IFE Services is confident that its PlayStation Portable (PSP) in-flight entertainment (IFE) system will trump any Apple iPad-based IFE offered by competitors, despite the hype that currently surrounds the iPad.
"We see the PSP as being the only hand-held IFE system that can fulfil passenger demand for modern high-quality games. IFE Services was actually one of the first CSP [content service provider] companies to look at the iPad option through early discussions with a client, and after detailed talks with the Hollywood studios and content owners we where unconvinced," says IFE Services president and CEO Mark Hogg.
He adds: "Whilst others are talking about the potential of various hand-held devices for IFE, we are actually doing it. The PSP is now the fastest growing hand-held device in the IFE market. We worked very closely with Sony Computer Entertainment America for three years to ensure that the PSP was ready for airlines to offer their passengers."
In addition to providing "significant ancillary revenue opportunities" to airlines, says Hogg, the advantages of the PSP include the fact that is fully customised and certified for on-board use; can play the latest PSP games plus other entertainment such as movies and TV shows; is easy for passengers to use with a familiar interface; is compact and very low in weight; boasts a battery life of up to 11 hours; is easy to charge; and provides excellent back-up for embedded IFE system failures.
Passengers are also very familiar with the PSP as it is one of the world's most popular hand-held entertainment systems, he says, adding that IFE Services provides full logistical support and crew training.
Budget carriers Thomson Airways and Thomas Cook have publicly announced commitments with IFE Services for PSPs, but the firm has secured a further four undisclosed customers. "This equates to around 3000 PSPs on-board worldwide. We are in advanced discussions with many more airlines around the world with four running trials at present," says Hogg.
On average, about 16 PSPs must be available for rent for a given flight. This is based on the optimum loading capacity of one 'Atlas' drawer in the galley. "On-board space utilisation and overall weight were key factors we considered during test cycles and market intelligence exercises. No other hand held device can meet these numbers," notes Hogg.
While low-cost carriers are natural customers of portables, IFE Services also sees PSPs as a good solution for legacy carriers.
"There are a number of compelling reasons why legacy carriers would find the PSP very useful. For example it can be used as a complimentary solution to their embedded IFE system and also as a back-up solution for embedded system failure," says Hogg.
"The use of hand held units as opposed to embedded systems can never offer a complete cabin wide solution though. The storage and on board logistics would never be available to offer access to all passengers. This is something IFE Services is currently studying and seeking practical solutions for though."
As in-flight connectivity takes hold, IFE Services is also focused on offering 'connected' portables to increase ancillary revenue opportunities for its airline customers.
"We are already there, I cannot give you the details at this time but we are already well advanced with second generation units incorporating many new advances and offering passengers an even more enhanced experience," says Hogg.
Qantas low-cost subsidiary Jetstar recently generated an enormous amount of publicity for its plan to offer a new portable IFE system based on the iPad tablet. The Jetstar trial is being carried out in partnership with portable IFE firm BlueBox as well as Stellar Inflight, which specialises in film and television programming/licensing. But questions about what movie content can and will be offered still linger.