Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Travel providers turn up the heat in the digital kitchen

"One of the perks of travel used to be enjoying amenities you did not have at home: watching HBO in your hotel room, for instance, or catching an in-flight movie before there was such a thing as VCRs.

But sometime during the digital revolution, consumers’ home entertainment technology began making the travel industry look as if it were stuck in an analog era, with most airlines showing bland films on tough-to-view overhead screens and hotels’ television lineups disappointing guests accustomed to TiVo...

While cash-short American airlines are generally not investing as much in entertainment technology, a few carriers are introducing in-flight systems, partly to keep up with their foreign competitors.

For instance, Delta is introducing a new seatback system, Delta on Demand, that features 24 channels of live television, up to 28 films, 12 video games, more than 1,600 songs and 45 hours of HBO programming, including episodes of popular television shows. The system is now on 100 aircraft, including economy class on some planes. The live TV and games are free throughout the aircraft, although there are charges for some programs in coach."

I had the opportunity to try out the Delta seatback system recently on my flight from Eugene, Oregon to New York City. When I changed planes in Salt Lake City, I was seated on one of these updated aircraft. In coach class, most of the content required a payment of from $1.99 to $3.99 for television programs to feature films. If you didn't own a compatible headset, the stewardesses had them available for sale for $2.00. I noticed they collapsed nicely into a small profile for storing in your purse or briefcase. Actually, one of the most popular options was a free trivia game in which you played against other passengers on the aircraft. The system could handle something like 10 simultaneous players. As passengers tired of it and signed off new passengers would login. The man sitting next to me liked it so much he played for the entire flight. I needed a break after a while and signed off and dozed to rest my eyes. The proximity of the screen seems to cause a bit of eye fatigue. At least it keeps you distracted between snacks and beverage services although a video i-Pod does a pretty good job too!

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