Given that a lot of hotel companies only recently made the switch from old CRT-style televisions to flat-panel displays, and many are still changing over to a high-definition platform, the widespread adoption of 3D models in guestrooms appears far off in, well, another dimension.
“I think it’s something you’re not going to see for a long time in hotels,” says Chuck Marratt, vice president of information technology at MTM Luxury Lodging.
One of the luxury properties MTM manages is still transitioning from an analog signal to digital in order to offer guests HD programming, a situation that Marratt says is still common in the hotel industry.
Vivek Shaiva, executive vice president and chief information officer for La Quinta Inns & Suites, says La Quinta has embarked on a major project to install Samsung flat-screen HD TVs in its 400-plus corporate-owned properties, which makes it impractical to immediately upgrade to 3D. By the end of next year, if not earlier, Shaiva says there will be HD flat screens installed across the entire brand.
Many hotels, even in the full-service and luxury segments, are stuck in long-term contracts with cable carriers and unable to upgrade their technology. This has caused hotels to lag far behind what guests already have at home. “I would say the first step is to get everyone on a high-def platform, forget about 3D,” Shaiva says. “If you’re not on a high-def platform, 3D is kind of pointless.”
ACTIVE VS. PASSIVE
There are two types of technology commonly being used to achieve 3D in televisions—active and passive. (Glasses-free 3D TVs exist, but the technology isn’t perfected yet.)
Viewing 3D images requires stereoscopy, a technique that involves presenting two offset images separately to the left and right eye that combine in the brain.
Active glasses have a shuttering mechanism that essentially closes one eye while the other eye views the image, then switches. “It shutters and moves back and forth in concert with the television,” explains Richard Lewis, senior vice president of research and technology for Zenith Electronics LLC, a brand of LG. “Each eye is presented a slightly different image.”
The glasses contain electronics, which makes them costly (some retail for more than $100), and they have batteries that require charging. For hotels, this is an “operational stumbling block,” Lewis says. “You think about having kids in your room watching 3D, fighting over the glasses and they snap them in half,” he says. “That’s not going to be a good thing for Mom and Dad when they try and check out.”
Shaiva agrees that TVs with active glasses wouldn’t work in a hotel environment. “It’s a big challenge even with simple things like remotes, keeping track of them, keeping the batteries in there,” he says, adding that breakage would also be a concern. Two brand new Samsung TVs at a La Quinta property got large scratches across the screen only a week after installation, he says, so he wouldn’t want even more equipment in the room that could potentially get damaged.
Passive glasses, like the ones found in movie theaters, use polarization instead of shuttering. To view 3D content, one eye must see a vertically polarized image, and the other a horizontally polarized image. The glasses don’t require a power source, and are disposable and available at low cost. Considering the operational issues, Lewis believes passive is the right direction for the hotel industry.
Shaiva admits that passive TVs might work in the hotel context, and says a minimal cost for disposable glasses could be incorporated into the room rate or charged to the guests.
Marratt, on the other hand, sees handling the glasses, even if they’re disposable, as a stumbling block, and isn’t sure how many guests will want to put on glasses to watch 3D programming. The average guest at MTM Luxury properties stays 1.2 nights, and during the week many of them are business travelers. “Is it really something that is going to be appreciated in the guestroom?” Marratt asks. “I don’t know.”
While people in the tech industry debate and argue over the viewing quality of passive versus active, Lewis says the average consumer likely won’t be able to tell the difference.
QUESTION OF CONTENT
Hotel industry members are also concerned that there isn’t enough available 3D content to justify the investment in 3D TVs. Since La Quinta values brandwide consistency, Shaiva says the company relies on a satellite provider— using multiple cable providers would result in an inconsistent output. He questions whether satellite providers offer sufficient programming to make 3D effective.
Marratt says for the home environment, 3D TV consumers have the option of buying 3D movies and a Blu-ray player to watch them on. In a hotel, he says, the content would have to be provided by a video-on-demand provider.
Lewis says all major content providers offer some level of 3D capability or signals in their packages. For example, DirectTV has four channels that play 3D content, and he says cable companies offer similar options that include 3D movie releases. In the future, he says, pay-per-view 3D content could be made available in the hotel space.
Sporting events typically play well in a 3D environment, Lewis adds, and can get viewers more engaged in the game. ESPN has a 3D channel that is available from a number of carriers. “I don’t know if that’s enough for hotel owners to put in additional capital at this point,” Marratt says of 3D sports. He can, however, imagine a 3D setup in a bar environment before he can see it happening in guestrooms. “Sports are what’s going to drive it, it’s not going to be movies like ‘Avatar.’”
A BIG INVESTMENT
Given that 3D TVs aren’t mainstream yet in the consumer market, most hotels won’t want to make this type of investment, Marratt says. With the recent recession, hoteliers are cautious about replacing assets that they’ve already put in place.
Lewis says that 3D TVs probably don’t make sense for mid- or low-tier hotels at this point in time with the current cost structure, and they would be more appropriate for high-end hotels with shorter replacement cycles. Once the price of the TVs drops and content expands, however, he thinks people will naturally migrate to 3D. “The gap between standard and 3D TV will decrease until it virtually goes away and that’s going to coincide with the refreshment cycle for some who bought HD early on,” Lewis says.
Installing 3D TVs doesn’t involve ripping up wiring or making other big changes, Lewis adds. The 3D signal or transport stream can be accommodated for in hotels’ current TV infrastructures. He also stresses that guests can still watch regular 2D or HD programs on 3D TVs; it’s not limited to 3D.
In November, LG introduced its first 3D LCD HDTV for hospitality properties. The LD950C is a commercial passive 3D TV based on polarized eyewear. The company is presenting the model as something that can be enjoyed in hotel lobbies, restaurants, sports lounges, theaters and other shared spaces in commercial hospitality sites.
Lewis says testing out passive 3D TV in common spaces, typically with more of a consumer-style set-top box from a content provider that carries 3D programming, is an easy way for hotels to get started. “There’s a lot of wow factor for people who haven’t seen it,” Lewis says.
When iPads and tablets became mainstream, Marratt recalls how MTM hotels experienced broadband issues. This shift in technology led the properties to increase their bandwidth to keep in pace with their guests’ expectations. Similarly, once there is a greater shift toward 3D TVs in the consumer market, the hospitality industry will be more inclined to enter this new dimension.