4K at 40,000 Feet

Back in the day when they served economy-class meals on airplanes, I actually thought the food tasted pretty good. That is a sad commentary on the quality of the cuisine I cooked for myself at home. Now, you're lucky to get a 0.7-oz bag of delicious Party Mix. On the other hand, the on-board video quality will soon be looking good.

American Airlines has announced that it will install 4K screens in the seat backs of the Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A321XLR aircraft that it has on order. In addition to the crisp screens, the entertainment systems will include Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.

I'm old enough to remember when stewardesses dimmed the cabin lights and pulled down a screen so everyone could watch the movie. Speaking from experience, I can say that the video quality was about as enjoyable as the middle seat from JFK to Narita, in the smoking section. The advent of 4K screens is quite an upgrade right past Business Class, and right into First Class.

This will be the debut of the Thales Avant Up system; Avant IFE (in-flight entertainment) systems are widely used in commercial aviation. The new system features “Optiq by Thales” displays, co-developed with Harman, a Samsung subsidiary. The secret sauce is a Samsung QLED 4K screen. The systems should appear sometime in 2023 on 50 Airbus planes, and on five Boeing aircraft. The system uses Viasat in-flight connectivity.

For the nerds among us, and you know who you are, Samsung describes its proprietary QLED screens as a “display device that uses quantum dots (QD), semiconductor nano-crystals which can produce pure monochromatic red, green, and blue light. Photo-emissive quantum dot particles are used in RGB filters, replacing traditional colored photoresists with a QD layer.” Samsung has been using quantum-dot technology for several years but I suppose this is its first airborne application.

Interestingly, the close seating on airplanes will overcome one of the mild criticisms of 4K. If you sit far away from a 4K screen, it might be difficult or impossible to discern the improvement provided by high-def. Since the screen on an airplane is about 12 inches from your nose, the improvement should be evident. Each seat back system has two Bluetooth connections (as well as WiFi) allowing multiple connections to each system. Hopefully it will be easy to pair up to your own screen, and not be confused by all the other screens around you. Likewise, hopefully the sweaty guy in seat 36F won't listen in on your audio.

And regarding that 0.7-oz bag of delicious Party Mix: Please be sure to replace your face mask between each pretzel. And if you think you might have Covid, please lock yourself in the lavatory for the remainder of the flight.