In-flight entertainment systems, Part 1 : Introduction, Hardware


Last week I blogged that I would be providing a detailed critique of two in-flight entertainment systems I recently experienced on a round-the-world trip. The trip included flights with both Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic. I’ve already had feedback eager to find out who gets the thumbs up.

The aim is to provide a comparison of the usability of the two systems, and to see if there any lessons we can learn as programmers when we create user interfaces in our applications. My experience of interactive television application development will be brought to bear on the overall experience.

Usability in this instance is a combination of both the handset design, together with the use of the hardware functionality made by the software delivering the services. The resulting ‘user interface’ is most definitely a combination of both the hardware and the software. All images are scanned from the in-flight magazines, so apologies for quality and the lack of illustrative images for some of the areas I will be covering.

I will be breaking up the review into several blog posts released every day or every other day (depending on how busy I am with other stuff). Expect a final conclusion some time next week.

My reviews were ‘enhanced’ by being accompanied by a 2 year old daughter (don’t talk to me about the wisdom of 7 flights in 3 weeks with someone that young). Having the ability to pause video was unbelievably handy. However, as a distracted parent, accessing this type of functionality really needs to be quick and easy.  If you think your daughter is just about to spill her drink, navigating extensive nested sub menus is not a great idea.

Hardware – Handsets

Air New Zealand

Air NZ Handset

Air NZ is rolling out their ‘on demand’ system throughout their fleet.  We were lucky to include a journey on their Auckland to San Francisco route. This meant we were flying on brand new Boeing 777-200ER planes (delivered to Air New Zealand in October 2005).

This looks like is a very traditional airline handset. It is designed to be used in vertical mode, which properly orientates the cursor keypad to make selections within the user interface. A dark blue menu button provides quick access to context sensitive menus in some of the applications.  A TV on/off button provides direct access to switching the LCD monitor on and off. The coloured buttons, labelled with letters come into their own when playing games.

Although there was a telephone on the reverse of the handset, this service was not yet activate on our flight. With the aircraft being only just three months old I think this is understandable. Systems do take some time to settle in, and I think releasing services in stages is a wise decision.

Virgin Atlantic (v:port)

Virgin Atlantic Handset

We travelled on both an Airbus A340 and a Boeing 747.  On both flights the system was identical in operation, and being Virgin Atlantic the marketing department gave the system the funky name of ‘v:port’.  Research indicates the v:port system is the Matsushita MAS3000 entertainment system. The handset benefits from Matsushita’s consumer electronics background (they are behind the Panasonic and Technics brands).

The handset includes a cursor pad similar to Air NZ, but provides an additional ‘cursor pad’ to the right with the following buttons; play/pause, back/rewind, next/fast forward, stop and OK.  The buttons are colour coded and include backlights so are easy to find on overnight flights when the lights are turned off.  An ‘i’ button in the centre of the main cursor pad provides instant access to a system menu from virtually all areas of the system.

The phone on the reverse was activated, and in addition the system can send SMS messages during the flight, including messaging other seats in the cabin.

Coming up

User interface paradigms, Video on demand (VOD), Music playback and Games, Conclusion.

Print | posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2006 7:31 AM

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# re: In-flight entertainment systems, Part 1 : Introduction, Hardware

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It does have to be said that Virgin's handset just looks well coooool, The Air New Zealand looks a bit 'Hospital Chic'.

Oh that reminds me! I've seen pictures of Sarah in a nurses outfit!
Left by Dave Oliver on Feb 15, 2006 1:05 PM

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