Once upon a time, when your hotel critic was still writing with a crayon or a big red pencil, you used to be lucky to get a small television perched on top of the wardrobe. Alas, in some hotels you still are. But increasingly hotels are upping their game to offer much more.
For instance, TVs are getting bigger. The Savoy offers a 40″ screen in its suites and it’s not the only one to go large. If your hotel TV isn’t bigger than your computer screen, these days you have a valid reason to complain.
And who said hotel rooms should only have one television? At the St James’s Hotel & Club you get four TVs in the St James’s Suite – depending on whether you want to watch TV in the main living area, the snug, the bedroom or the bathroom. That’s luxury.
Bathroom TVs still aren’t commonplace, but they’re increasingly common – you get them at the Arch, at the Royal Horseguards and Cafe Royal Hotel.
Even in hotels where you only get TV in the bedroom, it’s becoming increasingly common for speakers to be installed in the bathroom. That way, though you can’t watch, you can at least listen to the morning news while performing your ablutions.
A television doesn’t look particularly beautiful when it’s switched off. There are various ways of dealing with this. Some hotels conceal the TV in a wooden case or have it rise from a recess when required. Other hotels have started to use mirror TVs, in which the glass works as a mirror unless it is backlit, while a few hotels run a subtle motion or landscape channel (a bit like a PC screensaver) when no other channel is selected.
But while these are all interesting changes, I think the biggest change on the horizon is what the TV actually does. While some hotels, like the Cumberland, offer smart TVs that essentially turn your television into a computer, others are recognising that guests are likely to bring their own ‘computer’ (in the form of a mobile device) with them.
Links with computers have been around for a while, though the first generation software now looks a bit clunky. Increasingly, hotels are finding ways to enable guests to use their own devices (touchpads, smartphones, laptops) with the television, to play their own content or interact with the hotel systems. That might mean watching a film you downloaded earlier, or listening to your favourite playlist through the TV’s speakers.
One implication of this change is that the range of channels provided by the hotel is no longer as big an issue as it used to be. Guests who have downloaded films to watch, have subscriptions to Netflix and similar services, or can timeshift using the Beeb’s iPlayer and similar offerings, are unlikely to care how many extra channels they can access. News is perhaps the only area in which multilingual channel provision still matters.
The hotel TV is now becoming part of an ecosystem along with DVDs, streamed internet content and downloaded, guest-provided content, and access to hotel services. What matters now is how easy that is to use – and if I were running a hotel, that’s what I’d be investing in right now.
Photo credits: Cory Harman, St James’s Hotel and Club, The Cumberland Hotel.