Ready to pair your wireless headphones in flight? Six months ago the major inflight entertainment system vendors suggested that the tipping point for that technology had arrived. This week at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg one vendor showed off its working prototype. Passengers will soon be able to use their own Bluetooth headsets at any seat on the plane, so long as the airline installed the newest RAVE Ultra IFE system from Safran Aerosystems.
RAVE Ultra is the latest generation platform from Safran (previously Zodiac Inflight) and features a number of upgrades in addition to the Bluetooth pairing. The smallest screen in economy class is now 13.3″, for example. The screens also feature an optical bonding construction to deliver a clearer image and the sheen on the screen is reduced from prior versions to help cut back on glare. The system also supports an all-new user interface, with support for multiple video content streams running at the same time and significant pinch-and-zoom functionality.
It is all impressive, but the Bluetooth support is likely to be one of the most noticed and appreciated features from passengers. The value proposition is more significant for those with newer smartphones that no longer have a 3.5mm headphone jack. The shift in that demographic towards higher quality Bluetooth headphones is significant and growing.
Bluetooth pairing made easy on board
The pairing process proved intuitive and responsive. The typical experience is well less than a minute to get connected. For the most part it just works, exactly what the passengers want to see.
There are some hardware and software tricks involved on the manufacturing side to help reduce potential RF interference in the crowded cabin. By reducing power to the chipset and also shaping the radio signal Safran reduced the typical ten meter range to just over one meter. This drastically reduces the number of devices potentially pairing with any one screen. The pairing selection becomes significantly easier and the potential for interference from nearby passengers is reduced.
Read More: Now boarding: Bluetooth audio connections
The Bluetooth integration also takes some cues from the mobile phone world in its behavior. If a passenger moves out of range from the system playback pauses, similar to unplugging headphones from a phone. The relatively new gesture of pulling an AirPod out from your ear does not pause the system. Still, being able to walk away and then not have to rewind content is a solid feature.
The new RAVE Ultra system currently has seven confirmed customers, according to the company. The first shipsets will be delivered to seating manufacturers for integration in Q3 2019 and are expected to enter service on flights in Q3 2020.
If waiting for RAVE to enter service in 2020 is too far away for you there is another, less flexible option flying today, and it will cost travelers a bit more to access. The latest iteration of Panasonic Avionics eX3 IFE system also supports Bluetooth pairing but the interface for adding personal headsets (as opposed to airline-supplied) remains absent. The service is also only available in premium cabins on a pair of airlines today and, even then, only on a small subset of aircraft. The functionality is expected to improve and expand with PAC’s next generation NEXT IFE platform, though details remain scarce on which airlines will implement that and what the associated passenger experience will be.
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