Seattle APEX Summary: Part 3 & Trends

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Panasonic: The Panasonic team showed up and caught our eye in three areas – Wireless, eX3 product line, and the ‘Cool Room’. Enhancements to the basic line of eX3 IFE products include a new seat electronics box we called “the turtle” because it looks like one. Incredibly, the carbon fiber or metallic impregnated plastic box fits in the palm of you hand and between the struts of an aircraft seats – it uses up zero leg room and foot space! We saw a pre-production model and this box will change SEB’s forever. We got a look at their eX Lite Server and there is a real technology story here. While we don’t have space to talk about it in this installment, the box uses 128 GB of SDXC memory! There also was an 802.11N wireless system entry that looked to be the next logical growth for the “eX” Series, and of course, the ‘Cool Room’. While there seemed to be a waning of interest to include the room in future conventions from Panasonic executives, IFExpress still finds this the heart of new development product potential at any IFEC show. Yep, we love it. the 3D flat screen display with touch controls blew us away. There is not enough space to laud Steve Sizelove and his team’s efforts to go where no other vendor has gone before. BTW, weren’t those iPads on a trolly. Hmm?

ITAN: Leave it up to Michael Rogerson to provide a real upgrade to his IFEC offerings. We were knocked out by the new technology in his latest building block modular IFEC system. Called the “A-Series ARM” and based on the Android operating system, Michael and his team have jumped into the latest vendor offerings as an equal. Using 5 (or so) modules, customers use them and ITAN’s app offerings to build a system that covers audio, video, data, Wi-Fi, and whatever else is needed for entertainment. Michael claims that now, users can plug into the ARM seat unit and get data, power and media – all with no server. While an admitted bizjet natural, the ITAN hardware is definitely suited for single aisle operation in the commercial space. Watch this one.

LiveTV: We will say it again: “Mike Moeller is one of the best Sales and Marketing dudes in the IFE industry.” The LiveTV cost per bit analysis is a story we will cover in an upcoming Hot Topic but suffice it to say, Moeller coined the phrase “Not all Ka Band Service is the same” and his analysis is one that needs to be understood by the IFE world. As Moeller put it, “Data costs are exceeding the price charged per passenger.” His message: delivering data to airline customers depends on the system, the data rate, the antenna capability and the aircraft location. His approach grows and adapts the jetBlue system and keeps costs in line. Without a doubt, clever xponder buying is also a must, but we will save that for later.

Lumexis: One lesson we learned from Lumexis – there are some 21 different platforms for PED’s and that really drives the need for a monitor at each seat. They plan on true 1080p HD for their next generation of systems. They claim that they can deliver true HD to all customers on any size plane at the same time. With fiber optics, bandwidth never seems to be an issue. We were told that Lumexis is concentrating on their first customers; however, there is another in the wings and we anticipate an announcement AIX 2012.

VT Miltope: As the OEM to many Wi-Fi and network-based systems, the military and commercial box and system manufacturer rolled out their new, small (in size only) 10/100/1000 Based Server Unit (NSUI). The 2 MCU box has a minimum 160 GB SSD, 1.8 GHz Athalon dual core processor. All this and a new president too!

Trends
OK, you say, what does all this new IFE stuff add up to? The trends we spotted seem to echo the past but because of newer technology, there are new directions and evolutions noted below.

The “seat focused” IFE concept is in full throttle. At least 5 vendors used the term “seat-centric” in their presentations and as many more exhibited that concept in their product design. In a sentence, putting the electronics and content at the seat improves the reliability and passenger experience. Accordingly, the centralized control of content and programming is on the decline. Boeing and Airbus, we understand, are not fans of this approach as they loose some control of the IFE platform and is less flexible in their eyes. As a result, it may be a while before line-fit approval is secured.

We hear there is no end to the need for connectivity with the Smartphone as one of the favorite and upcoming targets for content and data – but you knew that. Wi-Fi is the medium of choice and the folks at Gogo have proven that connectivity or no-connectivity is just a matter of cost/price. They are also proving that streaming wireless is here today and more of this trend is in the works with almost all system suppliers. Additionally, while not cheap, Wi-Fi reduces weight and wires. Watch the Virgin America/Lufthansa deal as a precursor of things to come.

Understandably, Early Window content is pretty much ruled out for PED’s in the above mentioned Wi-Fi systems but with Early Window content being squeezed down to 30 days or less, what is the big deal? And by the way, when will Google or Microsoft front, or reduce, Wi-Fi user costs?

SSDs are here with most opting for 128 MB. But by next year, 256 MB will be the norm and the year after, one terabyte will be common. Don’t know what an SSD is? Try Wikipedia.

While not a trend yet, card swiping (PIN and chip) is on it’s way. Just as the Smartphone resonated with travelers, easy payments are a demand driver. While prevalent in Europe, the use in the US and elsewhere will come slowly. Watch the innovators like IFPL, AIRVOD, ITAN, and PlaneBill.

There are a lot of small vendors with incredibly good product and product ideas. This can only mean that next year as budgets tighten, there is a good chance for industry consolidation. We smell mergers and acquisitions (M&A)!

In the content world, there seems to be a shift away from the tennis shoe network toward more automated and wireless content update. Mind you, it is not here yet but lots of folks are working the problem vigorously.

Finally, Ka Band connectivity was on everybody’s lips. As LiveTV put it – “Not all Ka is the same!”

Based on the above, the APEX TC in November (8 & 9) looks to be a ‘Do Not Miss’ event. Here are the topics – Airline & Studio Perspectives on Future Technologies,  Connectivity, Wireless IFE, HD Standardization,HD/File-Based Workflow, Interoperable Master Format, Cabin Trends, Chip & PIN for PCI Compliance, ARNIC 791 Satcom Update, Ka-band Radome Status. 

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