Back to the Future
Integrate a surround sound system in high-end hotel condominium units with secure technology poised for high-definition programming.
The Hotel del Coronado decided its guests would appreciate luxury condos equipped with HD-ready plasma TVs and surround sound, as well as unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean.
SOLUTION: Use a third-party remote and an open channel to integrate all media components into a simple user interface.
THE HOTEL DEL CORONADO IN SAN Diego is no stranger to the rich and famous. Since its opening in 1888, the hotel has been a magnet for celebrities, attracting stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Brad Pitt. It remains a popular destination because its facilities are continually upgraded. Part of the long-term Hotel Del Master Plan are the latest additions: a luxury spa and fitness center, complete with outdoor pool and bar; and North Beach Village, a community of 35 high-end, beach-front condominiums. Installing the upgrades and additions was going as planned, but then the condo project introduced a technology the installers had never encountered.
IN THE BEGINNING
Mike Haslett, director of construction at the Hotel del Coronado, called on James Love, president of San Diego–based custom home installer American-Audio Video, in November 2005 to help him design and install a commercial project “with a personal touch.” Haslett was impressed by Love's emphasis on a simple user interface and his references. “American-Audio Video gets repeat business installing $50,000 to $100,000 home theaters,” Haslett says. “That told me they had the customer service, attention to detail, and willingness to customize to the user's needs that would make them a good fit for this job.” Love estimated the entire project at $800,000, and in November 2006, began installations in the spa. Upgrades to the fitness center came next; followed by the condos at North Beach Village, which were finished in October 2007.
The North Beach Village properties consist of 35 full-ownership limited-use condos. Owners are only permitted to stay 90 days a year; the rest of the time the units are split via lock-off doors and rented as 78 individual hotel rooms. The condos include a kitchen and a great room, in addition to the bedrooms and bathrooms, but there had to be something special about them to please the hotel's high-profile guests.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
With the average price of a North Beach Village condo at $3 million, Haslett and Love knew they had to meet the expectations of the high-end buyer. This is where Love's custom home experience proved beneficial. “We had to be even more particular than usual about our work, because they rent these condos for up to $5,000 a night,” he says. The system needed to be upscale enough to satisfy guests who, surely, have more impressive systems in their own homes, but it also had to be easy enough for a new guest to use.
“It's got to be simple,” became Love's and Haslett's mantra. “You can't have a system with the classic mess of four remotes, especially in a hotel environment with transient guests,” Haslett says.“In your own home, you can deal with a few remotes because you know what they do, but when you're at a strange place and all you want to do is watch the Weather Channel, it has to be easy to use.”
To offer guests a better-than-average television experience, Love decided to install HD flat-panel televisions in each unit. But offering HD capabilities would require a fairly new technology, the Pro:Idiom chip. Developed by LG Electronics, the chip unscrambles HD content received by a hospitality facility from its entertainment provider; in this case, LodgeNet.
LodgeNet Entertainment Corp. — a company that provides pay-per-view movies, free-to-guest programming, and check-out services to more than 1.8 million hotel guest rooms in 9,300 hotels in North America — requires that the Pro:Idiom chip to be installed in every HD television set used in its clients' hotels.
Due to Hollywood's growing concerns over cinema piracy, LodgeNet sends its high-definition movies as a scrambled signal from its satellite to a main receiver located at the hotel. From there, the signal is sent to each room's TV where the embedded chip unscrambles the information immediately before the video appears on the screen. If someone attempts to intercept and pirate the HD content en route, that person receives nothing but static on the screen, though the audio content does go through.
Coming from the residential market, Love and his team were unfamiliar with the Pro:Idiom technology. After speaking with the technicians at LG, Love learned that the only flat-panel television currently equipped to unscramble LodgeNet's data was the LG 42PX12D plasma. Love placed an LG plasma TV with the Pro:Idiom chip in each unit's great room and in every bedroom — 131 units in all.
With the televisions successfully installed and HD-ready, the next challenge was integrating the Bose Lifestyle 28 (LS28) system into the great rooms. Each system consists of a media center with a DVD/CD player and AM/FM tuner, direct/reflecting cube loudspeaker arrays, a horizontal center-channel speaker, an Acoustimass bass module, and Videostage 5 decoding circuitry. LodgeNet expects customers to use their pay-per-view service for movie-watching needs, so even though the surround sound would function with regular LodgeNet channels, the company wasn't obliged to accommodate a hotel that also wanted to offer DVD-playing abilities.
Haslett, however, saw a benefit in providing this amenity to the hotel's guests and thought the potential loss of revenue from the pay-per-view service would have little impact because the DVD players wouldn't be in the bedrooms. After a six-week delay imposed by rounds of negotiation, LodgeNet finally agreed to dedicate an open channel to accept the Bose component feed.
Once this was done, there was the issue of simplicity — finding a way to interface all of the great room's media components into one remote. Doing so required more conversations with LodgeNet, which has its own remote controller but doesn't have the appropriate IR codes to add the Bose LS28 to its functions. To solve this issue, Love chose to use the Harmony 550 Advanced Universal Remote from Logitech and forgo LodgeNet's remote altogether.
The time it took to reach Haslett's goal of a simple user interface was worth the effort. Love and his team were able to capture the codes from LodgeNet, Bose, and LG and control all of their functions with a single user-friendly remote.
Once all of the AV elements were integrated, all that was left were the finishing touches. Love and his team mounted each of the great room plasma screens into a recessed space above the fireplaces using Peerless SF660 fixed flat-panel wall brackets and connected them with RapidRun runners and connectors for component video and analog audio and Proflex fiber-optic cabling for the digital elements.
The condos at the Hotel del Coronado can rent for up to $5,000 a night, so the AV system had to blend into the room's décor. In the unit's great room, American-Audio Video installed the Bose LS28 loudspeakers above the crown molding and placed the LG 42PX12D plasma TV above the fireplace.
Unfortunately, guests won't be able to reap the benefits of the team's hard work for at least a few more years. The goal was to get the Hotel del Coronado, which does not currently offer HD programming, ready for the future. “Everything is gravitating toward HD, particularly with the phase-out of analog TV signals,” says Haslett.“We're poised for when the world eventually goes high definition.”
The hotel picked a good time; the dropping price of HD LCD and plasma televisions saved the overall project around $150,000, bringing the grand total of the spa, fitness center, and condo community AV installation to $700,000. The positive feedback proved that the investment was worth the cost. “We sold all of our units,” says Haslett. “The guests love the whole thing.”
Love and American-Audio Video found a new calling. “In 2005, 90 percent of the work we were doing was custom homes, but the U.S. home market slowed to a crawl. Now 90 percent of our work is commercial or military,” Love says. “You kind of have to go with the flow, so we're just adapting.”