The Hidefification of America

2005 is a banner year for air travel for me. I’ve flown to Indianapolis for CEDIA, California for a cousin’s wedding and Florida four times for vacations and business. I know, I’m hardly a jet-setter or one of many people I meet in my travels who earn my sympathy for being away from home more than they’re not, but still, for me? A banner year.

So, what do I find that’s new and exciting in hotels and motels across (selected parts of) this great country? Hmm. Oatmeal soap seems to be taking off nicely, I like that. But with a little more than three year until the time the FCC forecloses on the analog TV frequency spectrum, rendering all standard definition TVs instantly obsolete, we should be seeing some wide-screen hi-def sets perched prominently on hotel room walls by now. Alas, that is not to be. I did have a widescreen LCD in a room at the midtown Hilton in NYC during Primedia’s Home Entertainment 2005, but there wasn’t an HD cable signal and, from what I know about hotel chains, I doubt the set was even hi-def capable. So, hey America, welcome to TubbyVision, where skinny people look like me, and I, well, I don't even fit.

I was at a conference in Orlando earlier this week, staying at one of the more up-market Disney properties, you know, the ones without the screaming kids, and we didn’t have hi-def in those rooms either. In fact, the TV in my room was a fairly recent Zenith that looked especially made for the hotel industry (translation: bolted down, one RF cable input, one composite input for emergencies, and nothing you’d want to steal). Priced in hotel lot quantities, the set is probably in the low $200s. With pay-per-view movies and pay-to-play video games subsidies, this forsaken dinosaur certainly should have paid for itself by now. Dump it in Jurassic Park, heave it into the Blue Lagoon or shoot it into Space Mountain. I want my HDTV!

I suppose I’m being too harsh on Disney. Along with Las Vegas, entertainment capitals and tourist resorts don’t make any money if you stay in your room watching hi-definition TV. They really only put TVs in the rooms because, if they didn’t, you’d never, ever frequent their chain again. With due respect to Anita Bryant, a hotel room without TV is like a day without sunshine, especially here in Florida. But if you ask people the reasons they pick a specific hotel, “TV” would likely be down near the bottom of the list, right after free shampoo.

I don’t know how much use the hospitality community hopes to get from their 25”, bureau hogging, standard definition sets, but I’m guessing they’ll hold on to them at least until the April 9, 2009 deadline comes. And goes. With congress now willing to treat the cutover to hi-def as something akin to the second coming of hurricane Katrina, the hotel business will surely try to get as big a bite of the $3B the beltway boys have slated for retrofitting non-hidef sets with converter boxes (see Joel Brinkley’s excellent blog piece on the subject) as they can. That could spell decades of staring at that 4x3 screen for that last few minutes of the day when we all get back to our hotel rooms to pass out. At least, by then, our dreams will be in hi-def.