It used to be that you were doing well with a nice in-car sound system, but not anymore. These days, the well-equipped car is an entertainment hub that starts with a Dolby 5.1 surround sound system and includes everything from television and computer games to Internet access and GPS. Of course, no vehicle comes with all this stuff as factory standard (though some come close) but a huge aftermarket parts industry has grown to provide you with custom solutions for whatever you need.
For most of us though, after a nice sound system the most popular in-car add-ons these days is in-car video. Hardly a home these days doesn't have at least one DVD player and people expect the same entertainment value when on the move. In fact, one of the best ways to keep the kids entertained on long trips is to buy a DVD system for your car. Sounds simple? It can be. Or, it can be quite complex. In either case, how you go about it will take some forward planning to get the best result.
In-car video or entertainment systems come in three basic types: factory-fitted (or retrofitted) systems mounted permanently into the vehicle; semi-portable systems that can be moved from car to car (usually with screens that attach to the back of the front seats); and truly portable laptop systems designed to be used by one person. Each type of system has its advantages. Which type is the right one for you depends on what you'd like to get out of your system. Let's look at the main types.
These units mount into the car's front dash panel and can replace the audio head unit (control centre). Usually, the 6-7in LCD monitor will automatically slide out of the deck when you start the car, then flip up into a viewing position. If nothing else, they have a tremendous "Wow factor". In fact, put one of these systems in your car and you will definitely spend more time in your car, even if you're not driving! This sort of setup is great if you have a small vehicle. Naturally, they are not meant for viewing movies by the driver while on the move. To view movies on it, you'll typically have to have the vehicle parked with the handbrake on. The video function won't operate when the car is moving, for safety reasons. You don't want to be distracted when driving in traffic, or worse, when doing 110km/h on the freeway.
So, what's the point of having a movie screen in the front of your car? Well, when you are driving the screen can be put to use in several other ways. It can double as an interactive roadmap, via satellite navigation (using the Global Positioning System, or GPS). This can give you turn-by-turn visual and voice directions almost anywhere across the country. Not only will you get there more efficiently, not having to fiddle with conventional maps is a big safety bonus. Depending on the model, it might even offer touch-screen control, which is a big bonus for convenience and safety. Automatic volume control is another handy feature, reducing the volume when the car slows down, as it no longer has to compete with external road noise.
In-dash screens can also be set up to display vehicle information and navigate through your music, particularly if set up to work with your MP3 player or CD stacker. Many in-dash units play a wide range of formats, including DVD, VCD, SVCD, CD-R/RW, WMA and MP3 discs and can include an AM/FM radio receiver.
On a large vehicle you can also set the unit to display on screen the view from a rear-mounted camera - great for accurate reversing.
With the addition of emerging technologies, possible future uses might also include real-time traffic alerts, Web browsing via satellite Internet access or even satellite TV.
Naturally, you'll have to make sure the in-dash unit you select has the inputs for the options you want to install, such as GPS or backup camera, but most units can take input from a variety of additional devices.
But don't keep all the fun in the front seat. Your in-dash video system may optionally come with dual-zone or multi-zone capability, so when you're on the move it can send a video/audio signal to separate monitors/headphones in the rear of the vehicle so passengers can watch a movie, for instance, while you listen to music over the vehicle's speakers. That is a huge safety bonus, as it cuts down driver distractions dramatically.