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Rear-Seat Entertainment Brings Home Theaters to the Road

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author photo by Autotrader January 2009

Don’t forget to bring the popcorn and video games on your next road trip, because all the amenities of your home theater are coming soon to a car near you. Whether you live to crush your competition in a driving game, or you just want to sit back and relax with the latest chick flick, the car ride just got more entertaining.

Television screens
Experts are keeping a close eye on comfort and safety, while still giving buyers as many options as possible. Depending on which features you select, expect to pay $1,000 or more for a rear-seat entertainment package. Traditionally offered in minivans and SUVs, manufacturers are beginning to install TV screens in trucks and smaller cars.

  • Location
    Most in-car entertainment systems offer a 7”-10” flat-panel LCD screen that is either mounted to the center floor, embedded behind each of the front seats or drops down from the roof. You can also find monitors in sun visors or attached to the rearview mirror, but these are usually dedicated to the car’s backup camera.

    Just be careful about customizing the location of your TV outside of dealer specifications. Many state laws have made it illegal to put TV screens where drivers can see them, and fines can be steep.

  • High-definition
    So you have HDTV in your living room, why not in you car? On smaller TVs, the resolution between high-definition and standard definition isn’t noticeable, so in-car HDTV isn’t necessary for a great picture.

  • Wireless headphones and remote controls
    Most entertainment packages come with wireless headsets so that passengers can watch a movie while the driver listens to music or concentrates on the road. Some systems also come with an illuminated remote control. This can be especially useful for kid-sized passengers when the DVD player is mounted in the front dash or on the ceiling.

What’s on TV?
Now you have more choice when it comes to what you watch and how you watch it.

  • DVD players
    With an in-car DVD player, your passengers will be entertained for miles with movies, TV shows and documentaries. Most DVD players are mounted in the center front dash of the car or integrated into the LCD monitor.

    Even though high definition may not make a difference on your car’s small TV screen, more people are adding Blue-ray and HD-DVDs to their home entertainment. These formats take advantage of the high resolution of HD and plasma televisions, but can’t be played on traditional DVD players. So even though you won’t be able to play them in your car right now, you should have the option soon. Manufacturers are working on the anti-shock technology needed to support these formats in expectation of consumer demand.

  • Satellite TV
    DVDs have long been the only entertainment you could play on your car LCD monitor, but that’s changing. Now satellite TV is available in some cars. The selection may be limited to three kid-friendly channels, but it’s a step in the right direction for travelers who like options. The roof-mounted satellite antennas can be large and bulky, but they’re getting smaller. And you may also have the option of getting satellite-based internet in your car (expect to pay satellite subscription fees).

  • Hard drives
    You may find a 20 GB hard drive in your next car, which is enough memory to store music, photos, DVDs and other electronic files. These in-car computers are more rugged than your home desktop to allow for bumpy roads.

  • Video games
    Let the games begin. For the kid inside each of us, some cars offer up to 25 built-in video games and a game controller in their entertainment packages. If you’d rather plug in your existing video game system, look for an auxiliary input jack. A 115-volt, 100 watt-outlet will also give you enough power to plug in your laptop, digital camera or other small electronic device.

The Future
Look for even more of your current home theater technology in the next generation of automobiles.

  • Wi-Fi
    The car of the future may pull into your driveway and automatically sync with your home computer with a Wi-Fi link. So, you could download TV shows on your computer, wirelessly sync them to your car’s 20 GB hard drive and enjoy them on your next road trip.

  • Satellite
    The European Space Agency and its partners have been working on a car antenna that can get a better lock on satellites while the vehicle’s in motion, yet it's smaller than current models. With this technology, you could record TV shows, movies and music onto your car’s hard drive and then play it back at your convenience, like you would with a digital video recorder.

  • Integration
    Movies and video games aren’t the only things you can watch on your car’s TV screen. The latest trend is integration, which means you may be able to dial your phone, play mp3s, view photos, watch your backup camera image or look at real-time GPS maps, all from the same touchscreen display. Look for more integration in the future.

  • Concept cars
    If you’re a movie buff, how would you like a moonroof that converts into a 60-inch movie screen with a digital projection system? And bucket seats that swivel to give you a better view of the show?

    Video game fans might enjoy a car that uses its steering wheel, gas and brake pedals as game controls. Or a car that projects games on the inside of the front hood.

    These real-life concept cars aren’t available to consumers, but sometimes manufacturers integrate ideas from these special-interest showpieces into commercially available vehicles.

Now that the latest blockbuster is only a road trip away, what are you waiting for? Pile in the car, relax in the backseat and transport yourself to land far, far away.

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Rear-Seat Entertainment Brings Home Theaters to the Road - Autotrader