Those ‘Virtual Windows’ on the Emirates 777 Aren’t a Gimmick at All

Dec 1, 2017

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There were plenty of oohs and ahhs when Emirates introduced its new first-class suite at the Dubai Air Show last month, but a couple features in particular were met with a fair share of skepticism.

First, the video chat ordering system — first-class passengers can use a camera-equipped tablet to place orders with a flight attendant through a receiver in the galley.

In theory, this is intended to make the in-flight experience a bit more private. In practice, it’s a little silly.

The other questionable addition was the airline’s new “virtual windows” — an industry first, but, if technologists have their way, windowless cabins could become commonplace down the line. Emirates’ flavor is the first step toward making that a reality, and, after spending seven hours in a “windowless” suite, I can say that this new tech is truly compelling.

Essentially, these “virtual windows” enable passengers sitting in the two center suites on Emirates’ new 777-300ER to have a live view out the side of the plane — in fact, customers I chatted with on today’s inaugural flight from Dubai (DXB) to Brussels (BRU) actually preferred my center suite with the “fake” windows to the real thing.

While the concept may seem a bit far out, it’s simple in practice. Each center suite has a set of three panels mounted on the wall. They’re the same size and shape as real windows, but instead of glass and a natural view through the side of the plane, each has a high-resolution display.

Live camera feeds are pumped into the suite — the one I flew in, 1E, has the panels on the right wall, so it displays feeds from three cameras mounted on the starboard side. Meanwhile, 2F, just behind, has its screens on the left wall, and its view comes courtesy of three cameras on the port side of the plane. In theory, you’ll have the same view as passengers in true window seats, however I actually found the virtual windows to offer even greater clarity, since the panels are tack-sharp and the cameras capture more dynamic range than the eye can see.

As you can see in the video below, these virtual windows — paired with the forward and downward-facing external cameras fed to the main and tablet displays — make for an absolutely incredible take-off experience.

It’s easy to forget that you’re in a center suite — the windows are designed to look very realistic, and, as with the rest of the plane’s design, the attention to detail is unmatched. In the case of the virtual windows, for example, Emirates has added the same treatment that you’ll find throughout the rest of the cabin, with mechanical blinds that operate with identical switches. It’s truly unbelievable how well the engineers executed on this concept.

While you might still think this whole “virtual windows” thing is a bit of a gimmick, I’m confident that you’ll feel differently after a long flight in a center suite. As an added bonus, 1E and 2F are actually noticeably wider than window suites — not only do you get a superior viewing experience, there’s also more room to move about.

Sadly, today’s experience was likely a one-off for meespecially after the most recent surprise devaluation from Japan Airlines — but if I ever do have a chance to fly Emirates’ new first class again, I’ll be opting for a center suite every time.

For more on Emirates’ new first-class suite, see:

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