If you are wondering why we are using the image of the Southwest/Beats paint job for the Hot Topic, it is because we were inspired by the case study in Patrick Prefontaine’s terrific APEX presentation… and because the airplane looks cool. Thanks to Southwest and Patrick! – Patricia Wiseman | Editor.

After viewing the APEX TC agenda, we contacted Rich Salter and Michael Childers for their impression of some of the sessions during the meeting in California last week and here are a few of the hot topics there:

Some highlights from the APEX TEC meeting

Keynote: Patrick Prefontaine of GEE whose topic was “Wireless IFE” keynoted the meeting. He gave an excellent overview of the market for wireless IFE, beginning with the market size today and progressing to the forecast for future growth and the trends that are driving it. He covered the benefits and challenges of wireless IFE for tablets and smartphones, and concluded with the description of the Beats Music Inflight Service just launched on Southwest Airlines, powered by GEE. This was an excellent presentation appreciated by all in attendance, and it stimulated a lively Q&A session afterward. We have obtained permission for our readers to check it out here.

Payment Tech: The payment technologies session focused on the approaching liability changeover date (October 2015) for fraudulent use of magnetic swipe cards in the US. This is the date that liability will transfer from credit card issuers (i.e., VISA, MC, et al) to merchants (i.e., airlines). Chip & Pin cards are being issued prior to the date, and merchants are now updating their terminals to add Chip & Pin and NFC (near-field communications) readers. An excellent description of NFC (including ApplePay, etc.) was presented along with what is involved in installing and certifying it for use onboard aircraft. The session concluded with the Tech Committee agreeing to charter a Payment Technologies Working Group to pursue a two-year delay in the liability changeover for airlines with magnetic card readers, and to educate the membership about NFC and other future payment technologies.

Captions:  The Technologies for Disabled Passengers session covered a lot of extremely interesting ground, including a description of the APEX white paper developed by the Closed Captions WG that was recently finalized and submitted to DOT (Dept of Transportation) re their proposal for airlines to add closed captions to entertainment content. Michael Childers proposed that the TC continue to work with the DOT, A4A, and the disabled community. See below for more information on this topic.

Audio Descriptions: These are the scene descriptions of the video content (movie and TC programs) for the blind and visually handicapped – the program audio is lowered and spoken audio is inserted when time permits. WGBH’s NCAM (Nat’l Center for Accessible Media) made a great presentation of audio descriptions, and Emirates and Air Canada also described what they are already doing with these. In addition, Geoff Freed of NCAM explained and demonstrated the ways that blind users can already use touchscreens on kiosks, airline websites, and smartphones.

HD Security: The TC adopted the updates to APEX Spec 0403 with encoding parameters for and security requirements for HD 1080p video content on embedded IFE systems. Pierre Schuberth of Thales did a great job of getting this spec completed in the past six months. Pierre also presented a list of possible next projects for the WG, and asked that members submit their comments and preferences to TC staff person Lauren Beneri.

Future Tech Trends: This session showed Bryan Rusenko’s list of future technical trends and also highlighted the potential for a 50% reduction in storage required for video content that is encoded with the new codec known as HEVC (high efficiency video codec) or H.265. Note: APEX members can see the slides for these and other presentations on the APEX website  – log on and click on “Resources” then “Past Presentations.”

Earlier in this article, we stated that we wanted dig a little deeper into the accessibility issue because we want to dedicate a bit more space to the subject. If you are like a lot of folks, inflight accessibility is just not in your purview because most probably you don’t need the service. This issue was discussed at the TC and IFExpress’ goal is to give you a bit more incentive to get interested in the subject. To that end, we talked further to Rich Salter and Michael Childers, chair of the APEX Technology Committee and a member of the APEX Board of Directors respectively, who pointed out just why you I should.

Firstly, folks with disabilities travel like you and me and while they are certainly in the noise as a percentage of the population, have every right to be entertained on a flight, if for no other reason, to keep ones mind off the fact that they are traveling at 550 MPH at 33,000 feet. In a discussion with Rich Salter, he told IFExpress that Goeff Freed (NCAM – http://ncam.wgbh.org) showed a demonstration that really sounded like something our readers, who did not go to the meeting, would find interesting and informative. “It’s already done for the blind… some TV shows like Downton Abbey have accessibility developed for the blind… the background audio drops on a new scene and the off camera narrator describes the scene… the show then goes on with the regular audio until the next scene,” he said. Brilliant, and not that difficult, as we understand it. Noted Michael Childers: “Yes, from a purely technical perspective descriptive audio for the blind is as easy as adding any other audio track to a movie. It is a straightforward process of adding it to the workflow. Studios, however, say that they may not have done all of the rights clearances on descriptive audio to make it available immediately. We will take this up in the Closed Caption Working Group (CCWG) in the near future and see if we can’t clear a path toward clearances and implementation. Emirates offers several Disney movies with descriptive audio for the blind, and Air Canada offers a range of services for the blind. Check Air Canada’s presentation, along with Geoff Freed’s on the APEX website in the next few days.”

On November 5, Childers and APEX Executive Director Russ Lemieux participated as guest speakers in the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Disability Forum in Washington DC dealing with Disability Issues in Air Transport. Donna Danielewski, PhD, Director of the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), part of the Media Access Group at Public Broadcast Station (PBS) WGBH in Boston, joined them in a panel for Q&A. NCAM and APEX have collaborated on closed captions in IFE since the early 2000s, and are also collaborating on descriptive audio services for the blind in IFE. They explained to an audience of 150 people comprised of representatives of disability groups, airlines, and DOT officials that as recently as 2006 the technology was not available to render closed captions in IFE, and that doing so requires that both the IFE platform and the content delivered to it must support closed captions—and in a compatible format.

According to Childers, today almost half of the in-service IFE systems where the individual controls the video display support closed captions as codified in APEX Specification 0403. By Q1 2015, only systems that support closed captions will be sold in IFE. This shows that the IFE industry has come a long way since 2006, when APEX (then WAEA) first began to codify technologies to make CC in IFE a reality. In less than 10 years, CC should be available on 99 percent of IFE systems. While this may seem slow to some, Childers and Lemieux told the DOT Forum that IFE systems have a two-year development, 10 to 13-year deployment cycle, and may cost up to $5 million per aircraft depending on size and configuration. IFE systems are purpose-built, require expensive FAA certification, and as a result do not use the same technology and configurations as consumer electronics. The path to providing CC in IFE is complex and costly, but ultimately the right thing to do.

The DOT plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in 2015 to establish rules for the provision of CC in IFE. Childers and Lemieux, on behalf of APEX, are engaged with DOT to ensure that the interests of the IFE community, as well as, the deaf and hard of hearing, are considered. We have two words for our readers: Get Involved.

(Editors Note – We would be remiss in not noting that the first airline to implement a system for the visually impaired was Air Canada in their B787 aircraft on their Panasonic eX3 hardware.)