UPDATE | Virgin Australia will launch its new in-flight entertainment system in mid-2012, using wireless networking to beam movies and music to each passenger’s smartphone, tablet or laptop – with Internet access to follow. Read our report for full details.
PREVIOUS | Virgin Australia will install the excellent "Red" inflight entertainment system on its two new Airbus A330 aircraft to be delivered in April 2012.
The A330s are used to shuttle customers between East Coast cities and Perth.
The planes will have the same Panasonic Avionics on-demand entertainment system that is fitted on V Australia's Boeing 777-300ER international fleet.
Red is also the inflight entertainment system used on Virgin America, which Australian Business Traveller reviewed in-depth last year.
Until then, Virgin Australia business class passengers on the two ex-Emirates A330s will have to put up with the looping entertainment, but the airline says it will carry a number of portable players on each flight in case the entertainment system fails in individual seats.
... but only portable players for 737 passengers
Passengers on the newer but more compact Boeing 737-800NG aircraft still won't have in-seat inflight entertainment, but Virgin this morning announced it would be providing portable "digiplayers" for business class customers.
Australian Business Traveller reader feedback wasn't universally positive about the use of digiplayers for business class customers flying on 737s.
Chris Neugebauer wrote, "Really?! Those devices are ancient crap from before Live2Air. I wouldn't call that a perk."
Another reader, Nigel S, tweeted: "we are talking J [business class] perks here ,what do Virgin Australia Y [economy] passengers get as inflight entertainment -- crayons and colouring books?"
However it wasn't all criticism for Virgin. Qantas Frequent Flyer Calculator developer Adam Ware pointed out that Qantas still uses "25 year-old, washed-out purple projector displays" on some of its Boeing 767 business class cabins.
The long term plan: inflight Wi-Fi
While the portable players for the Boeing 737s are clearly an interim solution, Virgin Australia last week confirmed it was looking at using inflight Wi-Fi for providing both internet access and streaming videos to passengers.
It hasn't commented yet on whether passengers would bring their own iPads, tablets or laptops to watch streamed videos under this kind of system, or whether it would supply some type of tablet to passengers.
Jetstar is also planning to introduce iPads as an inflight entertainment option soon, and Finnair recently said it was planning to cut the cost of installing expensive and rapidly outdated fixed entertainment systems in favour of iPads.