Gizmos & Gadgets: The Evolution of In-Car Entertainment – Part III

The end of the 1990’s had two competing but very popular storage mediums available in motor vehicles for playing recorded music – the cassette and the CD.  The Luxury models often afforded consumers the most choice – offering combo players that had the ability to play CDs (often via a multi-CD changer) and cassettes as well as a sophisticated AM/FM four plus speaker radio.  Mid-range models were often equipped with either a single disc CD player or cassette deck.  As a result, consumers could play their music while underway without the need to choose one technology over another.  That is, until the rise of the iPod.

The 2001 launch of Apple’s iTunes and the iPod player didn’t immediately impact the world of in-car entertainment.  Meanwhile, the 2002 launch of both XM and Sirius satellite radio companies (now merged as Sirius XM Radio) also had a slow start.  Satellite radio got a big push by General Motors when the automaker made satellite radio equipment standard across most of their product line starting with a number of  2008 models.  With the debut of the iPhone in 2007, the integration of smartphone and car audio system started moving at warp speed.  For some, thousands of songs on their iPod just aren’t enough.

The latest car entertainment trend allows drivers to stream music from the cloud via their smartphone and into a car’s stereo. Ford was the first to offer Pandora, which has since spread to many other automakers. BMW and Mini also offer MOG for streaming music, and others have hooked up with Stitcher and Aha to provide even more content.

But you don’t need an automaker’s optional (and sometimes extra-cost) smartphone integration. Bluetooth has become the standard for hands-free phones in the car, and recently the wireless technology crept in as a way to stream music from a smartphone to a car stereo as more automakers added Bluetooth audio. It has allowed drivers to cut the cord between their stereo and music-saturated smartphone, although power drain continues to be an issue. Automakers are now starting to add more controls and features for Bluetooth audio, such as album art and track control on a car’s head unit, instead of just play/pause. And the technology is becoming a staple of smartphone integration.

The cloud might be the latest in-car entertainment technology, but there’s still plenty of room to grow. High-quality music files, WiFi streaming, intelligent mixing and other technologies are on the horizon.

For those who want to watch movies or their favorite television programs, there is also the rise of the in-car DVD player.  Typically installed at the factory as a roof mounted unit (usually in minivans and SUVs), the factory-installed DVD player first appeared in the 2002 Honda Odyssey.  Factory-installed DVD systems continued to first gain a foothold in the minivan segment — a natural connection, since they often carry the most kids. Since then, DVD options have expanded to both the front and rear of sedans, wagons and SUVs.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

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