Business & GA, Commercial

Product Focus: Cabin Displays: The Upgrade Market

By Charlotte Adams | September 1, 2002
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Corporate operators want the latest cockpit displays. But they devote equal attention to the cabin, their home in the sky. Liquid crystal displays (LCDs) are becoming larger and thinner–not just bulkhead displays, but individual personal monitors. Cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) are fading fast, and the rush to digital versatile disc (DVD) technology is prompting demand for wide-screen-format displays.

At Duncan Aviation’s Lincoln, Neb., corporate completion center, 15-inch-diagonal LCDs, with 1,024×768-pixel (horizontal/vertical) resolution are the most popular, says Steve Elofson, avionics sales representative. But 17-inch displays are coming down in price and Duncan has installed 21-inch monitors, as well.

Over the years LCD brightness and viewing angles have dramatically improved. Brightness ranges from 200 to 250 nits (an industry measure). Contrast ratios range from 300-to-1 to 500-to-1. The next step in cabin LCD brightness may be "transflective" LCDs, combining both transmissive and reflective features. The technology already is in the cockpit, in the form of handheld chart displays and panel-mounted GPS receivers. Traditional LCDs require bright back lights, which use a lot of power. But transflective technology "uses less power, and produces less heat, to get the same perceived brightness," says Jason Yates, director of aviation sales with Baker Electronics Inc., Sarasota, Fla.

Viewing angles with early technology were horrible–in the 90-degree range, according to Yates. But now monitors with viewing angles of 140 degrees horizontal and 120 degrees vertical are common. "You could almost be completely sideways to it [and see it]," Elofson says. Rosen Products LLC, Eugene, Ore., supplies bulkhead screens with 160-degree viewing angles, both vertically and horizontally, according to Andy Beers, national sales manager, aviation products.

Bigger, Thinner

Not surprisingly, customers tend to want bigger screens, whether for the forward and aft bulkheads or personal systems. As of July, Baker expected to have a 30-inch display at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention this month. The company’s biggest screen to date has been a 21-inch design. Although 38-inch screens are on the market, they are built out of four tiled LCDs, a less attractive approach, since lines are visible between the tiles, Yates claims. Baker was receiving prototype glass in July, and expected production-quality LCDs in the third or fourth quarter of 2002. Rosen, on the other hand, offers 7- and 8.4-inch personal displays–larger than the typical 5.6-inch and 6.5-inch designs.

There’s also a demand for thinner screens. Rosen expected to introduce a 15-inch, "slim line" bulkhead LCD in September that will be 1.5 inches thick and weigh only 6.5 pounds, Beers says, compared to the 2.25- to 2.75-inch norm. (The slim line products package the electronics internally.) The company also planned to release a 20-inch, thin display in November. Other monitors in this class include 7- and 8.4-inch plug-ins and a 17-inch bulkhead display.

Baker has produced "ultra thin" aft bulkhead displays but, unlike Rosen, packaged the electronics in a remote box.

Wide-Screen Formats

Wide-screen formatting also is getting attention. (This provides a 16-by-9, width-to-height ratio, as opposed to the more common 4-by-3 ratio, with comparable resolution.) DVD systems offer viewers the option of watching videos in 16-by-9 aspect ratios, which match those of the original movies. So travelers watching cabin displays with wide-aspect ratio capability get the complete image. Corporate operators are replacing video cassette players (VCPs) with DVDs. Duncan Aviation hasn’t installed a VCP in the last two years, Elofson says. This trend is likely to drive demand for compatible LCDs.

Rosen recently introduced a 24-inch monitor with both wide-screen and traditional formatting. The company also offers a wide-screen, 7-inch personal monitor. Rosen is the "first and only company" with wide-screen personal and bulkhead monitors, Beers asserts. The eventual arrival of satellite-based high-definition TV (HDTV) in the cabin will accelerate the trend, he says, because the signal won’t be usable without wide-screen formats. Rosen, however, will support the traditional 4-by-3 aspect ratio screens while there is a demand for them. The wide-screen LCDs can play 4-by-3 formatting as well, using black bars to fill in the extra space.

