( televisions and Dolby surround sound speakers in all of the hotel's 251 guest rooms and suites.  The hotel's guestroom technology also integrates the telephone, in-room entertainment, Internet access and administration systems.

"Our goal is to offer a seamless system combining the most advanced technology while placing emphasis on personalization and ease of use," explains general manager Rudy Tauscher.  "Today's travelers are much more technologically sophisticated than in the past. We offer guests the ability to set up their own equipment instantly, but also to take advantage of the very latest technology expressly built-in to our guestrooms and throughout the hotel."

Television on-demand
With hard drives and servers decreasing in size and cost, the hospitality industry is moving towards a more modern form of content than the traditional pay-per-view format. Hotels can download the latest movies and premium television programs onto a local server using services like NXTV ( that can be accessed by guests at the push of a button.

Unlike traditional pay-per-view, which requires guests to wait until the movie is scheduled to run, "On Demand" technology is available at any time, and does not require physical media, such as DVD discs that can be damaged. "We historically had video tapes located at the front desk, and the guests would ask for them to be brought up to the room," O'Connor says. There was no impulse buy, however, and guests had to wait until a video was available. Additionally, if the tapes were broken or lost, the cost would outweigh the rental revenue significantly, says O'Connor.
NXTV installed a hard drive in the basement of the Peninsula Beverly Hills that receives new movies via a high-speed Internet connection. The server can be accessed by every room through digital Cat-5 cables. O'Connor says that revenues have grown from $500 a month to approximately $25,000 since the installation in 2000.

On sea demand
It's one thing to rewire a hotel for digital on-demand services, but when Oceania Cruises decided to install a similar set-up on their 390-cabin cruise ship, a slew of new challenges were created. "Oceania needed to get their services in line with what a lot of the land-based resorts had," explains Peter DeMilio, president of In-Systcom. "Because that's what the ships compete with for vacationers."

Rather than take the ship out of service and rewire it with network cabling, or use the archaic coaxial cable used for low-definition television, the integrator chose a hybrid method that incorporates the existing phone lines.

"The category-three phone cables give us the same throughput as the category-five video cables," DeMilio says. "We now can put a full digital network into the ship, and have services that the cruise lines want using existing cables and keeping costs down."

Similar to the Peninsula Beverly Hills solution, In-Systcom ( installed video servers on the ship and used an application server to control distribution of movies to the cabins. The movie distributors send MPEG-2 encoded files to the integrator, who then installs the films onto the server on a regular basis. Guests need only select the program via an on-screen menu, and the server uploads the film to the cabin in seconds.
"Although there is an unlimited amount of things to do on a cruise ship, guests still get exhausted and want to retreat to their cabins," DeMilio says. "And the first thing people usually do when they get home is flip on the TV. We just want to give them that creature comfort."

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