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Focus on Hospitality: Cutting-edge AV in Luxury Hotels

The recent Golden Globe Awards did more than recognize Hollywood's glitterati and their creative performances. For Arlington Heights, Ill.-based integrator

Focus on Hospitality: Cutting-edge AV in Luxury Hotels

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM,
By John W. DeWitt

At the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles, Arlington Heights, Ill.-based Hospitality Partners and its AVT Event Technologies division installed two Sanyo PLC-XF46N projectors that are blended to project movies onto the 80ft.-high wall that backs the pool. AVT also installed Color Kinetics ColorBlast LEDs to complete the nighttime pool scene.

The recent Golden Globe Awards did more than recognize Hollywood’s glitterati and their creative performances. For Arlington Heights, Ill.-based integrator Hospitality Partners and its AVT Event Technologies division, the live televised event — and the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles that hosts it — also showcased the cutting edge of AV technology in the hospitality industry, particularly where digital signage is concerned. The Beverly Hilton, like the Hyatt Regency hotels in Chicago and San Francisco that are also AVT clients, exemplifies key trends in the hospitality industry. These trends include:

  • Built-in state-of-the-art AV capabilities for conventions, shows, conferences, and other events
  • Proliferation of digital signage, with each sign having a precise location and role to play
  • Extremely dynamic digital content, interactivity, and wayfinding — including use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to trigger targeted signage content in the Chicago Hyatt
  • Content that’s tightly integrated with hotel branding, marketing, and sales
  • Technology that’s highly integrated across AV and signage networks, as well as with hotel IT systems
  • Fully outsourced, ongoing AV services and support, combining full-time onsite presence and centralized, off-site capabilities.

Consider the setting for the Golden Globes event: the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, which seats up to 1,100 people. Since AVT won the hotel’s business as the hotel’s onsite AV installer/integrator a little more than two years ago, the company has given the 18,000-square-foot venue a dramatic AV upgrade. Among the improvements: the permanent addition of Christie HD series projectors and Meyer Sound Ultra and M series loudspeaker arrays, combined with a Yamaha PM5D digital mixing console. With a full-time lighting plot, a High End Systems Hog iPC console with Wholehog 3 provides control of lighting systems in the facility — including Martin Professional Mac 2000 series intelligent light fixtures.

AVT even figured out a way for AV technology to minimize the crush of celebrities as they exit the ballroom: 42in. and 50in. NEC plasma reader boards, featuring attention-grabbing animated graphics powered by Omnivex digital-signage software, are used to strategically point guests toward their choice of four or five different after-show parties on the hotel property.

For the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, AVT, Audio Visual Resources, and db Integrated Systems collaborated to install Christie HD series projectors and Meyer Sound Ultra and M series loudspeaker arrays, combined with a Yamaha PM5D digital mixing console. A High End Systems Hog iPC console with Wholehog 3 provides control of lighting systems in the facility—including Martin Professional Mac 2000 series intelligent light fixtures.

The Beverly Hilton

The Golden Globes is just one of more than 70 televised events — seven of which are live-to-air — held at the Beverly Hilton each year. Over the past two years, AVT has labored to create an AV technology nirvana for the Beverly Hilton event sales staff and its customers.

“We’ve got everything up in the air and installed, so as soon as they walk in, they’ve got a ballroom ready to rock,” says Darren Phalen, western regional director for AVT Event Technologies. “We’ve created our own version of the giant red easy button [from the Staples commercials] — we give the hotel sales managers an RFID card. When they walk into the ballroom, the automated setup comes to life, a video shows on the screen, the sound system comes on, lights roll around the room. It makes the sales manager’s life so easy — it takes the nerdiness of an AV salesman out of the equation.”

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Focus on Hospitality: Cutting-edge AV in Luxury Hotels

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM,
By John W. DeWitt

AVT also completed upgrades to the Hyatt Regency Chicago, including 60 large-format digital signs with content that is triggered by guests’ radio-frequency identification tags.

Indeed, AV technology has played a starring role in The Beverly Hilton’s $80 million renovation, which started after high-tech entrepreneur Beny Alagem — former owner of Packard Bell Electronics — purchased the hotel from entertainment mogul Merv Griffin in 2003. Early on, Alagem decided that all 570 guest rooms should feature 42in. plasma HDTVs — and the majority of rooms also include 13in. flatscreens in their bathrooms. In 2006, to further Alegem’s technology-oriented vision for the hotel’s public spaces, event venues, and business center, the Beverly Hilton hired AVT Event Technology and its sibling Hospitality Partners divisions — including Commerce Concierge, which runs the business center; AVT Communiqué, which develops signage applications; and The Creative Effort, a video and website developer. AVT also received help from Streamwood, Ill.-based Audio Visual Resources as well as Chicago-based db Integrated Systems, which installed the International Ballroom’s Meyer Sound system.

