I board an aircraft, wait for it to takeoff, then find the headphones somewhere near my seat plug them into the two-pin point, and it works! But, how does it works for hundreds of other passengers simultaneously? Where is all the content stored, how are the screens connected to it, and how powerful is the computer controlling so many screens? Also, why is IFE required to be connected to aircraft's main computing system, which may eventually lead to the hacking of an aircraft?

Side Question : On an average, what is the size of content stored in a typical In-flight entertainment system?

  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia has a page on ife, but surprisingly it doesn't explain its working! $\endgroup$
    – anshabhi
    Jun 9, 2015 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ How does this relate to aviation? On principle, this question is same as asking how does a cable provider broadcast contents to different subscribers. $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    Jun 9, 2015 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ then, why does the the ife tag exist? I mean, this is probably the most fundamental question about ife. Anyways, if you feel this is off-topic, I would delete this.. $\endgroup$
    – anshabhi
    Jun 9, 2015 at 14:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think that your side question relates more to aviation than the main one. Let's see what the community thinks. But don't delete it, it can be improved. $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    Jun 9, 2015 at 14:43

1 Answer 1


I found a resource specifically for Emirates, so I'll try to explain it with respect to Emirates, though various other Airlines would use more or less the same principle.

Emirates uses Panasonic Avionics IFE (In Flight Entertainment) system. They have the 3000i which is older generation of IFE system on older aircrafts and the latest version ex2 on new aircrafts. Media licensing is managed, I believe, by the IFE provider via links to the major studios. In this tie up, the media is encrypted and stored in portable media loaders for the airline to update on the aircrafts. As the media is encrypted so the studio doesn't have much objection in giving away the rights to air the movies on board rather quickly.

The Portable media loaders use optical connection for faster data transfer to minimize the loading time.

The Main Aircraft Interface (AI) Server is nothing but a small computer which is generally called a LRU (Line Replaceable Unit) a small box which controls the entire IFE system of the aircraft the back end software can either be windows 95 or Linux depending on the type of system. 3000i uses windows. The movies are stored on other LRUs which are generally an array of Digital Data Servers or Media Servers (MS) or in lay mans terms Hard Drives! These are connected in a LAN network and ethernet IP addressing is used in the entire aircraft system.

The data is distributed over Optical fiber in first phase and over normal ethernet network to the specific seats. The interface is done via Ethernet Switches which intelligently routes the data from the Media server to the Area Distribution box to the Seat Electronic box and finally to the Smart Display.

Using a central dedicated computer instead of individual computers on different seats is preferred as it is less costly. Also, the IFE is connected to Aircraft's Main IFE cpomputer, and not the Aircraft's main computer, so by hacking it all you get is the files (IFE files), not the aircraft data, though the moving map system data might be first dumped into the IFE system from the Airplane's main computer


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