The argument for keeping tech simple in hotel rooms

Carl-Fredrik Malmgren is owner of Swedish integrator Fremlab and is experienced in installing AV systems for hotel projects. He outlines his thoughts on the market to Tim Kridel.

TK: What are some trends in how hotels are using AV in guest rooms and elsewhere, such as conference/meeting areas, lobbies, spas and restaurants? 

CM: Hotel TV is an area where there is no main player in Sweden—many small companies, all with their own pluses and minuses. 

Connecting your device wirelessly to the TV is coming more and more: Chromecast, mirroring, etc. There is just one thing that matters: It must work, and it must work easily and every time. We have been sniffing into that area, but I see also a lot of challenges, so I have avoided this area. One hotel we worked with put smart TVs in 200 rooms, and every day, in 10 t0 15 rooms the player box in each room jammed, crashed, stopped, and the only way was to reset it. 

After six months, they took everything out and put the old analogue system back in use. This is not the correct way, it was just one of those small suppliers promising more than they could cope with. 

I myself as a room guest saw a system at BellaSky in Copenhagen, an 800-room hotel, with a very smart, fast and efficient system. No idea of what brand [and] supplier, but it did work quick, [with] nice features and sharp picture.

Trends in conference rooms we see is finally adding a wireless connection between your laptop and the screen. There are many systems on the market: Via, AirPlay, Barco, etc. We have decided to only supply Barco Clickshare CS200. I think this is the best one on the market. We also feel that a system that is not depending on house Wi-Fi is better.

What we also see there is less technology in the rooms. We used to have a VHS player in every room, then the combo VHS/DVD, then the DVD and since 2012 nothing. Just a connector for your own device.

We still do (well nearly) VGA and HDMI, but from more or less today, we only do HDMI in new rooms.

A system that is three years old is out of date. The market moves quickly. A three-year-old projector still works and can do for another three years if it was at least WXGA and at least 3-4000ANSI when it was delivered [in] let’s say 2012.
We are updating a hotel in Norrköping right now with 10+ rooms. When checking the rooms six months ago, we found two rooms that had new projectors delivered by some smartass [in] 2016: XGA and 2600ANSI!!! The problem is customers that do not know, and suppliers that should stick to IT and not AV. They do not have the knowledge.

TK: What are some challenges to implementing AV technologies in older/historic hotels, and how they can be overcome? For example, I’m seeing a lot of interest in upgrading Wi-Fi to support surveillance cameras, digital signage and other AV systems because it’s easier and cheaper to use wireless than to tear up architectural details to run fibre or copper.

CM: We never do any wireless connections. Simply it is not safe and reliable.

There will always be power to whatever device, so pull a cable also. We have done some Wi-Fi installations, and there we always use PoE AP. Never, never, never use repeaters, "power over mains" and other DIY stuff.

TK: Many hotels are putting even more AV technologies into guest rooms. One challenge is making it easy for guests to understand and use those technologies. I recently did an article that looks at using speech control rather than touchpanels. What kinds of challenges and solutions are you seeing when it comes to putting even more AV technologies not only in guest rooms, but also meeting spaces?

CM: The more technology you put into rooms, etc., the more can go wrong.
Remember most hotels do not have techs onsite. They only have perhaps conference hostesses and maybe a housekeeper that has a private interest into AV. 

In 2010, we did a few hotels with surround systems. We have taken them all down by now. They were not used. It’s one example where we the tech suppliers push equipment into the market that there really was no use for. We also did a few with wireless Crestron remotes, home surround receivers, etc. Never, never, never again.

All equipment should be cabled. Then you can add an iPad as a second control surface. [At our] latest large installation, we did the reception control panel mirrored to mail banquet panel. In case [the] banquet panel goes down, [the] system can still be operated from reception. Not optimal, but better than nothing.

We also in all installations have our own VLAN, but [the] hotel provides all switches. We have one router with one address so we have access from outside to our VLAN. This is good for updates and remote management. 

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