Three-dimensional movies are destined to be shown on board aircraft in the future. But in-flight entertainment players do not see a significant market for 3D in the near term.
Thales has kept a close eye on 3D technology, both in the terrestrial market and via the World Airline Entertainment Association, which is rebranding as the Airline Passenger Experience Association. The company has conducted some of its own experimentation through IFE equipment.
"The feedback that we get from a lot of airlines and technology partners is that 3D lends itself very well to a theatre-type experience. For a seatback IFE experience, especially in economy class where passengers are not far from the screens, there is a question mark over whether the environment lends itself to 3D or whether it's overkill," says Thales vice-president of marketing and customer proposition Stuart Dunleavy.
"If we have demand for 3D from customers we'll support it, but there has been no firm commitment and no requirement or demands to deliver in the immediate timeframe."
On this, Thales finds itself on common ground with rival Panasonic Avionics. "There was initially great interest in 3D, and then the realities of what it could really mean started to take effect," says Panasonic director of corporate sales and marketing Neil James.
There are myriad issues to consider, says independent consultant Michael Childers.
"First, the required screen size and distance from the screen almost surely limits it to premium cabins. Second, there are issues with 3D causing dizziness and nausea. Third, there are increased hardware costs, the cost of providing glasses, and the potential for higher licensing costs. On top of that, there are doubts about how many movies will be released in 3D," says Childers.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, non-theatrical senior vice-president Linda Palmer says Disney is "supportive of 3D in flight" and has worked "hand and glove" with Panasonic. But she admits that challenges still exist.
"Showing proper 3D movies in flight requires new screens. That means retrofitting aircraft. The expectations are that the 3D you see at home is similar to what you'll see in the cinema, and when you use those red/blue glasses, it is just not there. So we want the consumer to continue to expect closer to what they see in the cinemas. So we will not support that option," says Palmer. "The other two options are polarised glasses or active glasses. The active glasses are electronically controlled, which will have a huge impact on airlines as it would require them to plug the glasses into a power unit and to manage the glasses. In my opinion we're still several years way from the no-glasses 3D."
But Palmer is confident that airlines will eventually offer 3D movies. "Some big airlines will retrofit, and will pay for the special glasses, and then the studio will provide them with the proper files," she says.
Lufthansa vice-president of production management and innovation Christian Körfgen says the carrier is far more interested in high definition than in 3D technology. "Perhaps in five to seven years or so, but it's not our focus now."
Panasonic's James says the manufacturer is not closing the door on a solution. "There may be an airline that would want to be able to say 'We're the first to do this'. It's a question of whether it will become ubiquitous in the short term."