Upon first appearance, Panasonic Avionics’ new eXO overhead system may appear a little retro, but, make no mistake about it, this is not you’re daddy’s overheard monitor.
Debuting this week at EXPO, the eXO monitors are 12.1-inch hi-def retracts for Boeing and Airbus. On the surface, they may look a little familiar, but the details are anything but. “They’re smart monitors actually,” says Paul Finley, the product line manager for Panasonic. “So, the resolution is actually happening here on the monitor itself, as opposed to streaming from the head end.” And while they are designed for 720p, they can handle media up to 1080p in content.
“Featuring all digital audio, over ethernet coming to the seat, controlled at the seat by our next generation of PCU’s, these are designed to be very, very thin,” says Finley, who adds that Panasonic’s goal was to fit the narrow seat arms found on seats like the new B/E slim line series, and other skinny seats that several seat vendors are now designing.
“We’re also looking at the option of capacitive touch, which is just like your screen on your iPod, so, there’s no buttons to wear down over time and should passengers spill something on it during flight, all you need to do is wipe it down. No need to worry about liquid intrusion,” says Finley.
And while the “O” in eXO stands for overhead, Finley says it also stands for options. “eXO has a very flexible architecture all controlled by this one head end LRU, this one 4MCU server that does not just control the overhead but also can support hybrid systems,” says Finley. “So, you can have AVOD in the front of the plane, with premium class passengers with their own monitor in the seat back watching their own movies, and in economy class you can have those passengers watching overhead
“And then you can take it one step further by connecting WAPs to it so that passengers can connect to the system with their own personal iPhones and tablets to create a brand new passenger environment on the plane. So, instead of static catalogs with static images, you can now have dynamic catalogs.”
Finley notes that the potential for supporting all-cabin games, airline surveys, and inflight retail is wide open.
“Basically, what were trying to do is enable developers to do even more,” says Neil James, executive director of corporate sales and product management. “We’ve got a couple of ideas, but our job is to evangelize the technology and say that we’re going to go to bat for them, and then … get out of the way so that our airline customers can go from an idea to onboard the airplane in as few as steps as possible.”
And while that all sounds great, surely some critics are bound to question the logic behind Panasonic’s return to overhead. So, we had to wonder, why now?
“Overhead has been kind a bit of a tired medium,” admits James, “but, what we’re trying to do is re-energize it [because] over 800 hundred million passengers a year fly with overhead video on about 4,000 aircraft and Boeing and Airbus continue to increase that trend.”
Now, if only Panasonic could figure out a way to bring back the full-course buffets of the Pan Am era, everything would be right with the world.