back to article Did your in-flight entertainment widget suck? It's Panasonic's fault, claims software biz

Panasonic has been hit with a lawsuit accusing the electronics giant of monopolizing the market for in-flight entertainment (IFE) devices with a series of dirty tricks. Software maker CoKinetic says that Panasonic Avionics has been illegally rigging their in-flight entertainment hardware not to work with software provided by …

  1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Panasonic has blocked other third party products

    Panasonic blocked the use of third party batteries in some of its cameras which forced the owners to pay through the nose for its own brand. I can easily see it doing the same thing again if it thought that it could get away with it.

    See the following article in the reg for more details about the batteries

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/06/25/panasonic_battery_drm/

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Panasonic has blocked other third party products

      We've got quite a few Panasonic cameras kicking around the house, mostly a succession of TZ (Travel Zoom) models, but also an LX-5 and LX-7. Only between the latter two can the batteries be swapped. The chargers will only charge the battery they came with; annoyingly only a mm or two prevents a battery from fitting in a charger (obviously there is no clear identification on the charger as to which battery or camera it is associated with. )

      However, if one pries the top half of the plastic shell off a charger and makes the PCB safe with PVC tape, the charger will be battery agnostic.

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: Panasonic has blocked other third party products

        I bought a Panasonic TZ-70 last September, along with a spare pair of Hahnel batteries for it. For most of its life its been running on a Hahnel battery, thanks to the disapearance of the second Hahnel and the original Panasonic en route to India[1]. I can't comment about chargers because the camera didn't come with one and AFAIK one isn't available as an optional accessory or I'd have bought it. Having to swap spare batteries into the camera to charge them is a pain: I'd much rather have an external charger.

        [1] I think this happened during transit passenger bording checks in Dubai because that was the only place that the camera stuffsack was out of my site for long enough to anybody to find the stuffsack in my carry-on stuff, find the batteries and rifle through my spare SD cards, which were in an alloy SD card wallet. I know somebody had been through the camera stuff there because the SD cards (individually marked) were no longer in the same order different order that I put them in.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh, spiffy, another problem with air travel

    Super duper. Along with the overcharging for the fare, extra fees where ever and whenever they can apply them, the forcible rape that is going through the TSA "checkpoint", surviving a flight with a child or an adult that acts like one and needs supervision by authorities, then the (hopefully) final insult of trying to re-enter my own country to be once again raped by "the orange man" I need to worry about "in-flight entertainment hardware systems."

    Fuck air travel. I'll walk.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh, spiffy, another problem with air travel

      Don't forget running planes with no maintenance, leading to parts literally falling off, and the roof to peel off mid-flight.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh, spiffy, another problem with air travel

      Fuck air travel. I'll walk.

      Given the tedious journeys getting to many airports, the hours spent waiting, the delays and unreliability, it's a miracle nobody has restarted a transatlantic steamer service (transport, not "cruise"). I'd rather spend four days on a ship than three hours in airports, and eight hours in a tin can full of foul germ ridden air, with my knees round my ears.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Oh, spiffy, another problem with air travel

        Good idea. Harland and Wolff should still have the original blueprints in their archives.

      2. Hollerithevo

        Re: Oh, spiffy, another problem with air travel

        I would love to take a liner to, say, New York, spending the days preparing all my reports and slides, and then perhaps a high-speed rail link to Chicago and on to San Francisco. If I could be connected via good wifi throughout, I'd work remotely and be rested and happier. And I think my carbon footprint would be mere tippitoes.

  3. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    I've always been surprised at how bad in-flight entertainment is. The seatback displays look like they're 20 year old recycled laptops. The new WiFi streaming systems seem to need some impossible combination of modern secure hardware running ancient insecure software. This is why people download movies off the Internet.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      The experience of the IFE is terrible compared to a low range Android mobile phone; I don't know why the don't just use hardware similar to a phone's and stick a skinned Android on.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        On BA who do use Panasonic on some planes if you select the map you do see an android home screen briefly. If you're quick enough then you can click on the home button/icon and see underlying android UI.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I've flown a lot of Delta in the last year or so and theirs is genuinely alright. Screens aren't great, but when you're sat six inches from the thing it's never going to be great anyway. Otherwise it's easy to navigate, easy to switch contexts, remembers where you stopped and lets you resume. Definitely useable.

