Rolling out a new inflight entertainment solution is not easy. Doing it with a new hardware infrastructure and deployment architecture adds to the complexity. For Delta Flight Products and Gogo the unveiling of Gogo Vision Touch on Delta’s A220 fleet this week is a major milestone achievement. The system generally delivered on its promises, though a few quirks in the operation became apparent through the course of a couple flights. It is a solid first generation product with room to improve, and a couple glaring errors that will hopefully be fixed immediately.
Big, bright screens from nose-to-tail is absolutely a win for passengers and the new solution now flying delivers well on that. Delta considered little things, like making sure the screens articulate so they’re still visible when a passenger reclines.
Moreover, the on-screen interface is spectacularly responsive and looks nearly identical to the traditional embedded IFE system. Indeed, with the portal content generally living on the tablet rather than the head-end server the new screens behave like you’re just swiping around on a tablet. Exactly as expected.
The content selection is massive, continuing Delta’s investment in making sure passengers have complimentary entertainment on board. It meets or exceeds the offerings on many other carriers’ wide-body aircraft flying much longer routes.
What time is it on board? The IFE system seems rather confused by this question. Passengers on a 7:05a departure from Dallas were greeted with at “Good Afternoon” message (see image above); the system thought it was in UTC+0 rather than UTC-6 at that point. This bug repeated itself on at least one of the two other planes flying on day one of service. In some cases the time updated as the flight got underway; in other cases it did not. Confusing at a minimum for passengers.
One quirk in the setup is that PA announcements do not feed into the IFE stream. Passengers are alerted to an announcement starting and the IFE system pauses, but the audio does not come through. While this is within the FAA regulations it leaves many passengers unlikely to hear announcements that could be important.
The PA system also struggled with varying volume levels that did not appear to be adjustable by the crew. The boarding music volume controls were also unclear to the crew on at least two of the first day flights.
Live television content is available on the A220s but not via the embedded IFE tablets. But that doesn’t mean the system doesn’t offer it. Owing to some sort of bug in the UI the default screen will occasionally show the option for “Live TV by DISH” on the menu.
Alas, selecting it causes the option to disappear. And no live TV plays.
The content is available on personal electronic devices via the Gogo entertainment portal, though it comes with a 5+ minute delay on the feed.
It is unclear if this is a result of the somewhat contentious relationship between Delta and Gogo with respect to the wireless IFE product development or some other licensing or technical challenge with delivering the content to the screens. It would be Gogo’s IP TV product rather than the direct DISH feed some of Delta’s planes offer, but that should not preclude it from running on the screens.
Content categorization is another area where the system struggles.
That seems like something easy to fix, but it should’ve been part of the content load process from the get-go.
And not all of the content always loaded immediately. While the example above of Crazy Rich Asians was perfect loading The Hunt for Red October resulted in roughly 30 seconds of buffering time. Once loaded it was back to the normal responsiveness.
Delta chose the Collins Aerospace AirShow product for its moving map offering on the screens. This is not too surprising given the Gogo/AirShow partnership. The implementation has a LOT of bugs.
The map offering was slow to load on one of the planes. That could be a startup issue or caching data from the head-end to the tablet. Not a huge deal, but also the sort of thing that could conceivably be pre-cached when the tablets boot up. Exposing passengers to the underlying machinations of the system operation rarely inspires confidence.
The “Window” view in AirShow includes a Heads-Up Display simulation when pointed forward, giving passengers a pseudo-flight deck experience. The air speed data was stuck on 999 knots. Again, a mild annoyance but the sort of thing that probably should have come up in the quality assurance process.
More significant, and downright disorienting in some cases, that same AirShow view gets the banking of the plane as it turns backwards. The screen shows the plane banking to the left while it is turning right and vice versa.
It is really weird.
Other little quirks in AirShow include the system showing a 3 hour flight as 30 minutes at one point.
Presumably these can all be resolved with software updates to the AirShow install on the aircraft. None of it points to hardware issues. And, while annoying and disorienting in some cases, these AirShow bugs should not detract from the overall spectacular performance of the new wireless embedded IFE solution. Assuming they are fixed reasonably quickly.
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The content delivery delay is mostly attributed to wireless network
Seth Miller says
I don’t doubt that at all. And depending on content encoding and other factors the time to first frame can vary significantly. In this case it was slow enough that I thought about it, took out my phone, recorded 20 seconds and then considered giving up before the content finally loaded. That’s longer than it probably should be. Given limited storage on the tablets not everything can be cached and I get that. I wonder if there are improvements possible in time to first frame or some other interstitial that can run to keep pax distracted from the loading. Maybe even make the commercial non-skippable if the content is loading, for example. I skipped a 60 second commercial just before getting the spinning wheel. That would’ve been plenty of load time, assuming the system could pull that off in the background.
The safety announcement does not come through passenger headphones due to FAA regulation as it has to be played over the cabin.
Seth Miller says
I understand that it has to play via the overhead PA. That does not preclude also playing it via passenger headphones. This is certainly true for general PA announcements from the pilots or flight attendants during the flight.
I was told explicitly that it was an option to have the announcements play in both and was not chosen as it was not required for FAA compliance. Only the pause of the video content was required for the PA compliance. I’m not saying that’s broken so much as I believe it a poor choice made by the carrier.