Aircraft Interiors 2011 3 Most Common Questions Series: Seat Back System

I’m sure that you have read all kinds of articles and posts about the trends and buzz that came out of the Aircraft Interiors Expo several weeks ago. Though, I want to give you the perspective of a vendor, what we experienced as common questions from airlines, and address some of the hot topics.

Due to length, I’m breaking the three questions up into a series - this post being the first in the series.

Gulf Air Semi Embedded

Question 1 - “Do you have a seat back in-flight entertainment system?”

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. There was a “seat centric” explosion that occurred at this year’s show. Though, that term seems to be causing some confusion. I’ve heard the following definitions:

  • Portable embedded in the seat back (unit pops out for easy replacing) with local content and seat power
  • Portable embedded in the seat arm with local content and a battery
  • Partially embedded system (unit pops out for easy replacing) with local content and seat power
  • Fully embedded system with local content and seat power

The common thread is that the IFE system is somehow attached or embedded in the seat back with content locally stored. A few important points as well as differences include:

  • How that content gets to the device varies
  • Some of the seat centric systems still require all of the wiring of a traditional system in order to deliver the content to each device
  • The head end server does allow for massive amounts of content to be stored but each device is still limited in the amount it can store
  • Some systems use streaming content while others do not

So as an airline what matters or what questions should you be asking yourself?

  • What is the per seat cost?
    Some of the newer systems cost less than a traditional system but are still $1000s of dollars per seat. Also, some companies offer financing terms such as zero down.
  • What is the total lifetime per seat cost, which includes maintenance?
    Take time to understand the ongoing costs such as maintenance.
  • Who are you actually marrying? A hardware or content provider?
    Hardware is only one piece of the puzzle. Studio approval, content selection, encoding/integrating capabilities and content pricing can have a huge impact on the success of your IFE program. So selecting an IFE vendor is as much about the content as the hardware.
  • How do logistics or repair and content refreshing work with my existing operations?
    One of the pitfalls of using an off-the-shelf solution like the iPad is the implicit cost associated with the logistics of cleaning, charging, and content changing. Use a company that has designed a solution for the airline industry based on airline requirements.
  • Is the system reliable? Is it already certified? What’s the service level agreement
    Each of these three questions should each have distinct answers. However, the underlying objective is to determine that the system is reliable and the company behind it will guarantee its reliability.

The point I’m making is that the technology in the industry is advancing, but many of the fundamentals stay the same.

As per what to call this new evolution in IFE, I’ve come up with the most comprehensive alliteration that I can - it’s a “Semi-Synergistic Server and Seat Centric System Streamed Centrally with a Seat Sourced power Schema”. Pete, will you trademark that?

About Adam Williams

With six years of IFE experience, Adam is currently a freelance writer for several industry publications and marketing consultant for vendors. He can be found online at and @SpeakWithAdam.