1. Technology
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Overview of Car Entertainment Systems

This is Not Your Father's Car Stereo


Today’s mobile audio components resemble sophisticated home audio components and are nothing like the under dash 8-track or cassette players many of us remember. Far from simple tape players with a radio, they are full-blown entertainment-convenience/safety-navigation centers with more ins and outs than a telephone switchboard and some are even upgradeable to add more stuff. Even factory-installed systems, which compete with after market systems, are more complex and loaded with features than a few short years ago.

Entertainment Features

Mobile Movie Theater

Why wait to get home and watch your favorite movie or concert on DVD when you can do it while stuck in traffic? It's also a great way to keep kids occupied on long trips with movies and video games. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the dashboard, but with the push of a button the color screen pops-up and you have a movie theater in your car complete with surround sound. The new Kenwood DNX-8120 Multimedia DVD Receiver is an example of a higher-end mobile theater system. Pass the popcorn!

Dual-Zone Audio/Video Operation

Many systems offer Dual-Zone operation so the passengers in the front can enjoy one source and those in the rear seats can enjoy another. Many also feature headphone jacks in the rear to prevent interference between programs.

Multi-Disc Changers

Don’t bother storing your CD’s or DVDs. Load them into your car’s multi-disc changer and keep an entire library of discs ready to enjoy in your car. Here are a few examples of multi-disc changers from Pioneer (Compare Prices), Kenwood (Compare Prices) and Alpine (Compare Prices).

Best Buy and Circuit City also have a good selection of disc changers.

HD Radio and Satellite Radio Tuners

In addition to AM and FM, you can enjoy HD Radio and/or Satellite Radio, either built-in or by adding a tuner to the system. HD Radio (Compare Prices) and XM (Compare Prices) or Sirius (Compare Prices). Satellite Radio offer better audio performance and clearer reception than AM or FM, in addition to more programming choices.

Convenience/Safety Features

USB Ports

It was just a few years ago that USB ports became standard fare on PCs and laptops, now the front panel of many car entertainment systems have a USB connection. With the USB port you can play your music collection stored on a USB flash drive, or connect an iPod, view its contents on the front panel screen and control it from the front panel of an in-dash receiver.

Rear View Safety Cameras

Typically used in recreational vehicles, many automobiles have rear view safety cameras that give the driver a clear view behind the car while backing up. The lives of many children have been saved because of rear-view safety cameras and countless bicycles and skateboards have been spared from being run over.

Bluetooth Hands-Free Cellphone Adaptors

This feature is just in time for the new laws in many states that restrict or forbid hand-held cell phone use while driving. The phone connects to the system via the USB port and the phone can be controlled on the in-dash receiver’s front panel. The phone can be answered by touching a button on the front panel and the phone’s contact list can be viewed on the display. When the phone rings, the audio system automatically goes into Mute mode. Even the phone’s signal and battery level appear on the receiver’s front panel display.

Remote Control

If you thought the coffee table in your living room was cluttered with remote controls, check out your front seat. Today’s mobile entertainment centers come with full-featured remote controls to make system operation easier– Just what we need, something else to distract drivers.

Garage Door and Security Gate Controls

Some vehicle entertainment systems have optional switches to permit control of garage door openers, security gates, or home lighting systems. When you pull in the driveway you can turn on selected lights in your home.

Navigation System Features

SD Cards

Navigation systems are nothing new, but some of the features are. Some navigation systems have SD Card inputs to upgrade old maps with newer versions. One of the newest navigation systems is the Haas GPS Tracker, a sophisitcated yet affordable system that provides vehicle owner's peace of mind. In addition standard GPS features, the GPS Tracker sends email or text message alerts to a vehicle's owner if any preset driving restrictions have been violated, such as maximum speed, geographic location, etc. This is a very useful feature for parents of new teen drivers.

Real Time Traffic Information

Some navigation systems can subscribe to Traffic TMC or XM Radio Nav Traffic services to provide real-time traffic and weather information to drivers. The system overlays real-time data over the map to provide current traffic data so drivers can navigate around traffic jams.

Upgradeable Features

What if you find a feature or upgrade that your vehicle’s system doesn’t have, but you want? Not to worry. Kenwood (Compare Prices) and Alpine(Compare Prices), for example, have introduced system expansion products that permit adding features to the in-dash receiver without replacing the factory system or the in-dash receiver. Known as external media controllers, these components are installed under the dashboard or seat and feature multiple connectivity options to add audio, video, navigation and almost any other accessories to the vehicle, without replacing or modifying the factory installed system. It's a great solution for owners of leased vehicles or those concerned about invalidating the vehicle warranty if the factory system is modified.

Good Driving!

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.