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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 March, 2004, 08:39 GMT
Cars enjoy hi-tech entertainment
In-car entertainment is starting to rival what the best airlines can offer, reports BBC ClickOnline's North America Correspondent, Ian Hardy.

Audiovox DVD headrest
The hi-tech way to enjoy back seat entertainment
Long gone are the days when puzzle books and coloured pens would keep a child happy in the back seat. Even a car radio causes conflict between young and old.

It is not surprising that 30% of all high-end passenger vehicles now come with a video screen option. Sometimes they are attached to multiple DVD changers, so that passengers can watch their own individual movie.

Satellite TV has also grown beyond the living room, thanks to advances in receiver technology.

"The way it works is, it's a phased array antenna," said Martin Kits van Heyningen of KVH Industries. "What that means is that there are hundreds of tiny little antenna elements that are all connected together in phase, and they track the satellite.

"We actually have a gyroscope in the product, which detects the motion of the vehicle and compensates for it. If you're driving down the highway, going up and down hills, making sharp corners, our antenna actually tracks the satellite and stays locked on."

One drawback of the system is that it does not work well in tunnels and skyscraper-saturated cities.

But when the video system is down, you can always listen to tunes from a central MP3 hard drive, which can occasionally be synched with the family PC.

Video debate

Following an overall trend in auto technology, many headphones are wireless. Visible cables in a car are dangerous and unsightly. And saving space in vehicles is also a priority.

The Accura has a voice-controlled navigation system
We work very hard with individual states in the US to make sure that none of the laws exclude driving aid screens
Matt Swanston, Consumer Electronics Association.
"We're employing overhead units, headrest units, with slots for all the different memory stick devices or the visual medium," said David Shalam of Audiovox Electronics.

"We're also building in 20GB hard drives Now you can take your home movies, and potentially other DVDS, record them onto a disc, record them onto a unit and keep them in the car. Now you don't actually have to bring in the DVD or the discs."

Dazzling, intriguing, creative are just some of the words that could be used to describe the technology you can find in show cars at exhibitions.

But ultimately it may not be the automotive, or for that matter the consumer electronics industry, that decide just how far all this goes.

It may come down to lawmakers. There is an ongoing debate about video screens in the front of the car.

Voice options

Many states ban them for entertainment purposes, but allow navigation aids, despite accusations that anything that visually distracts a driver is potentially life-threatening.

Traffic queues
Boring car journeys could be a thing of the past
"We work very hard with individual states in the US to make sure that none of the laws exclude driving aid screens," said Matt Swanston of the Consumer Electronics Association.

"A lot of it is voice-controlled and voice-interactive as well, the navigation systems, for example."

But voice technology is far from perfect, and a screen can also be a life-saver. A rear view mirror can be connected to a video camera on the back bumper, or simply show an image of the backseat, obviously of potential use for baby monitoring.

The electronics industry is seeing increased demand for in-car technology.

But with the likes of the California Highway Patrol already keeping track of accidents due to screen distraction, it may be just a matter of time before new laws confine many of the advances to the back seat.

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