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Is a Rear Seat Entertainment System Worth the Expense?

If you’re interested in buying a family car, you’re probably considering whether or not to spend a little extra and opt for a rear seat entertainment system. After all, they can keep children entertained on car trips — whether you’re going across town or across the country. But are they worth the expense? We took a closer look at what they cost and whether you should buy one.

Factory or Aftermarket?

If you’re interested in getting a rear seat DVD or Blu-ray player for a new vehicle, you’ll discover that there are usually two options: buying a car equipped with the feature from the factory or buying a car without the feature and getting it installed later, usually from an aftermarket company or a local shop that specializes in automotive entertainment.

Interestingly, these two solutions usually cost about the same. Yes, the factory option tends to be a little more expensive, but it also works seamlessly with the vehicle, is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, and doesn’t require you to be without your car while it’s being installed. Figure somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 extra for a factory unit — depending on the vehicle and the complexity of the system — and just slightly less for an aftermarket solution.

Other Solutions

Before you commit to buying an aftermarket rear seat entertainment system — or adding an optional system to your car — it’s worth considering other options. For instance, several retailers now offer fasteners that can carry an iPad or another tablet on the back of your front seat, providing a screen for rear passengers. Better yet, since the screen isn’t fixed like a rear seat DVD or Blu-ray player, rear passengers can bring this tablet on the go, giving it multiple uses.

Here’s another important item to consider: Many cars now offer on-board Wi-Fi hot spots, which can increase the tablet’s usability. Chrysler’s Uconnect system, for instance, offers on-board Wi-Fi for $34.99 per month or for $9.99 per day if you only want to subscribe for a specific long car trip. With that subscription and a tablet computer, rear seat passengers can download movies and games on the go, keeping them occupied a lot longer than a regular old DVD player probably will.

Worth the Expense?

In our mind — and in this world of tablets and useful apps — a rear seat entertainment system doesn’t have the same value it once did. With tablet or iPad holders positioned on the seatbacks of the front seats, rear passengers can have largely the same experience as they would with an actual DVD player. Sure, the screen may not be as big, but the tablet is portable, which means it can be used for other activities outside the car. Add in Wi-Fi to the mix, and your kids may never fight again — for a fraction of the price of a rear seat DVD or Blu-ray player.

With that said, we could see the argument for a rear seat entertainment system — especially if you’re unwilling to buy a tablet for your child’s use. But we’d only opt for it if pricing is very reasonable, as we suspect that you won’t get any money back for a rear DVD or Blu-ray player when the time comes to sell your car.

Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. I wouldn’t risk with the tablet or any other loose device , even with a phone. my friend went through a surgery when he was stationary and he was hit head on by a work truck and the phone went flying to the rear seat and broke his upper jaw and nose. worth the cost? maybe yes for some with kids and maybe not for some with kids because we hardly get to watch because we drive. Both my vehicles have it just in case we are driving far and we need to calm the kids down with a nice cartoon. other than that no , not really. most of the time they look outside or they just sleep. 

  2. Is there any information on how long they last. I want to buy a vehicle and keep it for around a decade. So what is the longevity of them

  3. Pete is correct with respect to tablet holders.  In addition, do you really want to carry iPads with you everywhere you go and dock and un-dock them?  iPads and other consumer tablets are made with consumer grade components.  Leave your iPad in the car for 10 minutes on a sunny day and you will see what I mean.  It will over heat and have to cool down before you can use it again if you haven’t done any permanent damage.  Id also like to point out that aftermarket systems tend to be 30-40% less expensive than a factory installed system.  I prefer those that are out of the headrests because typically they can offer a bigger screen and wont interfere with your car’s headrest safety features.  I think this is a trend we will see moving forward.  Id also like to point out that any reputable after-market company matches the factory warranty when a qualified installer installs the product.  The best system on the market in my opinion is the NV-2010 from Atom Enterprises. 

  4. What about the fact that a tablet could become a projectile in the event of an accident?  I’d opt for either the factory-installed, or professionally-installed headrest systems.  Make sure you are using a product that is crash tested to meet federal motor vehicle safety standards because in the event of a collision, your kids can get very badly injured with a cheap tablet holder.

    • Luckily I rarely back up at 50mph. Maybe you do?

      When I come to a crashing halt…things in the car go flying forward.
      Maybe ‘I’ could get badly injured by that tablet and that’s IF it slides up and over the seat, then rebounds down off the ceiling and hits my noggin. Physics would seem to dictate that my kids are OK. Unless that tablet happens to surf the wave of an expanding air bag and can aim itself right at my kids head. Cool stuff. I’ll stay tuned for the news stories. Oh, and didn’t we hear one time about a dude getting decapitated by a kleenix box that had been resting on the rear window ledge above the back seats in his sedan?? The world is sure a dangerous place!

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