Last week we introduced many of you to the Roku streaming TV device with an eye toward a short article about streaming video to the aircraft from satcom-based and terrestrial delivery sources. We told you that we would cover that subject this week – not! That’s next week because we wanted to get a bit more information about the existing delivery of streamed inflight entertainment onboard aircraft via the traditional IFE hardware.

First we asked Rich Salter, Lumexis techno-guru, to tell us about the formats used today and he told us: “Most airlines are using MPEG1 and MPEG2 for their AVOD systems now (about 50/50 MPEG1 and MPEG2), and MPEG1 is at 1.5 Mbps constant bit rate while MPEG2 is at 3.5Mbps constant bit rate per WAEA spec. MPEG4 is not yet being used much on the embedded IFE, but it is on the portable media players (IMS, digEcor, etc.), and the bit rate is about 2Mbps. We have been saying that the High-Def MPEG4 will need to be at about 8Mbps (still a very small bite out of bandwidth on our fiber system!). Internet TV can use different bit rates other than IFE (those bitrates I gave are for IFE only). So I don’t think we can tell if it’s (TV Streaming Video) is MPEG1 or MPEG2 by the bit rate being 1.5Mbps. Let me ask my trusty Internet video expert John to weigh in on this one.”

Next, we heard from another IFE techno-wizard, John Holyoake, about the TV side of streaming – he told IFExpress: “Rich is correct. There are many different players and formats used to stream internet video, including Flash, Quicktime, RealPlayer, Windows Media, Divx, etc. Most have adopted some variation of MPEG-4 for minimum bitrates and good quality. But MPEG1 and MPEG2, and proprietary codecs are still in use, so you can’t tell which codec is used, based on bitrate alone.”

And lastly, we checked our data with content guru, Michael Childers and he opined: “WAEA 0395 codifies MPEG-1 at 1.5Mbps and MPEG-2 at 3.5Mbps. WAEA 0403 codifies H.264 and WMV at 1.0<Mbps. The “1.0-and-up” for H.264 and WMV was done that way to enable hardware providers to use higher bitrates than 1.0Mbps for larger screen sizes, and it is believed that some may go as high as 1.5Mbps. MPEG-1, which is the most-used codec in IFE currently, was designed to compress VHS-quality digital video down to 1.5Mbps at resolution of 352×240, or “SIF” resolution. MPEG-2 was designed to improve upon MPEG-1 and outperforms MPEG-1 at 3Mbps and above. WAEA 0395 codifies MPEG-2 at 3.5Mbps. There is very little MPEG-2 use in IFE today, but some. The MPEG-4 codecs are: a) MPEG-4 Part 2, Visual, which only improves upon the bit efficiency of MPEG-2 by about 20%, and hence is not being used in IFE today; and b) MPEG-4 Part 10 (AVC), also called H.264 Advanced Video Coding, and VC-1/SMPTE 421M which is the same as Windows Media Video. These were designed to do at 1.0Mbps what MPEG-2 does at 3Mbps.”

So, there you have it, onboard IFE system content streaming in a nutshell. next week we will talk to a few of the inflight streamers and dreamers about the next generation of streaming content. Remember, bandwidth is everything!

Here are some links for more detailed information:

Have you ever wondered what all the MPEG4 settings mean? With names like Video Input (Interlaced/Progressive), Field Order (TFF-BFF), Pixel accuracy, Slice, and about 20 others, what’s a technologist to do? Well, the next WAEA Tech Committee meeting is for you. Michael Childers and Mark Thompson are said to be preparing a session on MPEG4 settings to educate WAEA members up to a “level playing field” such that the TC can ultimately make an informed decision on whether it’s worth it to standardize on any settings for IFE. Accordingly, if you have ever mused over the use of Wave Division Multiplexing (WDM) for IFE (The use of multiple wavelengths of light to multiply the channels available over a single fiber optic cable) this meeting is also for you.  Without a doubt, the industry has been moving rapidly to get things standardized in preparation for the use of fiber in IFE and avionics in general. Further, Dan Martinec will be leading a session to describe the requirements document that has been prepared while others will present their technology and products for use in airborne fiber systems. He plans to bring folks up-to-speed on the WDM LAN work that AEEC is doing which should be interesting too. Additionally, if you are interested in the latest happenings in the world of onboard connectivity, David Coiley has a panel of presenters prepared to give a view of what’s currently flying and trialed. They will address some of the long misunderstood issues about satellite and air-to-ground systems (like latency, etc.). This is a session designed to help airlines and suppliers alike understand the state-of-the-art in airborne connectivity. Throw in a few other sessions like Best Practices for IFE and Closed Captioning, and this meeting is shaping up to be one not to be missed. Plus, insiders tell us that pre-registration is at an all-time high (read networking opportunity!).   Take a look at the upcoming WAEA TC agenda (February 24-25) at – and if you can’t get out of the office for two days you can register to attend via real-time webcast – you can’t beat that!  

Next, we have secured a special website for our readers with incredible space graphics from the AGI folks. It links to the best graphic depiction of the satcom Iridium-Cosmos collision over Russia – bar none. For more information contact . 

Did you watch the Sir Richard Branson video on AirCell? We asked Brenda Chroniak (AirCell PR) about the system capability to send video and she noted; “For a bit more detail, what I meant by the system being designed to scale is that Aircell has a proprietary compression technology that substantially enhances the throughput on the network. Handling 30, 40 or 50 passenger sessions on a flight – or a live TV broadcast – are well within its capabilities. Though compression techniques are fairly widespread in the Wi-Fi world, Aircell’s was built-in as a fundamental part of the network. AirCell knew the demand that was coming when they developed the system, and it’s certainly paying off, as demand has been higher than expected.” Here are the links:

Now, with regard to the recent wildfires in the Melbourne, Australia, we asked long IFE’er Ron Chapman (ASIQ) to chime in on their status and he wrote: “Dear IFExpress Readers: We are OK, The fires were coming in our direction and about 8K away when the wind changed and sent it north up to the mountains. Major disaster up there! The wind change happened so fast no one in the path had a chance. It was 48.5 degrees at my place and blowing a gale. Week before we had three days at 44+ degrees. Everyone knows friends that lost homes and unfortunately some did not survive. We are still waiting to hear – they say it might be high as 300 and the fires are still going. We are used to bush fires but this was a firestorm that no one could imagine. What is uplifting is the way the community is pulling together. That’s life in the bush, Ron”  

Lastly, we are working on a big airframe expose story that will blow your mind….Stay Tuned!

Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (