Sharpening the HDTV Picture

A high-definition television solution that looks good, addresses the security concerns of content providers and meets the needs of hoteliers eager to upgrade their guest entertainment services is a hot concern for HDTV manufacturers and the interactive TV/broadband solution providers who work with them.

At least two such solutions will be on display at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference (HITEC) when LodgeNet and LG Electronics display their latest collaboration and OnCommand counters with one or more offerings of its own.

In early May, LodgeNet and LG announced Pro:Idiom, content protection technology that they say ensures security for satellite-delivered and video-on-demand content adhering to strict digital transport standards.

This is a boxless solution. The set-top box that until now has been a fixture in virtually every guestroom TV system has been incorporated into the LG sets, according to Richard Lewis, LG Electronics' senior vice president.

Now that the armoire is beginning to lose its appeal, the TV has changed as a design element, so making it look as streamlined as possible was a goal, Lewis suggests. “LG and LodgeNet have developed an innovative 'boxless' platform that incorporates the digital tuning and video-on-demand system components into the cleanest possible in-room presentation,“ he says.

Looks wasn't the only consideration, however. “Before Pro:Idiom, people have been putting some of these flat-panel displays in guestrooms, but they haven't recognized the security requirements necessary to deliver both satellite and video-on-demand content,“ says Dave Bankers, SVP/product and technology and CTO, LodgeNet. “Some time ago, LodgeNet got together with LG and some of the other television manufacturers and asked how they were going to work toward providing a solution because without the security component, we don't have the right to deliver HBO and VOD content to the guestroom.“

Preventing piracy of digital entertainment is a growing concern for premium content providers because so “many of them make a lot of their revenue following the theatrical or seasonal windows by selling DVDs,“ Bankers says. To protect those revenue streams, Pro:Idiom was created as a joint effort by LodgeNet and LG.

“At this point, we're the only ones to have implemented it,“ Bankers says, “but numerous other manufacturers and systems providers are considering its implementation.“

“The remote is an extension of LodgeNet's user interface,“ Lewis says, “but on the content protection side, there is a device that needed to be added to the television to do the encryption. In the head end-in the closet in the basement of the hotel, where the signal is generated-there's some encrypting technology. And in each room, there's some encrypting technology.“

“Pro:Idiom is really about protecting the content,“ Bankers says, acknowledging that piracy is not an issue in hotels “at the moment.“

“We don't want it to be in the future,“ Lewis says. “Studios refer to it as napsterization. If a person can go into a hotel and burn a flawless copy of every episode of Sex in the City and sell it in Times Square, that would definitely affect their business model.“

The new LodgeNet-LG solution is being tested at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago and several other sites.


The LodgeNet-LG announcement follows a related one by On Command Video Corp., another high-profile interactive TV/broadband solution provider. On Command announced last fall that it would market Samsung digital televisions to the hospitality and cruise line industry. At that time, it did not say whether that partnership extended to technological change.

Now, it seems, it will. The agreement with “Samsung and any of the players that we work with is to have a fully integrated end-to-end solution-I call it HD-plus-handling everything from VOD to free-to-guest,“ says Tad Walden, On Command's SVP of marketing and programming.

In the next 60 to 90 days, “there's going to be a lot of clarity brought to the HD story in the industry, whether it centers around the programming availability, the technology to deliver that programming, security measures or things like that.“

The field of in-room technology and HDTV is in flux, Walden says. “We will be delivering what I'm going to call a boxless-type solution,“ he says. “At the end of the day, it does the same thing. Whether you're talking about IP to the room or about a set-top box in the room, there are a number of different things in play here, and that's what we will be demonstrating at HITEC.

“We're looking at the bigger picture — no pun intended — on how this industry needs to come together,“ he says. “I don't call my solution a boxless solution because I'm not following what they're doing. We believe we're going to set a different and higher standard. One of the alternatives we're taking to market won't have a box. But that isn't the only game in town.“

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