Whether you are buying a new car or fitting a system in your old car, there are some things you should know and some you should not overlook. From the days of a simple ‘cassette player’, we have come a long way and there are myriad options available that can turn your vehicle into the ultimate entertainment machine on wheels. The good thing, of course, is that there are no dearth of choices and the consumer is king.
Factory–fitted vs new fitting
Most new cars today offer a factory-fitted music system but these may not always be to your liking or the best available. To cut costs, these are sometimes of lower quality and it would be wise if you decided to get your own receiver and player.
Speakers in a car audio system are just as important as the receiver and player, and many people scrimp and scrounge when it comes to this. There are different types of speakers available and depending on how big your budget is and how pure you want the sound quality to be, you can go that extra mile or two and splurge! Factory-fitted speakers are not always the best either and are often the most basic ones as far as specifications go.
Types of speakers
The most common type of speakers available are coaxial which are two or three-way ones built into the same frame. These are the cheapest available and cost approximately Rs2,500 for a set of two. For those who want to save some money but want functionality, these can replace separate tweeters and woofers (not in quality but functionality).
For the audiophile, sound purity is crucial and separate tweeters and woofers are strongly recommended for those who want clarity and can afford it. The installation of these, however, takes more precision, so make sure you get it done professionally. Further refinement of the sound is possible by using horns, which are normally mounted under the dashboard and are beneficial at directing sound.
The audio quality can be further improved by adding midbases and subwoofers. For subwoofers, remember that it is a precision job and it is important to have the right size of boxes as housing and the right amplifier to match.
Choices abound in this day and age and when most major manufacturers’ products are available easily and the temptations are tremendous. Indash CD players, 2-DIN players, DVD players with screens… the choices are never ending. And yes, there is also the good old cassette player!
As with almost all car entertainment accessories, budget is what normally drives the player you buy and an entry–level CD player with FM receiver is available at Rs5,000 onwards from major manufacturers. Pioneer, JVC and Kenwood are the most popular ones in India in this price range while the Blaupunkt and Sony Xplod series costs a little more (Rs7,000 onwards).
One of the more popular players in India is the Pioneer DEH-P2900MP with an in-dash (where the CD is loaded through the dashboard panel) CD player that also plays back MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) files. As with some other players, the P2900 is also ‘iPod ready’ and you need not play back a CD if you have your entire collection on your iPod. Just plug it in and you’re good to go.
The basic set–up would also include two coaxial speakers in the back and two smaller speakers in the front for acceptable sound quality. If you are not an audiophile and are okay with ‘good enough’ sound quality, this is the best buy option and will set you back by about Rs9,000 (including speakers).
More options from Sony Xplod include the CDX-S22S in-dash single CD player that plays back CDs, MP3s, WMA files in addition to Sony’s own ATRAC format. For those who are conscious about sound quality, this system can allow four-channel independent equalizer control to adjust the original frequency response to ideal frequency response of both front and rear speakers.
Some of the higher–end offerings from various manufacturers today also offer memory-card reading capability whereby you can just put in your memory card and play back music as if it were a CD. Bluetooth capability means that you can stream music from a portable player or a device like your phone. JVC’s KD-BT1 is a good option for a receiver with built-in Bluetooth.
If you have deep pockets, a penchant for the good things and love your music, the P7800MP from Pioneer is a must checkout. This full-colour display receiver includes CD/MP3/WMA/WAV/iTunes AAC Receiver and is also Satellite Radio ready. The Satellite Radio part may not be of relevance to Indian buyers, but the all-colour display is a new offering and worth checking out. But the price tag it comes at (approx Rs16,000) may just be the biggest deterrent.
Fitting a DVD player in your car can be a handy diversion when travelling long distances or when travelling with kids. The best way of staving off difficult-to-answer questions such as, “Are we there yet?” is to keep the kids occupied through the drive! The options are aplenty and the costs obviously vary with your choice of equipment.
For smaller cars, the best choice is to go for headrest– mounted display. These are the ones that are fitted into the back of the front seat’s headrest and connected to the player in the dashboard. There are a few sizes available, but the best choice for ease of viewing is a 16cm LCD monitor. Sony’s XVM-B62 retails for approximately Rs10,000 and this does not include the cost of the receiver and speakers.
There is no limit to what you can put into your car. You could also opt for a touchscreen display console that will power your entertainment system, but be warned, that on Indian roads, this can be a major distraction! And, at approximately Rs45,000–50,000 for this device, the need may not justify the expense.
In-car visual entertainment can be a huge distraction for the driver. It’s best to keep the movies out of range of the driver’s vision. So the best option is to have the whole control panel for the system at your fingertips.
Sony offers a fabulous range of overhead swivel monitors and consoles that let you keep all the controls in your hands. With a 17.8cm Overhead TFT Active Matrix Monitor and a 120-degree swivel, the XVM-R70 is the perfect companion for a long drive. And just because it’s fitted in your car doesn’t mean that it should be limited on features. It includes four display modes; full, normal, zoom and wide zoom with a 16:9 aspect ratio. A system like this is best fitted in bigger cars like SUVs since viewing it from too close–up will affect the picture quality. With a price tag of approx Rs33,000, this isn’t exactly everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s an extremely good option.
Setting it up
Fixing an in-car video system is an expert’s job but here are some pointers that will help you in assembling the most appropriate set and ensuring that the job has been done well.
If you are on a tight budget and need this just to keep the kids occupied, go for one of the all-in-one units that cost much less than a fullblown home theatre set-up.
Ensure that your player has a single video source that can run several screens, usually liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). The screens can pop out of the dashboard (avoidable), drop down from the car’s ceiling or mount in headrests. Component systems use your vehicle’s stereo and pipe sound directly to headphones for quiet viewing. Most high-end retailers will stock these units.
Make sure any component system is expandable, so you can add more or different screens and input devices in the future. So if you get a video iPod at a later date, you could just plug it in and forget about carrying DVDs.
Make sure your vehicle’s electrical system can handle the demands of a mobile entertainment system. Don’t put more load on the battery than it is equipped to take. This is best judged by a professional and it would be prudent to follow his advice.
If you have an SUV or a large vehicle, you could put in a back-up camera into the mobile video set-up for easy reversing of the car—just an additional function that the screens allow you to use.
The last word?
There’s no easy answer to that question and it’s something completely dictated by your tastes and budget. As mentioned, manufacturers like Blaupunkt and Sony cost a little more than say Pioneer and JVC. But also be warned that some of the units and accessories you buy may be from the grey market. Find out before you make your purchase because it will affect the aftersales service and support.
As the next generation of players start rolling out, these would include voice commands and a slew of other features. One such initiative has already rolled out, though in the US. Ford Sync, the latest collaboration between the software giant and the auto behemoth uses Microsoft’s Auto software and allows drivers to dial their cellphone and have their text messages read to them through voice commands. Drivers will also be able to use voice commands or steering-wheel buttons to play music stored on a portable device including iPod and Zune as well as other MP3 players and even USB flash drives.
For India, though, this system is still a long way away and even in the US it will launch only later this year.
Finally, we cannot emphasize enough the fact that this is ultimately very budget-oriented and it is impossible in an article of this nature to include all the systems available in the market today. This aims to give you an idea of what’s available and perhaps help you explore the various possibilities of converting your car into an entertainment-ready machine. Just make sure you go home once in a while!
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