Review: Virgin Blue Live2Air in-flight TV (Verdict: Winner if the time is right)

live2air-01.jpg

I bounced down to Melbourne last week, and it was the first time I'd flown Virgin Blue since the introduction of their new in-flight entertainment system. Called Live2Air, it is pretty much as advertised - a live feed of 24 Foxtel channels. Sadly, it isn't free. But that made it perfect review material. Is it worth the $5 / $10 price?

Pretty much, yes. Certainly better than expected, and particularly hot if you like to catch some trashy TV now and then. Like Maury! If you can't make out that caption, it reads "My child was the victim of a peeping tom... caught on tape!" I know, I know... I prefer Maury's paternity test episodes too.

More details on how it all works can be found below the fold. Having to pay for entertainment on a plane always annoys me, but that's the nature of cheap domestic options today, so I got over that pretty quick. What is a welcome offering here is the service is completely open for the first 5-10 minutes of the flight - you are only asked to pay once the aircraft is finishing its ascent. Seems there is a good technical reason for this too, because during take off and climb the signal broke up, so you would see "temporarily unavailable due to aircraft movement" messages. Sometimes audio continued, other times it all dropped.

To keep watching, you swipe a credit card (that slot on the right). A message pops up to request a confirm by pressing the Channel Up button. And that's that. All good. Too easy.

Once the flight smoothed out up top the channels ran perfectly. They offer up a good mix of the Foxtel options - Comedy Channel would be the only other I would ask for, but I'm guessing all channels that are across the board rated (M) are probably verboten.

The freebie headphones weren't too bad, though very, very tinny. Comfortable to wear. The seat supports standard minijacks, so BYO without any need for an adapter.

live2air-ears.jpg

The worst part: in-flight announcement interruptions. On a traditional in-flight system everything pauses, so you don't miss a beat. Here it is live TV, so the announcement override pissed me off more than ever before.

The best part: A traditional system gets switched off during descent. Live2Air remained active all the way to the terminal gate. Never before had I not noticed we'd finished taxiing. I caught the movement in my peripheral vision as everyone else started standing up because the doors were open. Definitely the best feature if you want total distraction from start to finish.

Verdict: My flight was mid-afternoon, just a one hour hop, and I still enjoyed the channel surfing in spite of a generally lack lustre batch of programming at that time of day. Would I pay again on Sydney to Melbourne? At a better time of day, absolutely. Any early morning or late afternoon / evening flight would be all the better for having this switched on. No fussing with iPod, PSP or DS.

Pricing is $5 for flights scheduled for under 2 hours, and $10 for 2 hours and over. If it's pretty much worth it on the one hour flight, I'd thoroughly recommend it on longer trips.