Wed 14 Mar
It used to be that we assumed companies had access to better technology than consumers did, and therefore understood it more deeply than us, but I think that’s no longer the case. Very often, it seems to me that ‘regular’ people now understand technology better than many companies do.
This occurred to me over the past few days as I traveled to Austin and then Minneapolis. In each city I stayed in a pretty nice hotel, both of which had flat-screen televisions in the rooms. Of course it’s not unusual that hotels will have LCD or plasma televisions these days, but what I’ve found is that no matter how nice the hotel is or how many stars it might rate, they all fundamentally misunderstand what a flat-screen television is for.
If you turn on this kind of TV in any given hotel, the signal coming through the cable and being displayed on the screen will almost certainly be a standard-definition signal, and that signal will almost certainly be a 4:3 aspect ratio picture that is inelegantly stretched to fit a 16:9 screen. That is, the hotel did not opt to upgrade their service to a full HD signal, and even worse, they’re showing the lower-resolution signal in the worst possible way. Looks terrible.
Often I even go to the trouble of adjusting the aspect ratio myself, to display the standard definition signal in its ‘true’ 4:3 format, which I personally find to be much more pleasant, even with the two black bars on either side of the picture that that format necessitates. But what I’ve found is that if I turn off the TV, the next time I turn it back on it will revert to 16:9. It’s almost as if the hotel believes that filling up the screen, even if the result is worse than what you’d see on an old tube-style TV set, is the preferred presentation.
I guess that to a proprietor of one of these hotels what’s critical is just the hardware, the physical TV itself — and showing their customers that they have acquired this object of a certain status. Meanwhile, the importance of the software, the signal quality and its presentation, completely escapes them.
All of this is nitpicking to a certain extent, but what I find remarkable is that this circumstance — high-quality TV, low-quality TV signal — is so prevalent at big, reputable, high-end companies like these. I mean, these are serious businesses that purport to put a premium on customer experience values. Meanwhile, I can’t remember when I’ve seen a flat-screen television in the home of a friend or acquaintance that suffered from the same problem. Everyone who gets one of these modern televisions also seems to figure out how to get the right kind of picture out of it. It’s really not that difficult.