Hands-on: British Airways Dreamliner in-flight entertainment system review

BA has started to roll out a new in-flight entertainment system on its fleet of planes including the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. We jumped on a flight on the newly opened Austin, Texas, route to see what the new entertainment system is like, and whether it will make 10 hours in a steel tube more enjoyable.

What you get in your seat

Entertainment is provided by BA's fleet-wide entertainment system, and Club World passengers get a 12.1-inch personal in-flight entertainment touchscreen with noise-cancelling headphones.

They'll also get a UK/US/EU power socket, two USB sockets, and a Video RCA connection in order to use their own digital equipment to play back on the screen, which is great regardless of whether you have an iPad. The 12.1-inch matte screen is big, certainly big enough to enjoy any movie and unlike some airlines where you are reluctant to watch movies like Batman for fear of seeing nothing, there isn't that problem here.

During our 11 hour flight (the Austin trip is supposed to be 10, but we got delayed in the air due to strong headwinds) we watched The Wolf of Wall Street, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and a few choice clips of TV shows. The screen happily coped with the dark scenes in The Hobbit 2, as well as skin tones all those actors in the Scorsese film.

The controller

To help you control everything there is a rather archaic looking controller that tucks away out of sight. It's a variation of a remote control that airlines have been using for decades.

The good news is that aside from volume control and brightness you don't really have to worry about using it. The 12.1-inch screen in Business Class is a capacitive touchscreen and fairly responsive.

The menu interface

Turn on the in-flight entertainment system and you are presented with a number of options to get you to the entertainment as quickly as possible. The system is straight forward to use, based on cards and follows a traditional linear tree menu structure.

Unlike other airline systems however each stage of the menu that you go into creates a tab and at any point you can click on any tab to go back to that stage in the decision process. That's brilliant if you've delved deep into the latest movies and then realise that you want to go back to the top level of the Watch section as you just press that icon, rather than hitting back a dozen times.

To start with you are offered Kids Zone, BA recommends, Watch, Listen, Play, and other services like Chat, Map, and My Devices, which as the name suggests, lets you connect a video playback device so you can benefit from the screen.

The system isn't as fast as we would like - it feels like it needs a bit more power, but it is simple to use, clear and precise in its offering.

Watching stuff

If you've decided to watch something, which is likely to be your main port of call, then you have over 1,600 hours of content available. On the movies front there are a plenty of new releases (all slightly ahead of a DVD release, but post cinema), as well as classic favourites. There are also a selection of TV shows and box sets where you can watch whole seasons of certain shows like Breaking Bad.

Each bit of content gets its own info card with the chance to watch a trailer, add it to a favourites list if you want make a schedule at the start of your journey, or merely read who is in it and what it is about. Playback of the content is instant and controls in-show are what you expect - handy when you are being offered another glass of wine and you don't want to miss anything. If you are worried about your little ones watching certain content you can set up a parental locking system with a password, meaning if you drift off, they still won't be able to watch anything untoward.

Playing

Beyond watching movies and TV shows there are a number of simple games and a range of music stations and curated albums to keep you entertained. If you are really feeling lonely you can opt to chat to people using the in-flight chat system.

Conversations can be private, such as with another passenger, or if you are feeling properly crazy, with other passengers you don't know in a social chatroom. Yes you really can have a discussion with others on the flight about the food. Sadly we couldn't find anyone on our flight willing to talk.

Maps

Everyone likes a good map, and if you count yourself in that group of people then you'll love the map options from BA.

There are so many variations of the data that you'll be mesmerised, whether it is top down, tracking, total route, exterior, with place names without place names, you can have it. The maps are pretty cool, in a geeky way, and certainly let you find out where you are and what's happening.

First impressions

The British Airways in-flight entertainment system is feature packed. Combined with a good selection of content and a big screen this is a great experience.

If we are being picky, the system could do with being a touch faster to respond to our touches, but that's about our only criticism.

Whether you are plugging in your own video footage or getting ready to enjoy some of BA's, the days of a shoddy screen and a poor film choice is over. We never thought we would find ourselves saying this, but we wished our flight was longer so we could have watched more.



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