Best Hotel Feature: a TV I Can Actually Use

I recently travelled to a conference and was impressed by the TV in the hotel room. It was a 32″ HD flat panel display right in the room. It looked really good and I was able to watch an episode of Lost in HD. One problem was that I could not plug in my device into it. So when I wanted to watch a movie or listen to music, I pulled out my laptop (15″ display) or iPod (2″ display) and left the HD TV set idle in the corner. I’m not going to pay $10 to watch a movie that I can see on DVD via NetFlix for a lot less. Why don’t these hotel operators allow you to plug into the TV and actually use it? Somebody has.

I checked into the Marriott this week in San Francisco and was immediately impressed by the TV in the room. The TV itself was a 32″ HD TV. That’s not the special part. What was special was the breakout box set on the desk. On the front of it were RCA, VGA, HDMI, S-Video, and audio jacks right on the front page. The device has auto-sensing capability that immediately enables that port as soon as you plug the device in. I was able to plug in my iPod and in less than a minute, I was watching a movie on the full screen — very cool. Later, I tuned the TV to a specific channel (NASA TV) and plugged in just the audio jacks from my iPod. The device left the video and used my audio. I had my iPod remote and A/V cables so I was all set.

It’s not perfect. Here are a couple of small complaints.

1) Although an ethernet cable was included in the hall closet, there was no VGA cable. I do not know anyone who carries a VGA cable around. I carry a DVI to VGA adaptor but it was gender-challenged and could not be plugged into the box.

2) The set up of the desk made using the TV as a computer screen less than practical. If the desk had been on the other side of the room then one could use it as a computer screen. As it is set up it would work as a presentation screen for your Keynote presentations (, or PowerPoint if you are still using that).

3) The audio quality left something to be desired. When I was using the line out on my iPod connected through my RCA cables, the audio level was very low as though the breakout box was expecting amplified output. When I switched to the amplified output port on the iPod I was able to crank up the volume but even on max on the TV and iPod, it was hard to hear over the air conditioning and 10th-Floor street noise.

In a related experience I recently took the family and iPod to a resort in Disney world. While the hotel room left much to be desire, the room was clean and the TV was just a regular old 27″ TV. Since it was a normal TV, I immediately spun the TV around, plugged in my iPod and had Cars playing for the kids.

Travelers should come to expect this kind of breakout box and TV in the room. This is the way the in-room entertainment industry is going rather than opening up the TV so you can use it like Disney did. To be prepared for that, travelers should bring along the appropriate cables. The first cable on the list is the RCA adaptor for your iPod, DVD player or camera. If you are lucky these might be the same cable. For me, I have one cable for my iPod and one for my camcorder. These two cables looked the same but were not interchangeable. If you want to do any kind of PC presentation, you will need HDMI, VGA, or SVIDEO cables to work with your laptop. Each interface has it’s advantages but in general that is the order you should prefer them. My experience with HDMI on my TV at home was less than stellar. It did not give me access to the full screen.

The last tip it to look at the remote control. Some feature may actually be available to you. When I played a letterbox movie from my iPod, I had to adjust the screen size to get it to stretch vertically correctly.

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