RaySat, a global developer and manufacturer of satellite communication systems, officially launched its antenna for consumer digital television at SEMA 2008. The CruiseCast system uses new satellite TV technology along with a content package provided by AT&T. Al & Ed's has had a test mule for over a year now, but we recently installed the final version.
Most mobile electronics aficionados are familiar with another satellite TV system from KVH, called TracVision. Tracvision brings a DirecTV Mobile package to road-going TV watchers, but the system antenna is very large and retails for about $3,000. Thus, it was limited to SUV installations for the most part, and definitely only for those with gobs of disposable income.
The new CruiseCast is about the size of a bicycle helmet, can be carried in one hand, and retails for $1,299. This makes the unit much more installable as well as affordable, so it will no doubt give the KVH Tracvision a run for its money. The AT&T content is being finalized at the time of this writing, but it is almost locked down. It can best be described as a "Cable TV-type" channel selection.
While it has the staples like Discovery, TLC, CNN, Adult Swim, and more, it does not have local programming or movie channels such as HBO or Cinemax available. The 22 stations should satisfy most viewers, though, and they also have 20 music channels.
All of this content is digitally broadcast from a single geosynchronous satellite. One of the CruiseCast special features is a unique buffering system that stores up to three minutes of broadcast in memory. That means that if the user drives through a tunnel or behind tall buildings that block the satellite feed, they have up to three minutes of nonstop, protected programming. Once the antenna "sees" the satellite again, it begins to rebuild the buffer. Pretty cool stuff, especially since satellite interruptions always seem to happen at the worst possible time.
We installed a CruiseCast in a 2009 Toyota Sequoia with an existing Vizualogic headrest system. The install begins with the antenna, and it proves very easy to install. The system is packaged with a bracket system that attaches to the crossbar of the vehicle's roof rack. Security-type fasteners make it difficult to "uninstall." Two brackets attach the front of the antenna to the rack. The rear of the antenna is held down by a magnetic foot that seems weird at first, but actually securely holds the antenna down.
The cable that runs from the antenna to the receiver (mounted inside the vehicle) is very thin and flexible. It carries both signal and power, but is so thin it can easily be fed under rear hatch insulation and is easily tucked behind body panels. The receiver box is plugged into the antenna and then wired for the customary power, ground, and ignition. From that point, it's an audio/video output using standard RCA type connectors to the existing vehicle's video system inputs. The remote control for the system is RF, not infrared, so the receiver can be buried anywhere in the vehicle. Everything is pretty straightforward, and an installation tech with average experience should easily be able to knock off the CruiseCast install in well under 2 hours in most vehicles.
The system works well overall, but it is limited to 15-inch monitors for best resolution, and I wouldn't suggest anything bigger than an 11-inch wide-screen monitor. There is too much pixelation to go bigger, but if you keep the screen size reasonable, it looks fine. The buffering system is a great idea, but it slows down boot-up and channel changes while the buffer begins. It's nothing too objectionable, but it's a little annoying if you want to get down to business quickly.
The CruiseCast by RaySat Corp. retails for $1299.99 and must be installed by a certified installer. It's not that the install is too difficult for the qualified do-it-yourselfer, but you must be authorized with RaySat to actually activate the antenna. Service is $28 per month for 22 channels of television and 20 digital music channels.
John Haynes, aka Mr. Mobile of Al & Ed's Autosound, contributes articles from the shop floor about car stereo and electronics to CNET. Al & Ed's Autosound is a multistore professional installer of car audio systems and electronics.