Personal in-flight entertainment systems are getting pretty close to ubiquitous, at least on long-haul planes. According to the NYT, in-flight wi-fi will soon be just as common. Now airlines are wondering: why not just combine the two?

In practice, that would mean a media server, mostly full of video and music content, would be added to the planes' local networks. Instead of accessing in-flight films and music through a seatback or fold-out screen, passengers could just view it as if it were on a home server, or in a more likely implementation, through a local HTTP interface or set of client apps.

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It's an interesting idea, and one that both Aircell and Row 44, two of the biggest providers of in-flight wi-fi, are both actively considering. The main draw is cost, because a bank of hard drives and beefed up router cluster is a tiny investment compared to fitting a plane with individual passenger systems.

But there are some obvious drawbacks. The proposals talk about hosting media for playback on phones and laptops, which could create a compatibility nightmare for the airlines and passengers, and will create an IT nightmare for cabin crew. Then there's the matter of keeping all these gadgets charged: demanding that passengers all use DC adapters to keep their smartphones and laptops charged would work, but it's not exactly elegant.

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Having locally hosted media as an option would be a nice additional perk for wi-fi users, and for airlines that don't already have entertainment systems built into their planes it could well be a cheap way to offer their passengers something to do during long flights, but as a total replacement for kickass system like Virgin's? Maybe not. [NYT]