By Terry Trucco
After smartphones, can smart TVs be far behind? Hyatt thinks so.
This week the company announced plans to install new televisions with internet capability in the guest rooms of its full-service hotels in the US, Canada and the Caribbean over the next two years. Compared to standard flatpanel TVs, Hyatt’s new televisions are downright brainy.
Fingering a TV remote or a portable keyboard, guests can use the television to access Facebook or Twitter, order room service, contact an airline, request fresh towels or view local restaurant recommendations. They can stream a movie from their Netflix account, download a document to be printed or receive a message about a business meeting in the hotel. They can also, of course, watch TV.
It sounds like the ultimate on-screen mash-up – entertainment system, concierge, front desk and business center rolled into one. And it’s added proof, as if needed, that in-room technology has muscled past mattresses and creative mini-bars as the go-to amenity for hotel chains battling to be top dog. In short, it’s good news for guests.
Eager to see the souped up television in action, we met with Connie Wang, Director of Rooms at Andaz 5th Avenue, one of three Hyatt hotels where the TVs are up and running. The televisions, featuring technology by Roomlinx, a provider of in-room media and entertainment, have been in the Andaz since the hotel opened a year and a half ago. But as the prototype for the project, what’s on screen today has been tweaked repeatedly since the TVs went up.
The sleek black television, a 42-inch Phillips flatpanel mounted opposite the bed,
was the only wall ornament in the sleeping area of the hiply minimal standard room. With a click of the remote, a stylish rendering of the famed New York Public Library lions filled the screen (the library is across the street from the hotel) and in the middle the greeting personalized for each guest.
From there, it was a simple matter of following the icons – ten in all – marching across the top and clicking to get whatever appealed. Customized for each hotel, the Andaz choices range from hotel amenities, where guests can reserve the business center, request an extra bathrobe and check out, to the current weather, news and sports, travel information, local attractions, premium movies, entertainment and business.
The real fun, of course, comes with the internet offerings. Seeing your Facebook pictures or Youtube videos splashed up on the big screen puts even an iPad to shame. And streaming a movie from your Netflix account sidesteps the cost of the pay-per-view movies the hotel offers. Google Docs, LinkedIn, MySpace and assorted online newspapers and magazines are among the accessible online goodies. Additionally, a DVD player is tucked discreetly behind the screen, so you can BYO movie or borrow one from downstairs.
The TV, in short, is smartly designed, wildly entertaining and potentially, a colossal time suck.
But this is where things get less fun. The internet components are not included in the cost of your room. Like most full-service hotels, Hyatt charges for WiFi — $9.95 a day for access on one device and $14.94 for up to four devices as well as the ability to stream internet video.
Still, the TV offers plenty that’s free of charge short of Law & Order reruns. We
liked the tightly edited list of local attractions, restaurants and shopping chosen by the hotel staff that mixes the obvious (the Museum of Modern Art, the Empire State Building) with the less so (amusing boutiques like John Derian, known for decoupage plates and paperweights).
Does the uber-TV mean the end of the classic printed compendium of hotel amenities found on every Hyatt guest room desk? “Some people still like using it,” Wang said, giving the book a pat. “But the TV is the better choice – it’s more up to date.” And definitely more nimble.
Indeed, the hotel’s room service menu is being redesigned for the screen. In addition to wine pairings, each offering will include a photo.