Auto Electronics

Portable Entertainment and Information in the Car

In the last 10 years, the consumer electronics industry has revolutionized the way consumers experience and enjoy entertainment in their homes. A similar revolution has taken place in the world of personal portable devices. The quality of the auto entertainment experience has increased dramatically with the adoption of digital signal processing (DSP) audio and radio technology. Eager to enjoy the same experiences wherever they happen to be, consumers are expanding the use of portable devices into vehicles.

The challenge with this growth, however, is to ensure that consumers are able to safely and efficiently use portable entertainment devices in their cars. The basic requirements for this are:

  1. Guaranteeing the safe and secure installation of the portable device in the car.

  2. Giving the ability to use content from the portable device in the car's built-in sound system and video display, providing an enhanced user experience.

  3. Powering or recharging the portable device while mounted in the car.

  4. Enabling device control from the steering column, center console or dashboard.

Portable devices are no longer used just as players; they can store personal data inside. The latest audio jukeboxes, for example, are equipped with hard drives with enough storage capacity to house most people's entire music collections, an array of pictures, and still have room to spare. This is one reason the use of portable devices in the car will become increasingly compelling.

New features to ensure the safe use of devices in the car is another reason for the growth in consumer demand. The control of entertainment and information can be transferred easily from the device's user interface (UI) to the car's UI. Universal plug and play (UPnP) and digital living network alliance (DLNA) formats have made the mappings between device and content more seamless.

Thanks to aftermarket suppliers, drivers and passengers have more devices at their disposal. However, aftermarket equipment often does not meet the rigorous full-range performance, reliability and quality specifications required of OEMs. In addition, aftermarket car equipment makers are not subject to the same safety concerns. If a user chooses to misuse aftermarket equipment while in the car — like watching a DVD while driving — they are personally accountable for their actions. On the other hand, if a vehicle's design allows for the misuse of infotainment devices, then the vehicle manufacturer may be held liable for users' safety.

Car manufacturers are also doing their part in advancing the user experience within the car. Today's cars are rolling off production lines with hard disks installed in them, primarily to provide map storage for built-in navigation systems, as well as to store music files.

In an ideal world, for seamless access to their music or video content, users should have the ability to synchronize their portable device to the car's hard disk drive. Looking ahead, there is the possibility of synchronizing the car's hard disk drive through direct connections to the Internet or indirect connections via a user's in-home digital network.

In the near future, Wi-Fi connections will allow cars to synchronize while they are parked in the owner's driveway or in a public Wi-Fi “hot spot,” enabling the seamless management of digital entertainment. Services such as Mobile Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) promise to provide cars with broadband Internet connections while on the move, further expanding consumers' ability to benefit from portable entertainment and information in the car.


Jack Morgan is a senior director, automotive marketing and sales, for North America, Philips Semiconductors. He brings more than 31 years of experience in the automotive industry to Philips. Morgan graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. He holds two U.S. patents in fuel pump control and power converters, respectively.

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