“This was one of the hard-fought contracts for an AV integrator,” Phalen says. “Beny Alagem wanted to make this a true technology-leader hotel, using technology to differentiate the hotel’s offerings and attract a different clientele. When we were competing to get the contract, that was the question: ‘What will we do to make this cutting-edge?’”

AVT’s two years of integration and installation work at The Beverly Hilton focused on several areas. Among them: top-of-the-line, minimal-footprint AV systems for events, meetings, and conferences; high-end digital signage for guest communications, marketing, and wayfinding; onsite AV and business services; and distinctive, high-profile AV and intelligent-lighting applications.

Aside from the International Ballroom’s AV overhaul, AVT upgraded the networked AV capabilities of a dozen breakout rooms in the hotel’s executive meeting center. Minimum profile and maximum manageability were key design criteria.

“The challenge for hotels is that AV takes up too much of a footprint inside their meeting rooms, and you lose chairs as a result,” Phalen says. “We got rid of that [by installing] Sanyo [PLC-XT11] projectors [on Chief Manufacturing mounts] and [Da-Lite] screens in the ceilings so there is no footprint. From my desk, I can turn off projectors, monitor lamp life, and see what signals are running. And if a bulb died or a projector overheated, the system automatically would email me and I would be running to the room with a new projector before the client could find a house phone.” Projectors are networked using Sanyo’s PJ-Net Organizer module — giving Phalen and his staff remote-control and monitoring capabilities.

Digital-signage Function

When AVT arrived in December 2006, the Beverly Hilton possessed a single digital display. Today, there are dozens. Permanently installed digital signage at the hotel includes two 40in. NEC MultiSync LCD4010 lobby displays and 22 15.4in. Accele LCDP154 door displays located outside meeting and ballrooms. Additional portable displays — 42in. and 50in. NEC plasmas that are wirelessly linked to remote players — are available for informational, promotional, and wayfinding applications at events and conferences.

With the proliferation of signage, hotel management was emphatic that it “not take away from the luxury feel,” according to Phalen.

“They said, ‘We don’t want it to look like the airport,’” he says. “So our company did custom mill work for the surround of each display that matches the décor of the hotel.”

AVT faced a similar visual hurdle in mounting, networking, and powering the permanent screens.

“The hotel was already built, so we had to figure out how to do it while minimizing the impact on the building,” Phalen says. “For all the digital signage, we used Cat-5 or Cat-5e with Gefen VGA Extender LRs to both power and send content, and this allowed us to cut corners. We only had to snake one wire to each screen. The nice thing about using Cat-5 is that it requires a single-gang box the size of one power outlet. Beyond that, there are two screws in the wall that hold up the digital sign and custom millwork around it. It’s an extremely light footprint that leaves three small holes in the wall.”

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Focus on Hospitality: Cutting-edge AV in Luxury Hotels

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM,
By John W. DeWitt

AVT also used existing wiring whenever possible.

“In some cases, there were some existing network cables that we were able to bastardize and take over,” Phalen says. “One of the biggest hurdles was that we had to find ways to patch into that stuff without unpatching existing networks. It took weeks of mapping out exactly how we were going to do it.”

The signage network is managed using Omnivex’s digital-signage software suite, which includes modules for managing content and scheduling (Display 3 Director); devices (Display 3 Player); and data sources (Datapipe Server 3). Both 40in. reader boards in the lobby area have their own dedicated PC-based players; otherwise, each of the hotel’s players handles up to five of the 22 15.4in. displays located by meeting-room doors. Player hardware includes four HP ProCurve 2600 series managed switches and 20 Dell OptiPlex 755 small-form-factor PCs.

Content for the digital signs is rich and dynamic within the available space. Meeting-room-door signs are relatively simple, primarily displaying conference schedules and meeting information extracted directly from the hotel’s database. But when no events are occurring, or when events are concluding and attendees are departing the room, these signs can run hotel restaurant promotions.

