There’s a misconception that 4K UHD will not be important for IFE. I completely disagree, and what I saw at EBACE this May only confirmed my thinking.
Here’s why 4K will be coming to IFE:
1. 4K UHD is about more than resolution. Sure, it’s hard to see the difference between 1080 and 4K resolution on smaller screens, but that doesn’t take into account that 4K UHD is about much more than resolution.
The 4K UHD specifications include wide color gamut, high dynamic range, high frame rate and other technologies that make 4K UHD look significantly better than HD, regardless of screen size. It doesn’t take a huge wall-mounted display to see the difference made by these technologies.
2. Ultra HD Blu-ray will become the new IFE installation standard. Everyone wants to stream media, even on planes. That technology exists, but it isn’t nearly robust enough to stream quality AV. This means that, for the foreseeable future, actual physical discs will remain the best and most reliable way to consume media on IFE installations.
Ultra HD Blu-ray will hit the market later this year. To play the latest releases, IFE customers will need their planes to have 4K UHD Blu-ray players (which will also be backwards-compatible with older Blu-rays from their collections). IFE will have to make the jump to UHD Blu-ray, or it will risk falling significantly behind the consumer electronics market.
3. 4K UHD brings opportunities for new interaction with tech. There is a significant cool factor associated with 4K UHD, for good reason. We can think of a lot of potential innovative uses for 4K UHD on a plane. One of my favorites is the idea of using 4K UHD to allow people to zoom in on media. If you’re watching something at high resolution on a small screen, you can zoom in on just a segment of it without the image pixelating. Imagine being able to do that with the flyover maps so common in planes now: you wouldn’t just see your position over a certain state or country, but could zoom into see streets, rivers and more—all at the highest video quality.
At EBACE, I was reminded that the industry has been compressing the time it takes to realize consumer technology in the plane. Very soon, for these reasons and more, IFE solutions will need to support 4K UHD.