      My bigger issue is all the films are edited to US TV broadcast standards, with any hint of leg above the ankle or word shorter than five letters crudely edited out.

      Deadpool was a solid 20 minutes shorter.

      1. phil dude
        Linux

        editing...?

        Nah - puritan censorship plain and simple.

        I will say the Delta wifi was ok for a few hours in the air. Longer than that, you're much better off downloading something.

        If the wifi worked as proper internet, perhaps I (biz) might pay for it, but it was TooSlow(tm).

        Finally, it would be nice if "wifi" intersected with seat power a bit more often.

        For those us that [write/read/play] [code/publications/games]* , it may detract from the dehydration and low pressure...

        P.

        *mix or append as appropriate.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Typically yes. I did see one however that was pretty nifty and clearly android based with some form of custom launcher.

      Perhaps airline inflight industry needs the kick up the arse that android brought the mobile industry, an open source standard OS than unchains you from specific vendors, in the same way it does in the mobile world (unless you live in apples walled garden, you aren't locked to any vendor, all your content works everywhere)

  4. redpawn

    Necessary Evil

    If the entertainment system were any good it would make the rest of the airline industry look bad. It's like getting a new range oven which looks too good for the rest of the kitchen thus causing the desire for a complete kitchen remodel. Fixing the entertainment system would make more obvious the need for a complete overhaul of air travel and must not be allowed to happen.

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Necessary Evil

      Spot on.

      What if the IFE were any good ? Would people start expecting good in-flight catering, too ?

      1. Shades

        Re: Necessary Evil

        Flew with BA to Mexico last year, food was dire. Return journey was with Iberia, food was worse still. Food on Emirates is okay, so too on Lufthansa (you even get free sandwiches on their short hop flights which was a surprise!) and Etihad wasn't bad. Best was probably Singapore Airlines, who even brought proper Magnum ice creams (on sticks) round for desert. Was quite a weird experience eating a proper ice cream while watching the world pass by at 35,000ft.

        Incidentally Singapore Airlines also do really good flight kits, even in the cheap seats, 3 of which found their way into my hand luggage and the nice blue zipped bags are now used to keep things organised in my hand luggage back-pack! :D

  5. Winkypop Silver badge
    Unhappy

    In flight entertainment

    If your screen works, isn't scratched or doesn't give out more heat than Chernobyl, then the constant announcements will spoil that crap film even web pirates avoid.

    1. Timbo

      Re: In flight entertainment

      "doesn't give out more heat than Chernobyl"

      I flew long distance Manchester > Doha > Perth and the back of seat display in front of me gave out a lot of heat...if you then multiply that by the 300+ seats in the plane, one wonders how much extra work the aircon has to do to get rid of all the excess heat :-(

      Surely more efficient screens would make more sense?

  6. Richard 12 Silver badge

    Some of them are pretty good.

    One wonders if the good ones aren't Panasonic, as they're very rare. Only had a really good inflight entertainment system once - A380 to Jo'burg, IIRC.

    Every other time it's had a truly terrible UI, and often very unreliable.

    This is not a difficult thing to do, and the hardware has been well below $100 per seat for over a decade. Even museums do a better job most of the time!

  7. frank ly

    General Protection Fault?

    Does anyone remember that? Ah ........ memories.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: General Protection Fault?

      Who is he, and why is he accessing my hard disk, you mean?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: General Protection Fault?

        He (or she) is trying to save Private Data from Major Failure.

        1. frank ly

          Re: General Protection Fault?

          Don't let Colonel Panic know about it.

          Anyway ... maybe it's too long ago......maybe it didn't really happen .... I can't .... I don't ......nurse!!!

        2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

          Re: General Protection Fault?

          Is that because Major Fault wants to prosecute Private Data as he failed during the RAID?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: General Protection Fault?

      Don't remember that, I do remember "MSDOS ain't done till Lotus doesn't run" (and similar variants).

      Sounds like Panasonic remember it too.

  8. TRT Silver badge

    I'm not a frequent flyer...

    so I'm staggered by the idea that people would do food shopping from a plane in flight.

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: I'm not a frequent flyer...

      >so I'm staggered by the idea that people would do food shopping from a plane in flight.

      Its not for the home. Its what happens when you book an Oslo/Los Angeles flight and only after it takes off do you realize that you're only going to get any food if you'd pre-ordered -- and pre-paid -- for it when you booked the flight. Eleven hours without any food or drink is a long time so you end up buying what you can (until they run out, which is sooner rather than later).

