Watching a movie on an airliner used to be a pain. No matter where you sat the screen was too far away and the sound coming through the tinny headphones was the lowest of low-fi.

Today, a new generation of video equipment is making this experience a thing of the past. In fact, says Video Magazine, airline video will look better and better as time goes on.The first of this new wave of flying video equipment are 5- to 8-inch color liquid crystal display screens, which are lighter and thinner than conventional screens and can be mounted on the backs of individual seats. This ensures that passengers beyond the range of conventional projection screens will be able to see the movies.

Individual 5-inch LCD screens are being installed in the backs of first-class seats on American Airlines and British Airways, and are already available on first-class seats on Japan Air Lines. Rather than go the individual-screen route, however, some airlines will be sticking to projection TVs.

However, the reproduction will be much clearer, thanks to the adoption of Hi8 videocassette recorders, replacing the old Beta units. United Airlines is busily installing Hi8 VCRs on most of its aircraft. In addition to clearer pictures, the Hi8 machines are half the size and weight of the older VCRs.

Finally, Sony Trans Com recently introduced a rear-screen projection system that lets passengers leave their window shades up and still enjoy a bright, clear picture. With front-projection systems, light coming in from the outside washes out the picture, making it barely visible on the screen. Other carriers set to provide advanced video entertainment include Air Canada, Lufthansa and Air France.