This story grew out of proportions as we developed it and so we will run it in a couple parts to follow in succeeding issues of IFExpress. Our streaming video tale began innocently enough with our disgust with conventional TV and the “Paid Programming” channels on our home DirecTV service. We, and many others in the US, have also signed up for Netflix mailed DVD service as well for about ten bucks a month. A commercial-free movie helped us suffer thru our lower cost, DirecTV subscription. We learned thru our tech guru that Netflix subscribers could watch streamed movie videos thru their laptops as a free service from Netflix at no additional charge. All we had to do was download the Silverlight software on the Netflix website and set up a movie queue on their website. In minutes we were watching “Casablanca”… how cool. There was no other hardware required to move into streamed entertainment! With a simple cable, the MacBook was pumping HDMI video to the flat screen, all streamed and controlled via the Internet. We wondered if this would work on the road at an airport (probably), overseas in a hotel (don’t know), or on an airplane (no idea), that all is needed is a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection to the Internet? We will have more on the airplane part later.

Then we heard about Roku. Roku is a small (5″ x 5″ x 1.5”) box that is connected to a TV and receives digital, streamed video thru an Ethernet or Wi-Fi and delivers content to your TV without turning your PC into a video server (see Diagram). We bet it runs a Silverlight kernel like your PC and for $100, it frees up your laptop for other duties. After some research, we discovered that some TV’s (Panasonic) optionally now come with the streaming service capability (probably Roku equipped) and are able to snag over 52,000 movies from Netflix and Amazon On Demand like a PC or Roku. They offer a majority of paid showings but at least 12,000 free with a Netflix subscription. But what has this to do with InFlight Entertainment?

Consider the coming impact of this streaming revolution on mobile entertainment demands: If you think people want entertainment in hotel rooms and airports, wait till they get on an airplane and get a Wi-Fi connection. Sources tell us (last issue) that on the Alaska Air/Row44 demo planes, users were watching YouTube and many were observed snagging streaming video. While we do not know of a Netflix user plane streaming, we would like to hear from any reader who has. More importantly, what impact will this need for IFE (providing no airline or service provider thru-put “throttling”)? What about those stream-it-yourself types who use SlingbBox devices? With Netflix offering more video, audio, and radio choice than any airborne server could possibly provide (granted, not the latest content), will there be a rush to increase airborne connectivity bandwidth, and/or an airline rush to throttle the passenger service, and/or will we see a decline in IFE demand? Both GoGo and Row44 service may see some interesting requests for speed (GoGo more so than Row44 because of the inherent available bandwidth) as laptops become streaming entertainment receivers. Hey, this could kill the airline pay-per-view model! The streaming video phenomenon is also flourishing in the smartphone world as Direct Broadcast Services seek to deliver streamed video to PEDS, MIDS, NetBooks, and any other connected device one might carry.

Next time we will talk about aircraft IFE video streams and a possible new paradigm for onboard, ground-based content delivery.