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Since its inception, the Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa has invested in the very best in-room automation and entertainment systems on the market to deliver an exceptional experience for guests. Over the years, hotel management has continued to upgrade the hotel’s technology infrastructure in line with developments in digital, automation and audiovisual trends. The AV Integration editorial team were recently invited to a tour of the Saxon, hosted by Johan Vos, of the Saxon together with Panavision Evolve’s sales director, Jaco Potgieter and sales manager from Exterity, Gary Davies.

Situated on a ten-acre estate in the heart of Sandton’s opulent, tree-lined suburb of Sandhurst, lies the enchanting Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa. Voted the World’s Leading Boutique Hotel since 2001, the Saxon takes pride in offering impeccable quality and service, leaving guests with a lasting impression of outstanding excellence and a longing to return. The Saxon is renowned for going above and beyond, with minute attention to detail to ensure absolute privacy and comfort for their distinguished guests. Guest services include high-speed Wi-Fi, the use of Spa hydro facilities, a 24-hour butler service, access to a fitness centre and state-of-the-art entertainment services, among others.
The hotel recently invested in an extensive upgrade to the entertainment services on offer for its guests, implemented by leading audiovisual and automation technology solutions specialists, Panavision Evolve.

A JOURNEY OF EXCELLENCE

The Saxon was originally designed by Neil Powell Architects in 1990 to serve as the private home of one of South Africa’s leading captains of industry, Douw Steyn. The vision for the residence was to create an immersive retreat, with lush landscaped gardens commanding a panoramic view over the treetops towards the city skyline, but within a stone’s throw of the hustle and bustle of the Sandton business district.
During the late 1990s, Steyn contracted leading hotel designers Ridler Shepherd Low Architects, to redesign and extend the existing Saxon estate to transform the private residence into a hotel and conference space that would exceed the expectations of any business executive, politician or celebrity from anywhere in the world. The original structure underwent substantial renovation and was reimagined by world-renowned interior designer, Steven Falcke to capture an opulent but easy aesthetic, with a perfect balance between delicate, refined glamour and practicality.
The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa is renowned for its unique blend of heritage and modernity and aims create an experience which captures all of the comfort and intimacy of home, while delivering a level of luxury and personalised service that will make a lasting impression on guests.
As the leading boutique hotel in the world, the Saxon attracts visitors from across the globe, many seeking the retreat for body, mind and soul first envisioned for the space by Steyn. “The Saxon caters for a very discerning guest, who is likely accustomed to the very best in entertainment and business technology. We are committed to not only meeting, but exceeding our guest’s expectations in this, and every other regard,” explains Vos.

 

SETTING A HIGH BAR

Since its inception, the Saxon has invested in the very best in-room automation and entertainment systems on the market to deliver an exceptional experience for guests. Over the years, hotel management has continued to upgrade the hotel’s technology infrastructure in line with developments in digital, automation and audiovisual trends. “We pride ourselves on remaining current, and want to ensure that the technology available at the hotel, in the villas and the spa is one step ahead of our guest’s expectations while remaining accessible and user-friendly,” Vos elaborates.
To support this goal, the Saxon contracted with a highly-regarded specialist in AV and automation technology, Panavision Evolve. “Our relationship with the Saxon dates back to 2010, when hotel management contracted Panavision Evolve to deploy a comprehensive automation system throughout the hotel,” explains Potgieter. “Over the years, we have continued to work closely with the Saxon, and have come to understand and respect the journey that the hotel wants to create for their guests.”
In response to rapid developments in internet protocol television (IPTV) and the expansion of high-definition technology, the Saxon decided to deploy an extensive upgrade focused on its audiovisual capabilities and turned once again to Panavision Evolve for the solutions. “Our goal was to enhance the quality of our satellite TV services and provide additional Video on Demand functionality to allow guests to use services such as Netflix within each room. One of our main aims was to ensure absolute reliability while making it easy for our staff to manage audio-visual functions, both centrally and on an area by area basis,” explains Saxon maintenance manager, Bobby Aitken.

“Having a trusted partner that is able to respond to our changing audio and video requirements is vital for the Saxon, which is continually looking for ways to make our guest experience truly award winning. Our trust in Panavision and Exterity has been rewarded with a state-of-the-art system that we believe offers a better than home experience for all of our guests.” – Johan Vos

Panavision Evolve identified Exterity’s IPTV solution as the best fit to answer all of the demands of the Saxon’s brief. “We looked at several potential IPTV technology suppliers for the Saxon, with a brief to meet the expectation of high quality and reliability, as well as the ability to integrate seamlessly with our core management systems,” Potgieter explains. “Based on our long-standing experience with Exterity’s IPTV solutions, which we have deployed in our own offices, Panavision Evolve was confident that Exterity would provide the best balance of quality, reliability and compatibility for a client of the
Saxon’s calibre.”

