Automotive Engineering Meets The Final Frontier

Today’s automotive electronics engineers are quite actively exploring new worlds when it comes to the exciting world of In-Car Entertainment. High-tech suppliers refer to this new realm as Auto Space, and there can be no doubt that we’ve come a long way from the days when our only consumer entertainment choices were AM/FM radios and 8-track players.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that the best entertainment spot in your house may be the four-wheel vehicle parked in your garage. Thanks to improved audio-visual technologies and amazingly sophisticated entertainment tastes, our primary transportation mode has become a mobile concert hall, and if you have kids, they’ve recreated a mobile video arcade or theater in the rear of the vehicle.

We live in a technologically advanced time that is witness to the development and invention of many products that would have been hard to fathom only 10 years ago. Today, consumer choices for In-Car Entertainment are growing in quality and sophistication. Whatever your driving habits, passengers, entertainment preferences or budget, there is a growing range of in-car products to turn driving into a vibrant, enveloping entertainment experience.

With popular TV shows dedicated to automobile restoration and customization, In-Car Entertainment systems have received considerable attention. Thanks to reduced costs of devices such as LCD screen/monitors and the cost efficiency to the consumer of the converging media playable technologies (single hardware units are capable of playing CD, MP3, WMA and DVD), In-Car Entertainment is within reach of a larger base of consumers.

It was in the 1930s when radios were first placed inside automobiles. It goes without saying that we’ve come a long way. The first car radios have evolved through the years to include FM radio, to a cassette player, to CD players and beyond. New technology has enabled vehicle audiophiles to take advantage of MP3 technology and USB devices. Why just grab a few CDs when nowadays you can bring your entire music collection on the road with a flash drive that plugs into your car audio system via a USB connection. Many in-car audio systems now come with MP3 player connectivity so you can attach and play your music directly from a MP3 player through the car speakers.

And speaking of speakers, the technology available in your vehicle is every bit as robust as what you have in your home, but unlike a typical family room, a vehicle provides a great listening environment, with its defined space and fixed seating arrangements. Improving the quality of your in-car audio experience can be as simple or as complex as you decide to make it. One of the more popular listening experiences is provided by state-of-the-art 5.1-channel surround format, which includes five full-range channels (left, center, right, left surround, right surround) plus a low-frequency effects (LFE) channel experienced in the cinema, DVDs, digital television (HDTV and SDTV) and games. Or maybe you aren’t interested in driving a four-wheel video arcade or movie theater, and you’d rather that everyone in the car be able to enjoy CDs or radio music (FM or satellite) with the richness and fullness of surround sound. Of course, you’ll have full capability to accomplish that objective with the latest and greatest in sound technology available in your automobile.

When it comes to video options, many automotive consumers who drive an SUV, crossover or minivan are accompanied by a child or two or three in the rear seats. In this case, a rear-seat entertainment system with a DVD player and/or a game console might be ideal. LCD screens can be placed in the dashboard, in overhead consoles and in the back of headrests. If you’d rather not share the sound of the 18th consecutive showing of the latest children’s DVD, infrared headphones allow families to enjoy long journeys where the children can play games and/or watch DVDs in the back of the car while the driver can listen to traditional sounds – radio, CDs or MP3s.

Up until now, automakers introduced In-Car Entertainment technologies only after they had been tested and adopted in the consumer market. Not anymore. Today’s customers expect immediate access in their cars to the new features available in home- and portable-entertainment devices. And as the cost of automotive electronics continues to fall, the pervasiveness of additional electronic technologies, such as navigation and advanced telematics, will increase so rapidly that they will soon be standard features in most vehicles.