• Sally Gethin

Inflight virtual reality and immersive entertainment systems are taking off

VR systems are starting to take off inflight, despite a slow and unsteady start a few years ago. Many critics thought that VR and immersive IFE would cause nausea, disorientation and just be too unwieldy and heavy to make it into the cabin. But the signs are, that in fact, the travelling public is ready to take that risk, as the two marketleaders are posting regular updates about their early successes. In early September, European leisure airline Small Planet began flying the Inflight VR virtual reality solution on board two of its A320s operating from Amsterdam to several South-European and Mediterranean destinations. Results show that average usage was one hour and 15 minutes, bearing in mind that the flights were mostly short haul. On medium-haul routes, the headsets were used up to 3.5 hours. To the company’s mind, this result is a clear endorsement: ‘Overall, this clearly demonstrated the positive passenger response to this totally new in-flight entertainment system.’ And in a further comment, the company states, ‘From the beginning, this highly advanced entertainment system, which brings all the benefits of virtual reality to the aircraft cabin, encountered great interest amongst the passengers. In addition to the overall quality of the offering, what they most enjoyed was the feel of space, of being in a different world that is provided by the concept. Nor did they realise the lapse of time.’ Of course VR means more kit on the fly, just as the preceding era of handheld players that were distributed in the cabin, faced: more logistics, more effort. But according to Inflight VR, ‘The process of offering the headsets, their distribution, collection and storage back into the trolley were also easily handled by the cabin crew.’ However, the downside to the Small Planet trial was that ‘The operation had to be suspended after six weeks in view of Small Planet’s financial situation.’ Another pivotal test was onboard the Lufthansa #FlyingLab exercise. The system was tried out on a New York JFK – Frankfurt flight (flight LH401) on 10th October. The system was supported by AirFi. AirFi operated as a wi-fi router between cabin crew and passengers, linking the VR headsets to the crew device so that the crew could send notifications to the passengers through the headsets, and also receive duty free orders from the passengers. There were 14 headsets in use for on average one hour usage both by passengers and crew members. Inflight VR points to the positive result onboard. ‘Delegates … were very positively surprised by the quality of the offering as well as the wide variety of programmes and offerings. They also very much appreciated the comfort and lightness of the headset and were impressed by the high resolution of the images.’ Meanwhile immersive IFE provider SkyLights has merged with Allomind, maker of premium cinematic VR headsets. The partnership between SkyLights and Allomind started last year when they worked together to develop and launch Allosky, designed to be a lightweight and comfortable standalone Cinematic VR system. After launchingAllosky in June 2018, SkyLights is focussing on the entire travel sector – airlines, airport lounges, high-speed trains, hotels and cruise ships. The new entity, known as SkyLights Inc. combines Allomind’s expertise in nanotechnology, optics and consumer products with SkyLights’ content partnerships, proprietary software and experience in the airline market. Leading the new organization will be David Dicko, current CEO of SkyLights, and former Air France pilot and executive. Allomind’s co-founder and CEO, Abhijit Limaye, will be the new company’s chief product and technology Officer, having previously worked at Amazon Devices’ Lab126 on products like Amazon Kindle and Amazon Echo Dot. SkyLights CEO David Dicko says, ‘In consolidating our expertise, we are now in the advantageous position to grow VR as inflight entertainment and pursue our shared vision of enabling anyone to sit back and enjoy an immersive cinematic experience on demand. Essentially, we have come together to create the ultimate immersive media platform, 30,000 ft in the air.’ Abhijit Limaye adds, ‘Rapid, lean innovation is what we do best. With access to a strong marketplace, we will continue to launch even more innovative products and rich experiences that will change the landscape of the travel industry.’ Alaska Airlines is their first joint customer. Alaska Airlines’ manager of inflight entertainment and connectivity David Scotland says, ‘Alaska Airlines has enjoyed working with the SkyLights team to become the first carrier to bring SkyLights’ new Allosky Cinematic VR entertainment to North American airspace. We look forward to the enhanced innovation and increased expertise resulting from the newly expanded SkyLights Inc.’

#inflightentertainment #AirFi #IFE #inflightVR #AlaskaAirlines #VRinflight #Skylights #SmallPlanet

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