As 3D movies capture the imagination of theatre audiences around the world, in-flight entertainment (IFE) manufacturers are working to bring the technology to aircraft cabins, and are confident it will happen in the near term.
"Filmmakers have learned the art of 3D. It's all about depth of field. Passengers will demand that same feeling on the airplane. Panasonic, Thales and everybody else will have solutions to meet those needs," Panasonic director, product line management Marshal Perlman said at the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference on IFE and seats at Airbus' facilities in Hamburg.
Some challenges exist to bringing 3D on board, including concerns related to potential passenger motion sickness. "We're studying that very closely," says Perlman. "Panasonic is currently working on a research white paper called 'user issues with stereo/video in commercial aircraft'. We're using leading scientific groups that work with NASA and the Air Force and other people that are interested in motion and vision."
From a hardware perspective, there is nothing radically different about 3D technology for the IFE head-end, distribution network or most seat equipment. But the monitors are slightly different and need to be built to handle nearly twice as much information and to display 3D images to your eyes.
"3D will also initially change how airlines source content, as airlines may need to source 2D and 3D content separately until the whole aircraft has 3D due to licensing costs and the technology differences between the two displays," says Perlman.
Protocol for supplying 3D glasses also needs to be addressed, he says. "Do you hand out the glasses? Where do you store them? Do the passengers keep them? Do you rent them, and how do you clean them? These questions will need to be answered."
Any obstacles to bringing 3D on board aircraft will be overcome, however. "It will definitely happen on an airplane because it's the next level of experience. It will happen sooner than you think," says Perlman.
"In all likelihood it will initially be directed at premium passengers because the larger the screen the more compelling the 3D experience. That's not to say it won't end up in economy at some point."
A source tells Flightglobal that a carrier has already ordered a Panasonic 3D IFE solution. However, Perlman says he can neither confirm nor deny that information.