Readers of In-Flight Entertainment are probably tired of hearing what we have to say about the industry so we decided to turn the tables on you and asked what you thought about the latest WAEA TC Meeting in California last week and here is what you said (names withheld to protect the innocent).

Responder One: “The WAEA SFW on Connectivity was well attended, although there seemed to be fewer airlines attending than for the first SFW in Everett, WA in June 2009. Airlines are clearly embracing airborne connectivity for passengers and airplanes. IFE & C suppliers are mapping a future enabling those of us with mobile devices to stay connected in the air as we are on the ground. Without a doubt, most passengers under thirty years old have grown up with computers and cell phones, and have come to expect to be socially connected through texting, Facebook and Twitter. These are the business and leisure passengers of today and tomorrow; these passengers expect to be connected 24/7. Soon connected teenagers will be paying passengers and working adults. The WAEA SFW on Connectivity did an excellent job of highlighting this trend, this opportunity, this inevitable future.

Next, our second responder told us: “At the TC there was consensus for moving forward with a list of additions to the MPEG-4 Settings that include: a) Specifying Progressive video input as a Best Practice, b) Designating MPEG-4 Part 10 Main Profile, Level 3.1 as a Best Practices default, c) Limiting the number of reference frames to 2. We were not able to reach consensus on data rate however. There were expressions of preference for codifying either 1.5Mbps or 2.0 Mbps, and some favored a range between the two. But in the absence of consensus we will deliberate in committee in an effort to reconcile. We will continue investigating an HD and 3D spec.”

Thirdly, our next responder (Three) told us, and we quote; “Some presentations in the workshop were informative; others had way too many details about antenna and frequency allocation technology. Airline attendance was low even though most of the presentations were targeted towards airlines. No question connectivity is a hot topic and everyone is on board from airlines to vendors to OEM’s. Reminds me a lot of the air-to-ground telephony industry back in the 90’s where it was deemed as a must have on every seat on every flight. None of those companies are in business today and the usage was far less than advertised. While I agree that future generations expect to be connected 24/7, I question the ultimate success of any company selling any product in flight that requires a passenger to pull out their wallet. If the service becomes free as it is in many airports and lounges today, that is an entirely different story.”

Our fourth responder asks the rhetorical question: “Is there an HD standard in IFE’s future? The WAEA’s Technology Committee meeting in Los Angeles last week was very well attended, with over 150 IFE professionals sharing their opinions on MPEG4, High Definition video content, and the future of 3-D video in IFE. While the discussion about standardizing MPEG4 settings and the future formats of 3-D video displays were “interesting,” the discussion about HD video for IFE was downright scintillating, with diverse opinions from all segments of the IFE business. Here’s just a sampling of comments, opinions, and factoids heard at the meeting:

Hardware provider: 720p makes most sense for HD IFE – 1080p does not make sense, since it means having to store more data that does not noticeably improve picture quality on mostly small screens. 32” displays are the threshold for perceiving increased quality offered by 1080p.

Hardware provider: Resolutions of 1280 x 720 and 1920 x 1080 are used by US broadcasters, while 1920 x1080 is that of BluRay. Further, BluRay uses variable bit rates of 25-30 Mbps. If we continue to use constant bit rate (CBR) for IFE encodes, we will have to encode everything at the highest bit rate or lose quality on the fast changing scenes.

A hardware provider’s point: 1080p will be the resolution of choice for display systems in the next 5 years.

A content provider’s counter-point: 720p is the standard for the content already – broadcasters may transmit it in 1080p but the content is 720p.
Another content provider’s counter-point: Resolution is not going to stop at 1080 lines – we are already seeing 2000 and 4000 lines, and 8000 lines has been demonstrated in Japan.

As you can see from all these divergent viewpoints, we are a ways away from agreement on what the standard HD content format should be for IFE – or even if there should be a standard at all (a view espoused privately by a few attendees). What do you think: should the TC have its working group spend the time over the next few months to hammer out a standard for some aspects of HD video for IFE (could save airlines on costs for content?), or should they let the marketplace duke it out for a while and see what settles out?”

And lastly, responder five told us: “The WAEA TC Single Focus Workshop had its usual sales pitches given under the guise of imparting technical information and approaches. However, two presentations in particular stood out for their clarity and the amount of usable information presented. OnAir’s Henri Broussalian made a very good case for mobile voice onboard aircraft based on experience on over 100,000 commercial flights. Broussalian cited that there have been “zero” complaints about passenger cell phone use and that the U.S. restriction called the “Hang Up Bill” is ill-advised based on this experience. He indicated that the U.S. should immediately reconsider this policy of denying passengers this kind of connectivity. Despite raising the bar on the number of acronyms used, DDEi’s Peter Lemme gave an excellent overview of the structure of current aircraft “operational” communications environment and a cogent approach to deploying these applications over the newer broadband solutions being installed. Mr. Lemme noted there are certain regulatory issues to be resolved both not only in the aeronautical industry but also in the world telecommunications arena so the progress will be slow but steadily moving to broadband. This author’s view, based on my work with operational communications, is that airlines will cautiously use the broadband pipe that is becoming available for passengers through the deployment of category 2 and 3 EFBs to support operational efficiencies. The growth in the use of broadband for operational communications will lag slightly, by 6-12 months, the deployment of the broadband systems on a fleet-by-fleet basis. As operational experience with broadband grows, the airline industry will naturally seek to fill this much larger “pipe” with more aircraft management applications in an effort to reduce costs and operate more effectively.”
That’s All Folks!

Editor’s Note: Breaking news has Emirates and Ryanair dropping OnAir service. It looks like one of our responders was pretty much on the money!