Qantas' Q Streaming service offers movies and TV shows streamed via wireless to an iPad supplied at every seat by the kangaroo-wielding airline. That sounds impressive, but is it really better than a seatback screen? Road Worrier investigates with an in-flight test.
Q Streaming was launched as a pilot back in January 2012, and is gradually being extended to all 767-338 aircraft. I fly Qantas with some regularity, but it wasn't until a recent trip from Canberra to Melbourne that I actually found myself on a plane which actually offered the service. I've since encountered it one more time on a flight from Sydney to Adelaide.
The Q Streaming option effectively represents a halfway point between Qantas' older planes, which only offer fixed programming on a handful of overhead screens, and the better-equipped A330s which have a version of the seatback entertainment systems first deployed on the A380. Like that system, you can choose your own shows, but you can't access other features such as games, and you don't get the same breadth of content.
Unlike the iPad offering from Qantas' bargain-priced sibling Jetstar, there's no fee to use the iPads and one is placed in every seat pocket. A sticker on the attached Smart Cover notes "security technology installed" and an RFID chip is attached to each device to prevent theft.
A special attachment on the headrest lets you mount the iPad for hands-free viewing. Staff on the flight hand out earbuds for use with the system (the ones you can grab at the gate are dual-pronged and hence won't work with the iPad). Navigating through the system is simple (access to other iPad apps is blocked), and it didn't take long for me to track down an episode of 30 Rock I wanted to watch.
One minor limitation with watching TV shows is that if there's a bundle of episodes, you have to start with the first one. Unlike the seatback system, you can't select individual episodes. That's obviously less of an issue if you choose to watch movies. I didn't experience any broadcast glitches either time I used the service, which is good going for a Wi-Fi-based system.
By far the biggest downside of Q Streaming is that you can't use it throughout the flight. The same somewhat questionable electronic device bans which stop you reading on a Kindle during take-off and landing also means the Wi-Fi entertainment service only operates in the middle part of the flight. On a brief sector such as Melbourne-Canberra, that means you barely have enough time to view a 22-minute sitcom episode. It also means that you can't use the service if you get stuck on the ground before take-off due to fog or other issues. That disadvantage doesn't apply to the seatback option, which you can use from the moment you board until the moment you land.
I'd certainly prefer the iPad option to the older planes with overhead TVs -- on flights where that happens, I'll usually ignore the entertainment options altogether. Nonetheless, I'd still rather have a proper seatback system for a lengthier flight.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has watched the 30 Rock episode with Weird Al more times than is strictly sensible. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.