“The system deployed by Panavision enables us to easily display and control our Saxon-branded video content across any display at any location, with simple
in-room controls.” – Bobby Aitken

SOLUTIONS BUILT ON TRUST

Founded in 2001, Exterity is firmly established as a global leader in enterprise IP video technology and is one of the only vendors to deliver truly end-to-end IPTV and digital signage solutions that help organisations to harness the power of video to communicate, educate and entertain. Exterity systems are deployed globally by some of the most recognised brands in the world, enabling the distribution of broadcast quality digital TV and video over IP networks to an unlimited number of endpoints. With centralised management, configuration and control, Exterity solutions support large volumes of content and devices without compromising system performance or availability.
Speaking to AV Integration about the relationship between Exterity and systems integrator Panavision Evolve, Davies states: “Panavision has the experience and expertise needed to deploy solutions of this nature, and are particularly strong with the software side of the product, which was especially important for the installation at the Saxon.”
Potgieter concurs, stating that: “Exterity’s product range has proven to be very reliable, and the backup service that we receive from the company is exceptional. The relationship between Exterity and ourselves has grown to the point that we are comfortable in the knowledge that we can promise reliable, high quality IPTV that works for the most demanding installations.” In addition, Potgieter points out that Exterity’s IPTV solutions integrate seamlessly with the other products that they deploy, including Crestron control and
audio systems.

DELIVERING THE SOLUTION

The legacy IPTV system at the Saxon used a single server that carried the inherent risk of a single point of failure, which the hotel wanted to avoid with the new design. “We created a design using a combination of Crestron and Exterity technology that has a per-room control processor for lighting, audio and video, all of which is linked to a central processor.” Potgieter explains.
The Exterity IPTV solution used offers a modular design that enables TV gateways to be set up in a redundant design, with hot-swappable boards to ensure a higher degree of reliability and redundancy. The project involved the deployment of 68 Samsung HD SmartTVs designed for hospitality usage across the complex. “The Samsung hospitality displays are equipped with the digital rights management capabilities that comply with the encryption requirements of MultiChoice,” explains Potgieter. In addition, the synergies between the Samsung SmartTV displays and Exterity ensure that the installation is future proofed for software updates from Exterity.
Panavision delivered the entire project, including structured cabling and sound design, to ensure that each space was able to take advantage of the AV over IP capabilities that have been made available, including stereo surround sound and video up to UHD resolution. Following the installation, guests are able to access up to 80 satellite TV channels, which are re-encrypted in compliance with the local broadcaster. “In most corporate environments in this region, one rarely has to deal with more than 20 channels, with hotels in the region usually offering bouquets of between 20 to 30 channels.

The Exterity IPTV system is integrated with Crestron in-room controls to enable a single remote-control access to live TV and VoD entertainment content, multi-room audio and lighting. In addition to the extensive satellite TV bouquet on offer, all rooms are equipped with screen mirroring capabilities and Bluetooth connectivity. A guest is therefore able to connect any smart devise, gaming console or media devise using either WiFi or the USB and RGB ports provided.
In addition to the comfortable in-room experience, the system also provides TV throughout the public areas of the hotel, including conference suites and Spa treatment rooms.

DELIVERING AN EXCEPTIONAL EXPERIENCE

Panavision Evolve, together with Exterity have deployed an IPTV solution at the Saxon that delivers an elegant and user-friendly experience for guests, while also ensuring that the hotel’s management team can monitor and maintain the system with ease. “The system deployed by Panavision enables us to easily display and control our Saxon-branded video content across any display at any location, with simple in-room controls,” says Aitken.
At the heart of the system is the Exterity portal, a powerful middleware platform that enables the Saxon to provide an unparalleled viewing experience in up to UHD quality. “One of the benefits that was quickly evident was the upgrade in picture quality for our IPTV services,” Aitken adds.

“The 80 channels requested by the Saxon proved an interesting challenge for our software team, and we are very pleased to have been able to deliver a well-integrated and managed IPTV solution of this scale,” states Davies.
The new guest interaction system provided by Exterity starts with a Saxon-branded portal that allows the simple setup of languages options and preferences. The welcome portal has been carefully designed to mirror the subtle opulence that is so central to the Saxon experience. “We needed to find a middle ground between offering the latest technology while delivering an intuitive user experience for guests,”explainsPotgieter. Vos adds thattheSaxonstrivestooffer guests a deeply personal experience and, therefore, many of the functionalities that one would usually find on the guest interaction system, such as car hire or room service, are catered for by the personal butler that is allocated to each room.” Potgieter adds that “The Exterity portal approach allows the Saxon to easily add functionality to the system. With the current Exterity system, they could easily add billing details, express checkout or taxi pick-up via the TV in their room.”
The user interface can be easily customised via an intuitive administrator workflow to deliver dynamic, high-performance viewing interfaces for TV, Video on Demand, radio and interactive services, on any device.
Exterity solutions are designed to be future-proof and, with the Exterity upgrade now in its seventh successful year, Davies believes that the goal of quality and reliability has been achieved. “Our IPTV system is in use all day and every day, which means it needs to be incredibly reliable. Since its deployment, we have only had to solve two minor issues with a simple phone call. This impressive track record confirms our belief that high-quality solutions and products are a pre requisite for discerning, tech-savvy hotel guests.”

“Having a trusted partner that is able to respond to our changing audio and video requirements is vital for the Saxon, which is continually looking for ways to make our guest experience truly award winning. Our trust in Panavision and Exterity has been rewarded with a state-of-the-art system that we believe offers a better than home experience for all of our guests,” Vos concludes.