We’re Up To Something (at 35,000 Feet)

Wednesday June 10, 2015 / Posted by Sean H.

From the beginning, the idea behind our in-flight entertainment system Red® – and really, our airline itself, has been to reinvent the flight experience for the better, by offering travelers more control, more content, more interactivity and more of the choices they actually want in the air. When Virgin America launched in 2007, WIRED Magazine said our first aircraft was “Like a Multimillionaire iPod. That Flies.” And today, Virgin America is still the only U.S. airline to offer a consistent experience on every flight with fleetwide WiFi, power outlets at every seat, and Red’s live television, latest release movies, music, maps, on-demand food ordering, text chat, our popular send-a-drink feature and much more. But we’re not into resting on our laurels around here.

Which is why we’re excited to announce the beta launch of a new foundation for our Red in-flight entertainment platform in partnership with Panasonic.

Taking off on three of our aircraft this month, we are launching new, higher resolution, capacitive touch monitors as well as a new Red Beta platform built on Android-based software that allows us to make faster improvements in the short-term to our in-flight entertainment platform – and in the long-term, will make it possible for us to further connect, personalize and expand Red in entirely new ways. For more information, check out the Red Beta tour video:

Travelers will notice some immediate changes with the new Red Beta platform, including:

  • New capacitive touch screens (with pinch and swipe functionality)
  • More storage capacity allowing the platform to host three times as much content – including full seasons of popular shows
  • Better, more interactive games – including retro favorites like Atari’s Asteroids and Pac-Man
  • Enhanced, more interactive maps
  • A first-in-the-sky “surround-sound” listening experience on select content

Red Beta will run on new, Panasonic EcoV2 monitors with a full capacitive touch experience, so travelers can swipe, pinch and zoom as they would any other mobile device. The new monitors are also capable of supporting HD content with 720p resolution and offer four times faster HD image rendering. Now guests can enjoy enhanced quality, retro favorite video games like ATARI’s Pac-Man and Asteroids.

And with the increased storage capacity, travelers can binge-watch their favorite shows while flying across the country with seasons 1-2 of Orange is the New Black, seasons 1-2 of House of Cards, seasons 1-5 of The Walking Dead and much more.

And finally, in coordination with the California-based sound innovator Dysonics, we’re taking in-flight audio to the next level as the first airline to offer a “surround sound” listening experience.

In a first for the airline industry, Dysonics is encoding Red’s content in order to create a 3D sound experience over headphones that accurately reproduce the effect of being surrounded by speakers. Using any pair of headphones, travelers can hear sounds moving from side to side, from front to back and up and down – and feel like the action is happening all around them. To sample this revolutionary technology, put on a pair of headphones and checkout:

Starting this month, Surround Sound will be offered on select Red content fleetwide on both the classic Red and Red Beta systems including HBO’s Game of Thrones (season 5, episodes 1-2) and the films Insurgent and Run All Night.

Obviously, we’re excited about all these changes, but so are the people responsible for bringing these new technologies to market:

  • As the only airline based in Silicon Valley and one known for pushing the envelope in the IFE space, we’re thrilled to launch our Red Beta product.  Although travelers will immediately notice some changes like capacitive touch screens, a lot more content, and enhanced maps and videogames, we’re really excited about the longer-term capabilities the new Android-based software foundation enables,” said Ken Bieler, Director of Cabin Systems, Product Design & Innovation at Virgin America. “Although airline product development cycles are typically measured in decades, not years – the new platform gives us the ability to iterate much more quickly.  Our intent is to build a next generation of Red that again breaks the mold for the industry – and that offers our travelers an even richer, more interactive experience.” 
  • “The result of our first collaboration with Virgin America was the award-winning Red system. It set a new standard in many ways. The new Red Beta platform is a natural evolution, and proof of the platform’s ability to grow with changing technology and market demands.” said Paul Margis, President and Chief Executive Officer for Panasonic Avionics Corporation. “We believe Red Beta is a winning proposition for Virgin America and their guests.”

The new Red Beta is slated to be outfitted on 18 aircraft by the end of 2015 and will continue to roll out to the rest of the fleet in 2016 – so be sure to lookout for the new system on your next flight!

And if do you happen to have a chance to fly on a Red Beta equipped aircraft, tell us what you think in the comments below!