“If a group finishes the general session at 4 p.m., then at 4:03 p.m., we can run an ad for the lobby bar or Trader Vic’s,” Phalen says.

Driving content on the lobby displays is a more involved process. Meeting information comes from the hotel database; advertisements and other promotional content often are developed by AVT’s Chicago-based creative and technical staff, which runs a network operations center based at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, and then put on the screen.

“To utilize them as a reader board and for directional information and for advertising, we don’t have enough real estate,” Phalen says. “So for 85 percent of the day, we run a splitscreen feed. There’s a 3D hotel map on the right side, then on the left side is a reader board that scrolls if you have more than five meetings. For advertising purposes, we will schedule in something like a happy hour advertisement that runs for 5 minutes and then goes back to the reader board.”

Business Center to Poolside

Phalen’s three-person staff works out of the hotel business center, which is managed by AVT Event Technologies sister company Commerce Concierge.

“Normally, the AV guys are stuck under the stairs, but we’re right off the lobby in a glass-fronted space — the coolest AV office that you’ll see,” Phalen says. Onsite capabilities include on-the-fly video editing and production, in addition to managing content on the hotel’s AV networks and Omnivex digital-signage system.

“This is a Hollywood hotel, so you often get a lot of video content for meetings,” Phalen says. “Also, having three AV guys really makes the business center into a tech center. People bring in their cell phones and laptops when they have a problem, and we often can help them. In the eyes of the hotel traveler, that’s a major improvement over what other hotels might offer.”

AVT even has used AV technology to enhance one of the hotel’s most legendary landmarks — the largest heated hotel pool in Beverly Hills. Using two blended Sanyo PLC-XF46N projectors, movies are projected each night onto the 80ft.-high wall that backs the pool. AVT installed 6in. Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast LEDs to complete the nighttime poolside scene.

Chicago and San Francisco

In many respects, AVT’s efforts at the Beverly Hilton and a later project at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco have taken their inspirational cues from the company’s cutting-edge transformation of AV capabilities at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

“If you had to pick one of the best AV and signage installations out there, the Chicago Hyatt is slick,” says Jeff Collard, president of Omnivex. “How they got there is interesting. Many years ago, the hotel had cobbled together a software solution deployed on a Mac. It was easy for graphics, but a horrible platform for networks. They had a full-time woman just to run it, and it’s just not the hotel’s function. So when they decided to bring us in, they also brought in AVT.”

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Focus on Hospitality: Cutting-edge AV in Luxury Hotels

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM,
By John W. DeWitt

The Hyatt Regency Chicago project was so successful that analysis firm DisplaySearch selected it as a venue and live showcase for its first digital-signage conference in 2008.

Now, the hotel’s AV capabilities — including more than 60 large-format (40in. and larger) digital signs and content triggered by guests’ RFID tags — led analysis firm DisplaySearch to select it as a venue and live showcase for its first digital-signage conference last year.

“One of the reasons we selected the Hyatt is the unique infrastructure allowing quick content changes,” says Chris Connery, vice president for PC and large-format commercial displays at DisplaySearch. “Branding, wayfinding, electronic menu boards — you get almost all aspects of digital signage in one microcosm of a hotel, especially signage that caters to a conference situation.”

In March 2008, AVT took over AV and signage responsibilities at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. There, AVT inherited the hotel’s existing Samsung signage — which includes meeting-door screens, large-format informational displays, and 20in. vertical monitors placed across the front desk. Inspired by a piano-bar webcam that plays on Chicago’s digital signs, San Francisco’s front-desk signs now feature live webcam feeds of bay views from the club-level lounge, which fosters upgrades to rooms with a bay view.

“We have taken a different approach in San Francisco with the marketing director of the hotel,” says David Alter, the Chicago-based director of engineering and project management for AVT Communiqué. “We took the marketing campaign for print media and billboards and integrated it with all the digital-signage displays so they all have a unified message. We also work together to promote the in-hotel outlets, special events and holidays, and things like that.”

Always looking for the next innovation, AVT plans to begin retrofitting screens in the San Francisco Hyatt over the next couple of years with touchscreen interfaces that allow for interactive on-demand content — including news, weather, and wayfinding. Down the road, Alter says he also anticipates 3D displays, cameras that recognize when someone is in front of the screen, and more dynamic wayfinding that “draws out the path of where you need to go.”

John W. DeWitt is a marketing consultant and business writer based in New Salem, Mass. He can be reached at[email protected].

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