      Be careful to read the fine print when booking. An hour without foot on Ryanair is fine, who cares? Eleven hours......that's something else.

  9. Pat O'Ban

    Virgin America

    I recall Virgin saying they used Linux. Found an article (nearly 10 years old tho) here https://techcrunch.com/2008/03/27/all-about-linux-2008-penguins-fly-an-interview-with-charles-virgin-airs-head-of-in-flight-entertainment/

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: Virgin America

      I had one of Virgin Atlantics crash on my, when it booted there was a normal Linux boot screen

  10. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    No. Do not want.

    What with the increasingly tight coupling between passenger entertainment systems and avionics, I don't want any third party software loaded anywhere on an airplane that I'm flying on. No thanks. The 787 broke new ground by getting an exception granted by the FAA to allow IFE and avionics to operate on the same data buses.

    Not that I think it matters. IFE systems are sold as prepackaged hardware/software systems, not general purpose computing platforms. Other than software patches provided by the vendor, there is no system requirement to install and run third party apps. If CoKinetic wants to get into the IFE business, they can go out and develop their own hardware platform. And get it certified.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If only

    You could actually switch the effing thing off rather than just blanking the screen.

    As a very frequent flyer I never watch the IFE system except for the odd look at the Map showing where we are. Mind you even that can be a bit out.

    Flying Royal Jordanian from Amman to LHR, we flew over the north of Nicosia but the map said that we were 30 miles to the south. This error continue until we crossed over the channel whereupon it magically corrected itself.

    As for the IFE's on American Carriers.... Words fail me for just how bad they are.

    So it is iPod with music or iPad with ripped TV progs (adverts removed).

    1. Palpy Silver badge

      Re: If only.. so wit' ya, bro!

      I usually rig one of the pamphlets from the seat-back pocky to cover the vid screen. Annoying piece of twaddle, always turning itself on to show ads.

  12. Richard Scratcher
    Boffin

    A common mistake

    "If CoKinetic's claims are true, air passengers either get crippled third-party software for their in-flight entertainment, which sucks, or Panasonic-supplied software that has no competition, and thus faces little to no pressure to actually be any good, which sucks."

    This is a common mistake when talking about pressurised aircraft. The correct term is "blows".

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How do you make hardware that runs certain software slower?

    That seems like an allegation that will require more proof than "our software runs slow on their hardware, so it must be their doing".

    1. Tim99 Silver badge

      Re: How do you make hardware that runs certain software slower?

      Easily. Microsoft's MSDE versions of SQL had programmed delays that got longer as more concurrent users were added. I believe that initially it was controlled by a registry key. If you control the hardware, someone else's software might generate additional wait states that favoured software did not see.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How do you make hardware that runs certain software slower?

        Your example was Microsoft software adding wait states. That's not the same in any way to having hardware that is somehow able to recognize the difference between one vendor's software and another's to decide when to clock slower, insert wait states or whatever.

        1. Tim99 Silver badge

          Re: How do you make hardware that runs certain software slower?

          @DougS

          True, what I meant was that unless favoured software was used, the hardware would add the interrupt. Maybe by setting an undocumented hardware switch? Although in this case, according to the plaintiff's statement: ...among other things, deliberately refusing to distribute source code for its open-source Linux-based operating system and intertwined “core” software, which controls access to the basic functions of Panasonic IFE hardware systems... Panasonic controls the OS as well as the hardware, hence my comment about Microsoft.

        2. Griffo

          Re: How do you make hardware that runs certain software slower?

          Many ways. You could simply slow the clock speed if the bootloader is not signed.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Both LAN flights I took last year forced me to fallback to my mobile phone for entertainment when I managed to hard crash the IFE software by clicking around menus too quickly.

    1. theblackhand Silver badge

      You didn't realise that the clicking was supposed to keep you occupied for the entire flight? Were you expecting something that was worth watching on the IFE?

    2. Shades

      I managed to make my IFE crash on an Emirates flight a couple of years ago, by doing exactly the same thing. Fortunately they got it back up by rebooting just my system from one of the galleys. It took ages to reboot, with all the usual Linux mumbo-jumbo whizzing up the screen, eventually, I think, booting into a custom version of Android with the boot logos removed and immediately going into a custom launcher.

