First Look: Testing the US Airways In-Seat Video System

They’ve been talking about it for awhile, but it wasn’t until yesterday that US Airways turned on the screens for a two month test of a new in-seat entertainment system. The system, made by Lumexis, will only be on one aircraft (N680AW) that is scheduled to spend each night in Orange County. Why Orange County? Well Lumexis is based right next to the runway, and since they’re close, I was able to stop down last week and take the new system for a spin.

Why bother describing it when I can just show you. I took a 1 minute 58 second video of me playing with the system, and here it is:

As you can tell it’s fast. That’s thanks to the fiber optic cable they’ve decided to use, a first for the world of inflight entertainment. But this unit isn’t even the best they’ve got; it’s just the test system. The actual production units have the same 8.9 inch screen with 16:9 aspect ratio, but they’re lighter by half (weighing only 2.2 pounds each). Oh, and the production units are capable of full HD broadcasts. They showed me a sample video from Discovery Channel in HD and it was impressive. No, you won’t see that on US Airways at this point, and as you can imagine, a video of an HD broadcast doesn’t come out very well. So you’ll just have to imagine it for now.

Do I have any complaints? Really, just a couple. My biggest complaint is that the headset jack is in the screen instead of in the armrest. That may save on maintenance, but it will be extremely annoying. Just imagine sitting on the aisle and having to unplug every time someone wants to pass over you to go to the lav. Not a great experience, but I suppose if the cord is long enough, it might be not be as bad.

The other complaint is about the sensitivity of the screen. It’s not sensitive enough, and that means people will start tapping hard on the seat to make it work. That’s not pleasant for anyone. The good news is that the sensitivity can be changed easily – they’re just testing it out now to see what will work best.

So will US Airways roll this out across the fleet? It’s tough to say, especially in this economic climate. Installing a system like this isn’t cheap, and US Airways would have to be comfortable that it could make the cost back and more by selling the entertainment to customers. There are other players in the space as well, so we’ll just have to see how things go.

Without question, Lumexis has created a very impressive system that is sure to find a home with some carriers in the future, even if it for the more traditional long haul aircraft. Assuming installation and service is handled well, these guys could be serious contenders in the inflight entertainment world in the future.

If you’d like to try to get onboard, the plane is supposed to fly the following schedule every day for the next two months (no guarantees, of course):

US Airways 610 Lv Orange County 646a Arr Phoenix 814a (later on Sunday)
US Airways 610 Lv Phoenix 909a Arr Atlanta 347p (later on Sunday)
US Airways 656 Lv Atlanta 535p Arr Phoenix 656p
US Airways 656 Lv Phoenix 808p Arr Orange County 929p

For more information on Lumexis itself, see my post on BNET with much more.

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