UK-based IEC International has developed an in-flight entertainment (IFE) DVD in-seat system that is said to be the first of its kind. The system is expected to enter production later this year, and initial deliveries are scheduled for early 2001.
Speaking to Avionics Magazine, IEC Managing Director Trevor Carris emphasizes that the attraction of DVD, or digital versatile disc, is that it is not just a video/audio source, it is able to give an interactive capability. "It will offer 98% of what video/audio-on-demand will give you," he says, "with full-length feature films, shorts, news, speciality sport videos covering safety, destination information, shopping, games, etc."
At the same time, DVD offers a lower cost of entry to the airline in that it is a stand-alone system; it needs only minimal wiring to connect and it is lighter overall. Carros claims. Compared with a VCR player, the actual kit bolted into the seat is slightly heavier, but the overall system is lighter compared to a video-on-demand (VOD) with its central servers.
Depending upon the type of seat, space being the critical factor, the DVD system is retrofitable. It is expected that first class seats will be 100% retrofitable, and business class 80%.
Aircraft configuration changes are not a problem, being a simple matter of straight disconnect, says Carris. The only consideration is power supply and a public address (PA) interrupt signal, so that it will pause the playback and not just mute the audio when passenger announcements are made.
A demonstration rig at the company’s facility, near London Heathrow Airport, offers the customer an appreciation of the high quality, high definition imagery and ease of operation. Unlike some conventional tape-based systems, which can be easily jammed by careless handling, the DVD disc cannot be wrongly inserted and slips easily into the armrest-mounted slot.
Another endemic problem of many IFE systems is that of reliability. Carris is emphatic that, in the case of DVD, reliability is better. He acknowledges that the early video players were very susceptible to passenger abuse, but DVD technology allows designers to virtually isolate the system from passenger damage.
In terms of maintenance, it is fitted on condition; Carris reckons its reliability is better than 20,000 hours. It has built-in test (BIT), so that it will indicate any failure, and its practical design allows a unit to be changed within five minutes.
The system is stirring considerable interest from airlines, with one major operator keen to use it as a replacement for an existing video player. Selling points include better quality, ease of handling, greater reliability, compactness (lighter weight and reduced volume), and lower operating costs.