Airlines have been showing movies on jet flights for some time. The first system used a single projector and a single screen (like a conventional theater). But it was hard for some passengers to see the screen, so a video system was tried. The film was projected into a Vidicon pickup tube (like a TV station does) and the image displayed on several picture monitors scattered around the cabin. These monitors, through a master receiver, could also pick up off-the-air TV.

Now comes a nonvideo, multiple-screen movie technique for air travelers. American Airlines has begun using Astrocolor (developed by Bell & Howell) on their 707 Astrojets. A number of viewing screens are placed around the cabin, each illuminated by its own projector. Film is shuttled from the supply reel (in the cockpit) through a special channel from one projector to the next, and finally back to the takeup reel (also in the cockpit). Each screen serves only a few passengers, who are close enough to see the images clearly.

A separate sound head is used at each projector, and audio is fed to earphones at each seat. There’s a 5-min-ute lag between the first and last screens on the loop.

Advice to air travelers: Get a seat near the supply-reel side; if you miss some action, you can step across the aisle and catch the repeat.

  1. Stephen says: September 16, 20105:37 am

    It must have been a major job threading a spool of film all the way round a 707’s cabin from one projector to another. I hate to think about fixing the mess if the film broke.

  2. jayessell says: September 16, 20109:32 am

    I would guess 6 minutes of leader (heavy duty plastic shaped like film) and
    a ‘Is the film moving? Is the film present?’ sensor at each projector.

    Didn’t/Don’t motion picture theaters do this for popular films?
    Run the same film from projector to projector?

  3. Kosher Ham says: September 16, 201010:06 am

    Usually, the film was in a cassette for the airline projector (otherwise could you imagine threading that projector?.) Granted, Bell and Howell did have self threading 16 mm projectors available at that time.

  4. Toronto says: September 16, 20107:08 pm

    Jay: Some do, but some distribution contracts specifically prohibit it.

    My current favorite cinema is all digital, or so they claim. I haven’t been in a projection booth for decades – they’re probably much duller places than they used to be. (I have a distinct memory of a manual rewind of reel one of “The Deep” getting away from me while I was watching the t-shirt in the second reel.)

  5. Jabberwocky says: September 19, 20106:53 am

    Checking Wikipedia, looks like most theatres have gone to or are in the process of converting to all-digital projectors.

  6. Mike says: September 20, 20107:48 am

    If it is digital… can you call it film?

    Video is an electronic process, film is a chemical process.

  7. Firebrand38 says: September 20, 20109:12 am

    Mike: I’m sure that falls in the same category of calling a plastic tumbler a “glass”.

  8. Toronto says: September 20, 20105:46 pm

    Can I still call music disks “albums” even though they don’t come in big books with multiple 10″ “78s” in them? Can I still “dial” a phone?

  9. Firebrand38 says: September 20, 20106:04 pm

    Toronto: If you’re asking my permission, it’s most graciously granted.

    All kidding aside I still refer to the act of entering numbers into my cell phone as “dialing a number”.

    Put another way, my internet provider offers DSL and “dial up” although I’m sure there’s no wee person using a rotary dial in the modem.

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