After years of insisting it would not fly two inflight entertainment companies delivered great news for travelers last week: Bluetooth headphones integration on inflight entertainment systems will be available to airlines very soon. Both Panasonic Avionics (PAC) and Zodiac Inflight demonstrated the solution at the recent APEX EXPO in Boston. And, despite the long running protests of technical challenges surrounding Bluetooth in the cramped environs of an aircraft, both made it sound like the end result was surprisingly easy to implement. As with all things airline it will take some time for the new technology to work its way through the supply chain. But it very much is coming.
For PAC the option will be included as part of the company’s next generation of hardware, conveniently named “NEXT.” The kit was on display at the trade show, including 4K screens that are larger, lighter, lower power and less reflective than the prior generation. The screens also include a new UX for control buttons and a smaller second screen below the main display, useful for safety announcements like the seat-belt indicator or even duty-free sales pitches.
The NEXT kit also includes smaller power units at each row and a new data storage architecture to improve content availability on board. And, of course, the Bluetooth audio integration.
Travelers will be able to pair their own headsets to the IFE system rather than traveling with a second set or buying the generally crappy option sold on board. The Bluetooth kit on the NEXT platform will also support some systems controls via a smartphone, similar to the NFC pairing that Panasonic makes available today.
Similar to the PAC kit, Zodiac’s newest generation of RAVE hardware will also offer Bluetooth pairing. The company’s newest screens lose most of the “chunkiness” the old bezel required, allowing a 13″ screen to be installed for economy class passengers. Previously that space could only handle an 11″ display owing to the surrounding plastic.
The new RAVE hardware, including the Bluetooth pairing option, heads to seat manufacturers for integration starting in mid-2019. Multiple airline customers are confirmed according to Zodiac. The company also confirmed that, unlike a rental car, the system would forget your Bluetooth pairing at the end of a flight, a small win for privacy and ease of system management over time.
The new RAVE system also features significant upgrades to the touch-screen user interface. The new UI options deliver a fresh look and feel with snappy response times on the demo kit.
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