Car technology preview
The car stereo gives way to infotainment
By Wayne Cunningham
December 16, 2005
The automotive aftermarket, previously relegated to replacing cheap factory-installed stereos with really loud systems, comes into its own at CES in 2006. In recognition, CES is opening up the Automotive Aftermarket Showcase just for these manufacturers. Car stereos
Instead of pumping out the bass in a teenager's hot rod, stereo head units on display at CES will offer much more than is available as a factory option in even luxury cars. In fact, calling them car stereos doesn't tell the whole story. High-end units handle all sorts of infotainment functions, such as music, video, and navigation.
One unit we are particularly looking forward to seeing is Kenwood's new DPX701 head unit. This one has a USB port, an innovation we've been looking for in a car stereo. With this system, we expect to be able to plug in a USB key full of music and play it over the stereo. The DPX701 is also double-DIN-size, and Kenwood uses the extra space for larger controls, making the unit safer to operate while driving.
Jensen will also have some interesting head units on display. The MP8610BT does all the usual--AM, FM, and MP3 and WMA CDs--but also has built-in Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration. Calls come through the car's audio system and use the head unit's LCD to display caller ID and address book information. Along with the Bluetooth unit, Jensen promises a single-DIN in-dash car computer with a 40GB hard drive and DVD.
Not to be outdone in the Bluetooth department, Kenwood announced it would show off its KCA-BT100 Bluetooth Hands Free Kit. This kit adds Bluetooth cell phone integration to any 2006 Kenwood CD or video head unit.
Alpine offered no details but will show off a whole new line of automotive products for 2006. Panasonic, Eclipse, Clarion, and Sony will also feature car entertainment systems at CES. Navigation
Portable in-car GPS navigation units make up another segment where we're seeing rapid development. Manufacturers are expanding their capabilities to make them useful beyond simply finding new routes to unfamiliar locations.
Garmin leads the charge by showing off two new products in its StreetPilot series at CES. The StreetPilot 2730 adds XM traffic information to mapping capabilities, warning drivers of upcoming traffic congestion and routing around it. It also receives weather information via XM, and all the XM satellite radio channels. In addition, the unit can play MP3 files loaded onto its hard drive. The StreetPilot 2730 has an FM transmitter and a line-out jack to play music over a car stereo.
The StreetPilot 7200 is Garmin's other new offering. It includes the features in the 2730, but adds ClearChannel traffic information, an FM broadcast alternative to XM available in some cities. The unit features a larger, 7-inch screen, making it easier to navigate through its touch-screen controls.
We'll be on the lookout for other navigation systems that incorporate traffic reporting or other innovative features among the slew of new products at CES.