After a quiet few years, Thales is hoping to elevate the passenger experience with its new, next-generation in-flight entertainment offering, AVANT Up.
Thales has debuted the latest evolution of its in-flight entertainment (IFE) offering, AVANT Up, which features 4K QLED HDR displays, smart power supply solutions and revenue-generating capabilities for airlines.
“We’ve heard the death cries for embedded IFE for a long time, and frankly, that’s not happening. If anything, we’re seeing a reversal of that trend – even more narrow-bodies are going back to in-seat IFE,” explained Cedric Rhoads, VP Product Policy at Thales InFlyt Experience. “The onus is on the system providers to make those systems far less expensive, not just in capital expenditure, but also the total cost of ownership. That’s something we’ve been relentlessly focused on.”
Thales developed the centrepiece of its new offering, its Optiq displays, in partnership with Harman, a leader in the automotive infotainment space that’s wholly owned by Samsung. As such, Optiq by Thales incorporates proprietary Samsung QLED technology, and Thales has exclusive rights for its use in the in-flight space.
The monitors are 30% lighter than previous Thales models, and that’s in part due to the company switching out glass for polycarbonate material, which also helped the product pass its HIC (head injury criteria) certification the first time round. Rhoads said Thales worked with seat vendors from the beginning of the design process to make the installation process for the displays, which are thinner in width and also have smaller frames, as easy as possible.
As well as reducing weight, Rhoads explained that removing glass from the displays allowed Thales to replace the traditional anti-shatter film with an anti-reflective layer to reduce glare – something that’s necessary in the cabin environment where there are many light sources, from windows to reading lights – and a hardness coating that increases reliability by 50%.
From a passenger perspective, the screens offer what Thales claims is the industry’s highest contrast ratio, and over a billion colours. For context, Thomas Jerry, director of Strategic Marketing, Thales Avionics, said, “this is up from 16 million in previous generations.” The result is “living room quality” in the aircraft cabin that allows passengers to view content “in the way the director intended,” he added.
On choosing QLED technology rather than OLED, which is the other major premium TV panel technology, Rhoads explained, “QLED doesn’t have burn-in characteristics, which is very important in the cabin environment where the displays show a welcome screen while passengers are boarding. That won’t leave a ghost image over your movie.”
The displays also come with built-in Wi-Fi and offer two Bluetooth connections, meaning passengers can connect both wireless headphones and a personal electronic device, which they could then use as their remote, to the system.
“We put quite a bit of focus on the backend product, not the part the passenger sees, but the parts that really help our customers.”Cedric Rhoads, Thales InFlyt Experience
Behind the scenes, the monitors are equipped with the latest generation Octa-core processors, allowing passengers to access 4K graphical user interfaces, 3D assets and even do some heavy gaming – Rhoads suggested passengers could even bring on their XBOX controllers and pair those via Bluetooth. They’re also fully compliant with Hollywood studios requirements regarding 4K content. “It’s having the ability to play at a high variable bitrate and have the right digital rights management,” said Thomas.
Considering this, the in-seat power supply needs to be considerably robust. AVANT Up’s Pulse power solution supports USB A, USB C and wireless charging, and abandons what Rhoads refers to as the “first in, first out” setup. Instead, it dynamically allocates the 350 watts of power available per unit to each connected device (up to six per triple-seat). Thomas added, “There’s up to 60 watts of power at a remote outlet for laptops that are USB C and draw a little more power.”
The company has saved weight here too, with each unit coming in at 30% lighter than its predecessor. “In the past, the industry tended to over-design, to give more power than was needed, but with dynamic power management, we’re able to shrink the size and weight of the power supply itself.”
Due to a redesigned harness architecture, which equates to the need for less cables, and lower heat dissipation as a result of moving the processing from the outlet itself to the seat box, Pulse can be installed between the seat beams, giving passengers more legroom.
Thales has also worked with a variety of partners to create a broad-ranging digital product portfolio.
A cloud-based content management system means airlines can break the traditional 30-day content cycle. The e-commerce offering, which is powered by Airfree’s shopping platform, allows passengers to pay for products and collect them when the aircraft lands at its destination. Other features include content recommendations and personalized advertising at what Rhoads calls “demographic level,” which is made possible through the use of PNR data.
AVANT Up is set to launch on a wide-body aircraft due to enter service in the first quarter of 2023, but the company is also exploring possible retrofit projects, which could take to the skies even sooner.
Like it’s current AVANT offering, which is flying with 33 airlines, AVANT Up will be available at three different levels: Core, which Rhoads said is focused on standardization and speed to market; Standard, which includes software customization; and Prestige, which is for carriers looking for custom industrial design, such as video handsets.
Rhoads is excited about what the solution means for airlines as well as passengers. “We put quite a bit of focus on the backend product, not the part the passenger sees, but the parts that really help our customers in terms of analytics, not just of how the passengers are using the system but also how the system is performing and having that connected to the ground so that we can have constant monitoring in place.”