Fancy Setups

Although the typical cabin display refurbishment is straightforward, some orders get complex. Duncan Aviation, for example, worked on three Falcon 900s last year, installing around 12 monitors on each. There were 20-inch screens on the forward and aft bulkheads, as many as eight 6.5-inch, plug-in, personal monitors and two 6.5-inch VIP monitors, where the system pulls out of the armrest. (The individual passenger monitors plug into the drink rail.)

There was also a 10-inch, credenza-mounted, Baker Electronics touch screen monitor that can be used to show movies or to control anything in the cabin, from the bulkhead LCDs to temperature and lighting. (Touching the corner of the movie screen brings back the menu display.) A 6.5-inch touch screen in the galley also provides cabin control. Large installations typically include moving map capability and sometimes live TV, Elofson says.

Garrett Aviation installed a 14-monitor cabin upgrade on a Gulfstream II. It includes an 18-inch system on the forward bulkhead, a 14-inch side wall mount, a couple 5.6-inch side wall mounts, a number of personal 6.5-inch displays at individual seats, and a 10-inch VIP touch screen, using Baker Electronics displays and switching systems. (The touch screen controls cabin lighting, temperature and calls to the cockpit.) There are also an Airshow moving map, DVD and CD players, and DirecTV programming. These types of installations are unusually involved, however. A typical Falcon 900 might have bulkhead monitors at each end of the cabin, five to six plug-in systems for seats that don’t have a good view of the bulkheads, and one or two DVD players.

High-Speed Data

Duncan Aviation has installed a few EMS high-speed satellite data transceivers this year–one in a Falcon 900–using the new 64-kilobit/sec Inmarsat service. The company expects to see Honeywell and Rockwell Collins solutions this year. "It’s going to very popular," Elofson predicts. "Major corporations with these types of aircraft–I think all of them are going to want it." Garrett also is getting requests for Internet connectivity and expects to begin such installations next year.

Moving maps and movies continue to be popular, Elofson says, although he hasn’t seen a lot of demand yet for office setups, apart from the "occasional request to have an interface for laptops" to display PowerPoint presentations. Completion centers still see CRT displays from the ’70s and ’80s. Customers coming in for cabin refurbishments typically replace the 12- to 14-inch-deep CRTs with 2-inch deep LCDs, gaining precious space, says Jim Julseth, customer avionics sales manager in Garrett’s Springfield, Ill., facility. CRTs aren’t supported by the manufacturers anymore, he says, so when they fail you’d have to replace them and rebuild the interior.

Some aircraft also put in camera systems tied to the monitors. "The newer ones are up on the tail, so you have a view of the takeoff," Julseth says. Forward-view cameras on the glare shield and downward-pointed belly cameras also are available. These units have been offered for eight or nine years, but "haven’t really caught on with passengers, since in normal flight they are pretty boring," Julseth says. Garrett gets these requests only occasionally.


Aerosonic Corp.
AMETEK Aerospace
Applied Display Technology 805-497-4188
Argon Corp
Aviation Instrument Service [email protected]
Avidyne Corp
Avionics Innovations Inc.
BAE Systems
Baker Electronics
Ball Aerospace
BarcoView, LLC
B/E Aerospace
Becker Avionics
DeCrane Aircraft
Demo Systems, LLC
Flight Systems Engineering
Flight Visions
Gulf Coast Avionics
L-3 Communications
LCD Lighting
Luminescent Systems
Palomar Products Inc
Pentar Avionics
Rosen Products LLC
Rockwell Collins
Ryan International Corp
Smiths Aerospace
Spectra Lux Corp
Spirent Systems
Teledyne Controls
Thales Avionics
Universal Avionics Systems Corp
Vista Controls
White Electronic Designs Corp.

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