Thales Demonstrates a Large Size In-Flight Entertainment System

Looking to improve the passenger in-flight entertainment experience, aerospace company Thales (France) has developed a 21.3-inch HD LCD touchscreen display system that is designed to fit into the back side of an airplane seat. The system is called Digital Sky.

A working prototype of the system has been demonstrated in a mock-up cabin. It was shown in a private room at the Passenger Experience Conference, a part of the Aircraft Interiors Expo recently held in Hamburg, Germany. Visitors at the conference commented that “it is clear that the company has invested quite a bit in this concept, given how polished it looked at the show.”

One of the starting points for the system concept is the apparent inverse relationship between the sophistication of the in-flight entertainment system and the amount of legroom provided by the airline to the passenger. The thinking might be that, the less space provided, the more the passengers need to be distracted with entertainment.

Indeed, the system does have the potential to make economy flights more enjoyable by offering an array of interactive entertainment options. Offerings might include journey maps, movies, live TV, video meditation, games and magazines. Other offerings might include providing travelers with information related to the flight’s destination, a means for communicating with other passengers and the ability to call a member of the cabin crew. Almost certainly there will be an on-line store.

These ideas, especially the store, suggests a second and, perhaps, more compelling reason for interest in Digital Sky on the part of the airlines: the potential for the system to generate additional revenue.

The system is built to fit the shape of seats typical found in economy cabin. The screen of the LCD is in portrait orientation.

Digital Sky

With this the case, movies and most videos will occupy only a portion of the screen since these are oriented horizontally. Other applications could make better use of the full Digital Sky display screen. It was reported that the viewing angle of the LCDs was such that the image looked very good from the position of the seated passenger.

The system is designed to not take up any extra of the already limited space allocated for passenger legroom. What the system does do is replace all the safety cards and magazines conventionally found in the seat pocket. In this way, the Thales system has the potential to save both space and money. An additional feature is that the system still allows for a flip down tray table beneath the display.

Since the Thales system is based on off the shelf LCDs, it should be possible for the company to keep down product cost. It would seem to follow that the system should be affordable to the airlines.

It can be noted that the Thales system is not the only new passenger in-flight entertainment approach under consideration by airlines. Rather than a conventional seat back display, some carriers are now encouraging passengers to bring their own devices and look at streaming content provided by the airline. This approach has the additional advantage of eliminating the weight associated with the seat back systems.

None-the-less, the large size Thales seatback display is claimed to offer a much more luxurious and immersive experience than is possible on a tablet display – although, apparently, concern has been expressed that some passengers may find it uncomfortably large. Another possibility for those passengers looking for an in-flight entertainment option that more thoroughly isolates them from the unpleasantness of the cabin environment, there is the HMD.

It seems likely that Thales will offer several Digital Sky configuration options, customizing the system to the needs of each airline.

At this time, Thales has not announced any airline partners. However, based on the response the system was getting at the Aircraft Interiors Expo, the airlines seem to be taking Digital Sky quite seriously. -Arthur Berman