Thales has thrown down the gauntlet to competitors Panasonic and Rockwell Collins, announcing a version of its TopSeries inflight entertainment system aimed specifically at the single-aisle market which will be launched by Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Speaking at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Alan Pellegrini, general manager of Thales' California-based in-flight business, said: "Up to now we've been highly competitive and have won a significant part of the market for full audio/video-on-demand (AVOD) throughout the aircraft.
"But among airlines that want something more basic for single-aisle aircraft, Panasonic and Rockwell so far dominated. So we decided to scale our TopSeries family to fit this need, while also aiming not to create a me-too product."
The result is the newly announced TopSeries Digital Single-Aisle (D-SA), which is due to make its first appearance in September aboard the first of 42 new Airbus A320s belonging to Saudi Arabian Airlines.
"We're absolutely on track for first deliveries," says Pellegrini. "The customer will receive a system that steps up the single-aisle broadcast formula a notch by providing interactive and on-demand capabilities at the seat, while costing significantly less than the millions of dollars associated with AVOD."
Designed to supplant Thales' existing i-2000 broadcast system and to compete with Digital MPES from Panasonic and dPAVES from Rockwell Collins, TopSeries D-SA is designed in basic form to provide broadcast overhead video and distributed audio while also being scalable to full AVOD.
"It's particularly suitable for airlines who want AVOD in their premium classes and overhead video in economy, explains Pellegrini. "But even in its most basic configuration it will have functional advantages compared with existing broadcast systems. For example, D-SA is inherently interactive, offering audio on demand at every seat - a hundred channels on demand compared with a typical 12 broadcast channels today."
D-SA combines existing TopSeries technology and hardware - digital video distribution, a Gigabit Ethernet network, servers and cabin management terminal - with a new passenger control unit called the ePCU. "This incorporates an MP3 player with its own Ethernet switch," explains Pellegrini. "It can gather content data direct from the head-end, avoiding the need for a seat box."
Among standard applications will be connecting-gate information and moving- map, while options will include seat-to-seat connectivity to support group entertainment such as trivia game competitions. USB power for passenger personal entertainment devices will be a hardware option.
"As well as offering weight and power consumption advantages, D-SA will support a huge choice of content," says Pellegrini. "Its single 4MCU server has around a terabyte of capacity, enough for around four hundred movies. This level of capability has already attracted a lot of interest from the market, and right now we're bidding on a number of opportunities."