Blank screen: the trouble with video on planes

I was flying from San Francisco International Airport to London Heathrow on a Virgin Atlantic flight, aboard a Boeing 767.  As with most long haul flights (though sadly not all), I had a personal video display in the seat-back in front of me.  This might have helped to relieve the boredom of an 11 hours flight, if I had been able to see anything on the screen.

Personal video screen on Virgin flight
Die Hard 5…maybe

Sooner or later, on every flight, someone reclines their seat all the way back.  A reclined seat obstructs the passenger sitting behind.  Anyone who flies regularly knows the pain of restricted legroom and a tray table that can no longer accommodate a laptop.  But there’s another side-effect.

A fully reclined seat makes the display mounted in the back of it impossible to see for the passenger sitting behind.  My attempts to change the angle of the screen and reclining my own seat to bring my eyes closer to the perpendicular were not enough to fix the image problem.

As you can see in the image above, my view of A Good Day To Die Hard (I think) was reduced to a grey blur.  This may well have been an improvement, considering that the few scenes I could just about see were unspeakably awful.  But I pity anyone trying to watch a worthwhile film behind a full-recliner.

It turns out that most displays on planes feature low quality panels: low resolution, shallow color depth and – most relevant here – terrible contrast, especially at wide viewing angles.  Now bad viewing angles aren’t much of a problem on the horizontal axis – it prevents your neighbours from noticing that you’re watching Smurfs 2.  But bad viewing angles on the vertical axis – well, they produce the problem you can see above.

Virgin Atlantic plane
Virgin Atlantic – one of many airlines that doesn’t care if you can see your screen

Virgin Atlantic isn’t the only offending airline.  Most planes feature terrible displays.  One notable exception is United’s 767 fleet for the London-San Francisco route, which feature high-resolution widescreen panels with capacitive touch control.  (The only problem here is that the system is running on Linux, and occasionally reboots, allowing passengers the pleasure of viewing the Linux bootup sequence.  But at least you can see something.)

Richard Branson, if you’re reading this, please get some better screens.  The Virgin Media systems onboard have plenty of good content.  It would just be nice if we could actually see it.

Failing that, I’ll settle for someone removing the reclining option from all the seats.

2 Comments

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  1. I was on a Virgin 777 with my kids. The screen had such a narrow viewing angle that my four year old couldn’t see it at all. I had to beg extra pillows and blankets from the staff (at least they gave them, United would just sneer at you) to boost him, and the tower kept shifting. Tortuous fifteen hours.

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