Cathay Pacific

Big screens, HD, wi-fi: Onboard entertainment gets an upgrade

Seatback entertainment just got better. PHIL HEARD investigates the latest enhancements in inflight entertainment, upgraded screens, high definition video and Wi-Fi connectivity

On the ground, our viewing habits have changed. As demand for streaming services grows, we expect content to be both high-quality and at our fingertips.

This also applies in the air. This month, Cathay Pacific begins the roll-out of its enhanced inflight entertainment (IFE) systems. Some will be fitted on new Airbus A350 aircraft as the fleet grows, as well as retrofitted across the existing Boeing 777 fleet, expected to be completed by 2020. The enhancement includes Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as new IFE screens and systems with greater choice, which will enable high definition (HD) video.

‘We are excited to bring bigger screens, more choice and movies in HD,’ says Simon Cuthbert, entertainment, platforms and connectivity manager at Cathay Pacific.

The cabins of the 777s will see the biggest change. As part of the cabin enhancement programme, the seatback screen size in Economy is growing from nine to 11.6 inches wide. That size screen is traditionally seen in Premium Economy. These new Panasonic screens come with an improved interface, Android games and a USB port for charging personal devices – but most significantly, they are HD-ready.

Cathay Pacific, new entertainment system

‘We’re rolling out the A350 experience across the fleet, bringing connectivity and HD to these aircraft for the first time,’ says Cuthbert. ‘We’ll be rolling out more and more HD content as the months go on – look out for the HD logo on the movie poster art. The reason that we can do this is because the new servers have a bigger capacity, so we can fit more content in higher definition than ever before.’

Regular flyers on the A350 may have already noticed this. The additional capacity means the IFE team can retain more programming each month, especially TV content. ‘Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon have one of the largest TV libraries in the world specialising in complete boxsets. Having great shows on for longer means passengers can come back and finish bingeing on a boxset during their next flight,’ says Cuthbert.

The number of films the airline carries has already doubled over the past two years, which may have influenced the voters in the Apex Regional Passenger Choice Awards. The results were announced in March, with Cathay Pacific awarded Best IFE in Asia, reflecting both quantity and quality.

‘Our region is very tricky to programme for,’ says Cuthbert. ‘Mainland China is a large market for us, but we need to cater for people on our diverse route network, too.’

The Apex award recognises Cathay Pacific’s ‘curated’ philosophy, which means choosing the best movies out there – from the finest Hong Kong cinema to the Critics’ Choice collection. ‘Our IFE mentality has always been curated content. We don’t want to screen every single movie that’s made each month, but just the best,’ says Cuthbert. ‘We want to create collections that passengers can return to knowing that even if it’s a lesser-known title it will be good-quality content that’s worth trying.’

To mark the start of the updated entertainment programme, Cathay Pacific is showing a special Spielberg Hits collection to tie in with the director’s new movie Ready Player One, which will be added later this year. There will be 14 movies in all, including fan favourites Jaws and Saving Private Ryan. This will run across the fleet, even on those aircraft yet to be fitted with the new kit.

The new interface will enable passengers to search for specific titles or filter by the curated collections. This can be further sorted by genre or language so passengers can find titles most relevant to them.

On the connectivity front, the new Airbus A350-1000s will continue to offer onboard Wi-Fi that is being enhanced for a faster, more reliable service. Starting this summer, the retrofitted Boeing 777s will also offer Wi-Fi. Feedback from the A350s shows that connectivity is significant to passengers. Cuthbert adds: ‘It’s certainly something that is becoming more and more important to passengers, especially on our long-haul routes where staying connected to the world is useful.’

And as for those restless types who need to stay in touch and watch the best films and TV, then the new connectivity effectively offers them a second screen. Cuthbert says: ‘They can watch a movie on the seatback screen while having the map open, see the remaining flight time and other handy facts on their own device.’

The best of both worlds of entertainment is coming. Look out for it on your upcoming flights.

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