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MirrorTVs - Becoming a Standard Feature in Upscale Hotels

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June 18, 2009
Digital Signage
Jeremy Rock - jrockitgroup.com

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© 2009 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

One only needs to pick up an architectural magazine to see some of the latest design trends of the new luxury hotels that are being brought online. With many hotels offering sleek and modern décor that resembles modern upscale homes, some are looking toward technology to differentiate their rooms. From a design perspective, one of the key features that has received attention over the past few years has been the addition of mirror TVs in guest bathrooms and suite living rooms. The trend started a few years back when we started to see mirror TVs emerging as digital art, and in some cases bathroom TVs in a few of the luxury suites. These earlier mirror TVs were provisioned more from a novelty perspective rather than a functional one and had a number of technological and implementation challenges.

For the most part the earlier solutions consisted of a standard definition LCD TV that was placed behind a darkened regular mirror, which limited its overall effectiveness from both a functional and design perspective. There were concerns over the design and infrastructure modifications that were required to recess and mount a TV in the walls and also what the potential heat and moisture may do to the longevity of the active equipment. For bathroom deployments, there was the added issue of providing a mirror that was considered light enough to use for grooming activities but which would allow sufficient illumination for the TV image to be displayed without distortion. Overall the solutions were expensive and did not look that good.

Fast forward a few years and the trend took off as a result of lower deployment costs and newer technologies. The deployment of the systems is easier and there is an increase in the overall product features and functionality. The concept of having a TV in the bathroom is not a new one. Hotels have been placing small TVs in bathrooms for years. The issue in the past was that they took up space and looked clumsy.  New mirror TVs enhance the décor and provide a very functional way to provision a useful technology.

Most of the mirror TV providers manufacture and provision the mirrors, glass and LCD displays in their factories as this allows them the most flexibility when provisioning orders for hotels, which tend to have many custom room types and configurations. This flexibility can significantly reduce the lead times that would otherwise be involved in the design and implementation process.

Mirror TVs aren’t just limited to bathrooms. In many cases they are being installed hotel lobbies, spas, elevators, restrooms, bars, lounges, restaurants, guestroom suites, convention centers, casinos and many other hospitality environments. As the technology improves and the pricing for the products and installation continues to decrease mirror TVs will become a standard fixture in most upscale hotels.

Key Items to Consider When Deploying Mirror TVs
As with any new technology, there are always things that need to be considered before deployment. In the case of mirror TVs, there are a number of infrastructure considerations to be factored in.

In most cases a recessed clock box needs to be installed that contains power and communications. (Most of the newer hotels provision both RG6 coaxial and Category 6 cables to accommodate the video signal, as they are in many cases unsure of the video on-demand [VOD] provider at the time that the infrastructure is designed.)

If the rooms are designed in a back-to-back format consider that the electrical outlet boxes may need to be offset given that most walls are only 4-inches thick.

Depending on how the mirror is to be mounted, the TV may need to be recessed into the wall. Given that most bathroom walls near the sink contain plumbing pipes and other fixed provisioning, recessing the unit may not be an option. It is important to involve the architect and designer in the overall technology selection process.

Consider how sound is to be transmitted. Most of the newer product offerings provision sound through the TV mirror. Alternatively, a speaker needs to be placed in the ceiling or wall and cable run back to the mirror TV. Sound to the opposing room needs to also be considered.

Consider the source of the signal and the VOD provider that is slated for use at the hotel. In many cases there may be additional equipment required for the TV to function with the VOD provider’s signal.

Determine whether the TV can accept a high-definition signal. In many cases TVs are standard definition and the signal source is HD.

Determine who is responsible for the overall installation of the TVs and speakers. With mirror TVs, the units have to be completely removed from the wall in order to provision the connectivity. Consider the maintenance aspect and ensure that a solution is selected that allows for the mirror and TV unit to easily be removed from the wall for easy access.

Mirror TV Patents
On Nov. 25, 2008, ad notam GmbH, a German-based developer of designer mirror technology, announced that the United States Patent and Trademark Office had granted them a patent related to mirrors incorporating moving image displays (U.S. Patent No. 7,455,412). In general, the patent covers the mirror TV technology associated with the provisioning of wall-mounted mirrors that have a reflective portion and a transparent portion through which moving images can be displayed. The patent addressed mirrors which may produce the moving images using built-in flat-screen technologies such as plasma or thin-film-transistor (TFT) displays.  Additionally it incorporates speaker systems for generating audio, and interfaces for receiving multimedia content from external sources, such as DVD players, personal computers and wireless transmissions.

Given that there are a number of providers in North America who design, manufacture and supply this type of technology to the hospitality industry, the question arises as to how this patent affects these providers, and more importantly, the hotels that are purchasing these systems.

In general, most of the providers who were contacted did not feel that this patent was enforceable to the extent that the distribution of images through a mirror has been around for many years. Furthermore, there are so many variations of this type of technology in the marketplace that is believed it would be difficult to enforce a generalized method of production that is being claimed as a proprietary technology. It was pointed out that other companies such as Electric Mirror have numerous patents on the technology that have been around for a number of years. In speaking with a patent attorney, the level to which a patent can be enforced, depends on how narrow or specific the particular patent is and its overall relationship to the marketplace.

Based on the fact that there appears to be some confusion in the marketplace as to whether or not this particular patent is enforceable, one can only offer the following advice to hotels that are considering purchasing this technology:

  1. Consider the intellectual property that is being purchased and ensure that the company from which the hotel is purchasing the mirror TVs indemnifies the hotel from any legal action or exposure associated with the right to purchase and use this technology. (This needs to be clearly stipulated in the purchase contract.)
  2. Ensure that the company that is supplying the TVs is insured against patent infringement and exposure to this risk.
  3. Ensure that the company that is providing the mirror TVs is financially sound and has the financial wherewithal to uphold the indemnification per the terms of the contract.
  4. Consult a patent attorney should the hotel wish to ensure added protection against possible ramifications associated with patent infringement. 

Jeremy Rock is the president of the RockIT Group, a hospitality technology consulting firm. He can be reached at jrockitgroup.com.

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