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

Inflight Entertainment, US Airways

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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16 comments on “First Look: Testing the US Airways In-Seat Video System

  1. US Airways? Isn’t that the company that just recently started ripping the IFE systems out of their domestic fleet?

    As far as the cord plug-in is concerned, I always get up when someone wants to get out of the seat next to me (assuming I am in the aisle seat in economy). But the cord hanging down into my food/drink might be a problem. Then again, what food? :)

  2. Oliver – Yes, they pulled the IFE out, but they’ve been looking to add it back in with a solution that they can make money off of. That’s why they’re trying this new system.

  3. System looks nice I guess. Any idea what they charge for this? Are they charging on their “test” plane?

    Last time I flew US Airways they had a movie on the bulkhead screens. If I recall correctly they charged for headsets but I had my own that worked fine. That had to be a money maker as all they did was push play and sell some headsets. The cost of refitting a whole plane with in-seat entertainment has to be huge…probably requiring a hefty charge to offset that cost. Is it really worth it? Why not just keep the old clunky but working system they have now. Plenty other airlines have that system or less…

  4. A – For the first month, it’s going to be free while they work out the kinks. In the second month, they’ll try several different charging schemes to test demand. So it’s unclear where it would eventually land if they went with this system. That would be based on test results.

    They’ve removed the old system completely. While the cost of having the actual system onboard is minimal (though real, considering it weighs something), there is also the cost of licensing content. So if people aren’t really paying much for headsets, then it’s an expensive proposition. Besides, I’d rather pay for in seat video than have an overhead screen for free.

  5. The link back to this post over on the BNET site is broken. Wrong date.

    (I’d have posted it there if I didn’t have to register there… and I really can’t be bothered).

  6. CF – I understand that USAirways is paying zero to have these installed. It’s a revenue sharing model between them, Lumexis and the content providers. And, since USAirways is the launch customer for this specific system, it’s a win-win for the airline.

  7. Wait a minute. This screen is in installed in the seat back, (like any other screens,) and it’s a TOUCH SCREEN?

    Without experiencing this in person it sounds like a terrible idea. Just imagine when the IFE starts and everyone starts poking and jabbing the screen- and YOUR seat back.

    I try and be as sensitive as possible when pushing in my tray table, and I can’t stand it when people yank on my seat back to raise themselves up (although I understand some less than nimble folks need to for balance,) — so the thought of everyone poking each others seats for the duration of a flight makes me cringe just thinking about it.

    I understand it can be set to high sensitivity, but the initial interaction won’t be gentle. I know how I treat touch screens at the ATM or random ticket vending machines. It’s definitely not with a feather’s touch.

    oh and the headset jack IN the screen? Again, it’s a reason to push the back of the seat. – and all this crap is in the headrest portion of the seat, where there’s the most leverage (and annoyance factor)

    Yes there are long movies, but families will be sharing headsets, changing channels. etc. I don’t like the idea one bit.

  8. Nicholas – That’s a good question. I wonder if they simply want to break even or if they want to make a profit. It all depends upon how much value they think this provides to the consumer. If it’s a lot, they might think it will increase the ticket price they’ll get (though it won’t be much).

    Oliver – good catch. Thanks for getting that, and I don’t blame you for not registering to comment. That bothers me as well, but they aren’t going to budge.

    Dave – Lumexis does not do revenue sharing models, or at least that’s what they’ve told me. LiveTV has been doing the revenue share model, and if Lumexis won’t do it, then that could be a reason for US Airways to turn to LiveTV. As for the test plane, I’m sure US Airways isn’t paying much if anything. Lumexis just needed to get it on a plane.

    james – There are plenty of airlines with touchscreens, and that’s why I think it needs to be very sensitive. If it isn’t, people will punch the seatback and it’s a real pain.

  9. Say I’m flying through to Atlanta. Will the system, and retain where I am in the movies for the second hop?
    I am also a bit concerned about the touch-screen aspect. Sounds to me like a great idea for the manufacturer, and a lot less great for the airline and the user. I suspect
    would be problems there with the cabin-cleaning between flights and ham-fisted passengers.

  10. A system like that at every seat is much better then the old fashion movie and music options. How east is it to use and see when people lean their seat back? Seats should only recline an inch or less and that’s it.

    With a touch screen it will sure be dirty with greasy finger prints, I wonder how many people will start asking the FA’s to clean it for them. After all, if you are paying for the service they need to maintain it which includes cleaning the screen for you. That should tick off the cabin crew.

  11. David – I don’t know how easy it is to use, because I only saw it in the lab. Others who actually had the chance to ride it will have to chime in. And I wouldn’t expect the flight attendants to clean the screens at all. Not sure why everyone thinks this is something new though – touchscreens are all over the place already.

  12. I’ve used the touchscreens plenty on other airlines and have had no issues whatsoever with the passengers in front of and behind me. I would hope that US would provide some basic free content along with premium paid content – is that asking too much?

  13. I’ve used the touch screen system that Delta has installed in their 757s and 737s and never noticed any problems. I’ve mostly used the system on flights to Hawaii and longer flights from the west coast and didn’t notice much of an issue with the back of my seat being tapped by the person behind me.

    Most people are considerate enough to be gentle and I have found that most of the heavy tappers get frustrated as most touch screens don’t respond well to heavy hitting. I use touch screens every day at work (and wish I had a mouse most of the time) and find that even the more normal monitor sized units respond a lot better with a gentle touch than a thudding jab.

  14. Should be AA as they bring more 737s into the fleet, as they are badly in need of some updated IFE and they may think they can charge for the privilege.

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