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Wendy is an IFE Agent responsible for aggregating airline news specifically related to Inflight entertainment. She compiles stories relevant to business travelers, airline industry folks, marketers and tech geeks. IFE News doesn't create original content, but rather posts compelling editorial from global media outlets.

Qantas to continue trial of wifi streaming video, music to iPads

By David Flynn  PUBLISHED 15 JUN, 2012

Qantas is extending its trial of inflight iPads to the end of this year, with an eye towards rolling out the wireless technology across both its domestic and international fleets.

The airline’s Q Streaming platform beams movies, TV shows and music onto iPads provided to each passenger on the aircraft.

The trial runs on a Boeing 767, chosen because it lacks individual per-seat video: there’s just a few small screens in the bulkhead and hanging from overhead.

That plane travels across a variety of domestic routes, from short Sydney-Melbourne hops to the five-hour trek between Australia’s east and west coasts.

“You’ll find this 767 on our triangle route of Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane but customers will get the most benefit on the long east-west routes” Alison Webster, Qantas Executive Manager for Customer Experience, told Australian Business Traveller.

All passengers on that aircraft will find an iPad 2 sitting in their seat-back pocket, while those in business class will also get a flexible stand which can be used on the fold-down meal tray.

The plane carries one tablet for each of the aircraft’s 254 seats, with several spares on hand.

A special ‘Q Streaming’ app loaded onto the iPad act as the front-end for ‘on demand’ content broadcast from a central server on the aircraft, using technology developed by Lufthansa Systems as part of their BoardConnect platform.

Webster says the iPads are be “locked down”, bypassing Apple’s normal home screen and booting straight into the Q Streaming app – “so if anyone decides they want to ‘borrow’ one it won’t have any capability off the aircraft.”

Video: Q Streaming in action

Earlier this year Australian Business Traveller took to the skies to try Q Streaming.

How Q Streaming works

When switched on, the iPad launches straight into a welcome screen which hides all standard iPad apps and exposes only the Q Streaming app.

To connect to the 767’s Q Streaming network and content server, enter your seat number.

Each iPad connects to one of five wireless access points, fitted in ceiling compartments running down the right side of the cabin.

For the technically-inclined, each hotspot uses a dual-band 802.11n WiFi box which Qantas says can handle all 254 passengers watching the same program at the same time while enjoying smooth playback.

The access points work just like the wireless hotspot in a cafe or hotel, although as these are password-protected you can’t log onto them with your own tablet or laptop.

However, the Qantas-supplied iPads have all been preset with the network password and WiFi is activated on startup, for instant hassle-free connection to the network and the server. (And even if you could get onto the network you’d need special software to access the Q Streaming system.)

The Q Streaming app’s clean and elegant interface is very iPad.

Content is divided content into four categories – TV, music, prerecorded radio-style programming plus shows to keep the kids occupied.

Of course there’s rooms for additional types of content such as movies, ebooks, games and travel information, along with interactive features like in-seat ordering of food, drinks and (on international flights) duty-free shopping.

None of the in-flight videos or music is stored on the iPads – everything is sent from a ‘content server’ system located under the floor near the cockpit.

This mini-computer has a pair of identical 500GB solid state drives, each of which contains all the in-flight programming so that even if one drives fails the Q Streaming system will keep running.

The Feedback tile launches a survey to poll passenger opinion on the system, as well as what types of technology they usually travel with and other content they’d like added in future.

Some of the Q Streaming menus run several layers deep: for example, tapping TV reveals programming categories such as documentaries, comedy, drama and travel.

It’s all very much what you’d expect on a conventional in-flight entertainment system, but done with simple taps and swipes and delivered right into your hands.

Transparent on-screen controls let you pause, forward and rewind video as well as manually ‘scrub’ forwards or backwards to specific points in the programme.

This control panel appears when you tap the screen and fades away a few seconds after being used.

The selection of MP3 music works much the same was TV shows: choose an album, click play, then sit back and listen.

Speaking of listening… if you find yourself on the Q Streaming 767, do your ears a favour and plug your standard iPod or iPhone earbuds into the headphone jack (either of the two sockets will do, because both carry stereo).

You’ll be rewarded with richer, crisper and punchier sound compared to the Qantas-supplied headphones, even though these are the same ‘noise-reducing’ headphones as seen on trans-Tasman and coast-to-coast flights.

(Also, don’t try to remove the double-prong headphone adaptor: it’s glued to the iPad to ensure the tablet’s own speaker is disabled.)

If you’re sitting in economy, the tricky bit is trying to fit the iPad onto your tray table at the same as any meal or snack. Even thought the case doubles as a back-folding stand it’s a very tight fit.

Passengers at the pointy end have things a bit easier, as they can fold back the case’s cover and slide it into the seat-back pocket so that the iPad hangs down.

It’s far from an ideal fix but once again, this is trial & testing territory and Qantas is already well aware of this situation.

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