      The easiest way to tell if an IFE system is running Android is by going to the maps or games section and starting a game or map. I'm not sure if its because the IFE systems have a tiny amount of memory but they seem to remove the audio/video/info section (launcher?) of the IFE system from memory, briefly causing the Android on-screen buttons to appear before running the game/map and vice-versa when you quit. My memory is a bit fuzzy with Emirates doing this, but I know Singapore Airlines IFE does.

  15. Steve Medway

    CoKinetic wanted to just write a replacement seatback GUI (hilariously called 'AirPlay') and sync it to Panasonic's FOSS based middleware layer. They were bloody stupid to enter into an exclusive licence with Panasonic to sell their 'Airplay' GUI. After this deal was done they couldn't go to any more airlines independently... BLOODY IDIOTS.

    In addition CoKinetic are seriously pissed about back-handers and 'gifts' paid/given to airline techs to advise dumping CoKinetic's 'GUI'. My god they must be green to believe this wouldn't happen!

    Panasonic were pissed about a little upstart taking a slice of their software pie. They obviously thought 'fuck you we've done all the hard work (OS / Middleware / Seatback GUI) and making 'Airplay' work with our middle-ware really ain't our problem' (damn little pest muscling in on 'our' hard work).

    I kinda see their point, it's only a GUI they were selling. The trouble is Panasonic's 'middle-ware' is FOSS based with undocumented changes and no access to it's source code.

    Panasonic appear completely guilty but I can't help feel CoKinetic are guilty of complete and utter ineptitude in business.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or perhaps CoKinetic felt safe relying on the rule of law to prevent a monopoly from abusing their position. Now that said monopoly has abused it's position (or so they claim) they are seeking compensation for that illegal behaviour.

      If they're right then this is just another case of $MONOPOLY doing illegal things to kill competition. It doesn't reflect on CoKinetic itself.

    2. DaLo

      "...FOSS based with undocumented changes and no access to it's source code."

      Oxymoron?

  16. a_mu

    Terrible software anyway

    Come on

    how often have you been on a flight and the entertainment has had to be rebooted, or has gone US.

    They can't even make a system where when the switch from external to internal power happens the system does not reset.

    Its a terrible hack of linux, run on terrible hardware.

  17. Tim99 Silver badge
    Gimp

    QANTAS

    The last time I was in the back, they handed out an iPad mini to everyone who wanted one. The headrest could also hold a larger fondlePad. Everything worked.

  18. Big-nosed Pengie
    Headmaster

    Obligated?

    The word you're looking for is "obliged".

    You're welcome.

  19. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Not bothered...

    Why all the fuss? Air travel is a highly competetive industry with the majority of airlines run on an ever decreasing budget to pay for ever increasing costs of business. In my humble opinion you should be lucky to get any "entertainment system" at all. I'd rather pay £500 to get to the Middle East in approximately 7 hours, or to Singapore in 10'ish with a crap entertainment system and a dodgy *cough* meal *cough* than be forced to get the train or take a ship.

  20. Sleep deprived

    When I cross the Atlantic...

    I finally learned to do what my wise girlfriend does: take a relaxing pill, fall asleep before take-off, wake up just enough for dinner, fall back, skip the lousy breakfast and wake up somewhat rested and fresher. It makes you miss the announcements, the duty-free business, the noisy engines and the noisy neighbors. I now resist the temptation of watching movies with bad image and sound edited to be played on a tiny screen. I actually dream of a plane built like those capsule hotels in Japan, with all passengers lined up horizontally.

  21. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

    pictured aircraft seat

    What make of aircraft is that one pictured? Never seen a separate flip-down cup holder. Of course, if that's in the First Class er... "Preferred Seating" area, that would explain why I've never seen it...

  22. Stoke the atom furnaces

    Obsolete.

    In the days of cheap tablets who still uses these crappy airline IFE entertainment systems?

  23. JustNiz

    I wish British Airways would replace the poxy screens their systems use, at least on the trans-Atlantic flights. You can barely see the actual picture, especially in daylight. Apart from the contrast sucking ass, there's a layer of barely translucent chequered plastic over it. Its also about a 50-50 shot whether the entertainment system even works for the whole flight or not.

  24. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Devil

    you would think...

    you would think that OPEN STANDARDS would be a selling feature for their system.

    If they stop trying to monopolize the hardware+software combination, they can just sell the hardware and make THAT their revenue model. Yeah, open standards ARE a good thing.

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