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The videoconference systems each cost up to $350,000 and are ideal for meetings of fewer than 20 people. Each system — three 65-inch HD monitors that project life-size images and offer crystal-clear audio — will be housed in a room of about 400 square feet.

Guests at the hotels can book by the hour, with hourly prices ranging from $400 to $500 per room.

Videoconferencing has grown rapidly in recent years as more companies cut back on business travel. In 2008, the global videoconferencing market rose 24% to $2.4 billion and will more than double to $5.7 billion by 2013, Frost & Sullivan says.

Starwood, teaming with Cisco Systems and Singapore-based Tata Communications, says it will introduce the system first at the Sheraton New York Hotel, Sheraton on the Park in Sydney, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, The Westin Los Angeles Airport hotel and W Chicago-City Center. It will build the rooms at five more properties by year's end, likely in international cities such as Brussels, Paris and Tokyo.

Starwood didn't disclose its pricing Tuesday. But Tata, which will run Starwood's network, operates similar systems at several Taj Hotels and charges about $400 an hour at Taj Boston.

Marriott will introduce its videoconference rooms at JW Marriott San Francisco, Bethesda North Marriott Hotel in Maryland and New York Marriott East Side by the end of October and is "vigorously pursuing" deals for 22 more, says Bruno Lunghi, vice president of catering at Marriott. It will charge about $500 an hour. Marriott will build the room, while Cisco will supply the equipment. AT&T will manage its network.

Marriott announced a similar deal with Hewlett-Packard last year, but the partnership never materialized.

Andrew Davis, a technology analyst at Wainhouse Research, says hourly rental videoconference rooms have been around for several years but were not popular because customers found traveling to the rooms cumbersome.

With the new HD technology, "People will have a superior meeting experience ... and that may work out better for hotels," Davis says.

"It's cheaper than flying three executives from Boston to Denver, but it's still cash out the door. It'll not be used every day," Davis predicts.

Hotels could be a useful marketing venue for Cisco in recruiting more corporate customers for the videoconferencing systems, Davis says. "These are showpieces," he says. It's "one of those things that you have to experience to really get it."


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