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Digital, HD or IP Televisions

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June 16, 2006
Hotel | Trends
Ashok Kumar - akumar@ieee.org

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Nowadays, TVs are in the news, rather than the other way around. The top two electronics retailers in the country had record quarters recently largely due to increased demand for advanced televisions. This consumer trend, related regulations and technology advancements all have an impact on what hotels provide for entertainment in the guestrooms. What should hotel owners and operators be doing and how can they benefit from the change.


Transition to DTV
Analog broadcast channels and standards have been in use since the 1940s set initially by the National Television System Committee (NTSC). In 1953, NTSC standards changed to allow color television and in 1984, they changed to allow stereo sound. All of these changes were backward compatible, but this is about to change. Digital Television (DTV) is the newer broadcasting technology that will transform your guests viewing experience. It enables broadcasters to offer free television programming with movie-quality picture and sound, virtually free of interference. DTV allows delivery to viewers of brilliant, high definition pictures, multiple digital-quality program streams, as well as CD-quality audio programming and advanced digital services, such as data transfer or subscription video. TV stations serving all markets in the United States are airing digital television programming today, although most will continue to provide analog programming until February 17, 2009. That is the deadline set by the U.S. Congress when current analog broadcast TV service must convert completely to digital operation and turn over the analog channels back to the government for first responder use and wireless broadband services. After this conversion, all existing analog TV sets will need a set-top converter box for continued viewing. Another deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on TV manufacturers requires all new TVs sold by March 1, 2007 to have digital tuners built in. This includes, besides TVs, other devices that are designed to receive broadcast television signals.

The key issue for the hotel owner is whether the TV and/or set-top boxes in your guestrooms are compatible with the DTV broadcasts. If you have TVs at your hotel that were installed more than five years ago, then you should check with your video service provider about their compatibility with DTV services. If they are not compatible, then hotel owners need to appropriate the capital either for an advanced TV set, preferred choice or for a set-top converter box.

What is the HDTV Difference?
The Advanced Television Standards Committee (ATSC) voluntary standards for digital television were adopted by the FCC in December, 1996. These standards are based on differences in aspect ratio, resolution and frame rates and include how the sound and video are encoded and transmitted. They also provide guidelines for different levels of quality. All of the digital standards are better in quality than analog signals. High-definition TV (HDTV) standards are the top tier of all digital signals.

HDTV in widescreen format (16:9) provides the highest resolution and picture quality of all digital broadcast formats. An HDTV picture can provide resolution of up to 1,080 lines, compared to 480 lines for analog, providing improved picture detail. A key distinction to keep in mind is that HDTV-ready sets do not include the digital ATSC tuner, only the integrated sets do. HDTV programs might include Dolby digital surround sound, similar to the sound used in movie theaters and on DVDs. HDTVs don’t have to be big; a 26-inch HD-ready TV can make a significant difference in the viewing experience.

One development to watch is that of high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) connections, which many HDTVs now come with. HDMI can transmit audio/visual signals to the TV from a camcorder or other devices without compression and on a single interface. This can be a convenience that guests will appreciate going forward to able to view their personal videos on the hotel TV in the guestrooms.

IPTV—It is all about the network
HDTV is all about the TV and viewing experience, where as IPTV is all about the network and that is used to serve the video content. IPTV is a method for delivering TV service, video-on-demand and other rich-media content using the popular Internet protocol (IP). IPTV content is delivered on an interactive or multicast basis, economizing the network bandwidth, versus the traditional method of broadcast delivery used by many of the video service providers today. IPTV has been in the news a lot as telcos are deploying it to offer video services to compete with the cable TV companies and offer bundled triple play services (voice, data and video) for residential customers.

Before a hotel can consider IPTV, it should evaluate the current cabling network infrastructure to the guestrooms to see if it can be supported. The cabling and the network equipment must be capable of handling the bandwidth needs, quality of service (QoS) and the programming content available. A well designed IPTV network can be capable of delivering HDTV video signals, whereas a traditional network might otherwise have limitations. IPTV may or may not be a fit for all hotels, it depends.

IPTV benefits in a hotel environment can be many. In addition to the delivery of good quality digital signals for free-to-guest and video-on-demand programs, there can also be many interactive services offered on the network. Some of the guest service impacting applications in a hotel include: local content insertions, interactive gaming, video messaging/conferencing, e-commerce via the TV with targeted advertisements to guests, and personalization for frequent guests.

As hotels look to change out the televisions in the room, it might also be time to evaluate hotel network upgrade for IPTV to gain a significant advantage in content delivery to the rooms. The investment might be well worth it for a hotel owner with additional revenues from video and interactive services as well as enhanced guest services.

Ashok Kumar is with ITS, a leading independent technology consulting and advocacy firm dedicated to the responsible and economical use of technology solutions to solve business problems. He has extensive experience in the justifiable implementations of emerging technologies such as Wi-Fi, IP networks, voice and video communications. He can be reached at (404) 626-0227 or e-mail akumar@ieee.org.



What’s Up with DTV Internationally?

Around the world, the migration to digital television is starting to accelerate and will continue to do so over the next five years. The specific time frames vary by country and milestones, with the major cities in each country converting first as the rest of the country follows.

Canada has been tracking the U.S. with digital television deployments. Canadian Digital Television (CDTV) is a not-for-profit TV industry organization, dedicated to providing expert information to consumers and to guide the orderly transition from analog to digital television. Canada adopted the ATSC broadcast standard for digital in 1997. Similarly, the Mexican government adopted the ATSC standards in 2004. Both, Canada and Mexico have not set, so far, a cut-off date for analog broadcasts and are closely monitoring progress in the U.S.

In Europe, sports programming, especially soccer seems to be well received for HDTV. With the Soccer World Cup coming up this summer, Germany has been deploying digital television aggressively in cities such as Berlin (2003) and Munich (2005) and the rest of the country will have analog broadcasts turned off by 2010. Other countries with ambitious plans include Italy, France and Spain. Japan started digital television broadcasts in December 2003 and plans to discontinue analog broadcasts by the year 2011.

In the past, European countries had adopted one of two analog television broadcast standards - the German Phase Alternating Line (PAL) or the French Sequential Couleur Avec Memoire (SECAM). There have been variations of this in other countries for instance Middle East SECAM, so on. This had lead to incompatibility of the broadcasts and reception between systems requiring the added burden of converters. One significant benefit of the transition to digital television can be the harmonization around the ATSC standard.

On IPTV, Europe and Asia Pacific are the leading regions for service deployments today. In Asia, Hong Kong is leading with over half million IPTV subscribers. China, where 20 cities have trials going on right now on IPTV, is expected to have 13 million to 19 million IPTV subscribers by 2009. One of the contributing factors is that cable and satellite-based video services are not as prevalent in these regions as in the United States. IPTV becomes a very good alternative for video services delivery going over the broadband infrastructure.

The move toward DTV is well on the way with committed plans by some governments to discontinue analog broadcasts. At the same time, IPTV subscribers’ growth has been strong in the Asia-Pacific region.

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