If you're a car nut, roaming the aisles of the annual SEMA show at the Las Vegas Convention Center is like being a kid in a candy store. Everywhere you look are vehicles for every taste and temperament, from tweaked-out tuners to immaculate muscle cars, from jacked-up 4x4s to sleek low-riders, from exotic supercars to backyard rat rods.
While the SEMA show is largely about parts, performance and hundreds of preening showcars, the mobile electronics portion has become more prominent in the last few years. And with automakers paying more attention to in-car electronics, this annual gathering now appeals as much to tech geeks as car freaks.
If you're also a mobile electronics enthusiast or just want to check out the latest in-car tech, the North Hall at the SEMA show is the place to be. While the same venue hosts the much larger Consumer Electronics Show (CES) each January, some mobile electronics suppliers get a jump on the flood of products released at CES by unveiling their greatest new gadgets at the SEMA event two months earlier.
Since the SEMA show isn't open to the public (it's technically a trade show for vendors and media outlets only), we're bringing you the most innovative mobile electronics products of the 2008 SEMA Show direct from the floor of the North Hall.
Satellite Download Downsized
Satellite television for cars has been available for several years, but it required a vehicle at least the size of an SUV for the large antenna setup to fit on the roof. But AT&T's new CruiseCast system uses an antenna about the size of a football to deliver 22 channels of satellite TV and 20 channels of satellite radio while on the road. The CruiseCast receiver can connect to any rear-seat entertainment system or portable DVD player with auxiliary inputs, and comes with its own remote control. At $1,300 for the receiver and antenna, the hardware for CruiseCast is less expensive than previous systems, but the satellite service is $28 a month, which is a bit steep for keeping the kids quiet in the backseat.
Independent Film Series
Many families who would love to add a video system to a vehicle don't want to pay a monthly subscription for satellite TV. Or they find that stock and aftermarket rear-seat entertainment systems are either too expensive or not available for their particular car. The NextBase SDV685AC system can be added to any vehicle, moved from car to car, and at $450 for two 8.5-inch screens — each with a built-in DVD player and wired headphones — it's very affordable compared to similar OEM and aftermarket systems. Plus, each screen can be detached from its headrest mount to turn it into a portable video player that can be carried on a plane, for example. For portable use, the system provides internal Ni-Cad batteries which can charge in or out of the car thanks to supplied cigarette lighter and AC adapters.
Bonus Double Feature
VizuaLogic's Road Trip is another rear-seat entertainment system that can easily be added to any vehicle. Designed to replace your car's front-seat headrests, the Road Trip includes two headrests with built-in 7-inch LCD touchscreens, and three different cosmetic covers to match a vehicle's interior. One of the built-in screens features a DVD player that shares its video signal with the other display screen. Though supplied with an infrared remote control, the Road Trip's killer app is the touchscreen interface that allows backseat occupants to easily control the system. Wireless headphones are included, and a built-in FM modulator wirelessly sends audio to a vehicle's stock stereo system so it can be played over the speakers. The Road Trip kit retails for $799.
One trend we noticed at SEMA was products that can handle multiple duties and devices. The Funkwerks EGO Look is a Bluetooth hands-free kit that will download your cell phone's address book, and uses voice recognition to allow you to make a call by either saying a number or the name of a contact. The Look will also display and read text messages out loud. With the addition of an optional cable, you can hook up an iPod and control it from the Look's 2.2-inch color display, while audio is piped through the radio's aux-in jack. So instead of buying a separate Bluetooth kit and an iPod adapter for your car, you can get both in the EGO Look for $350.
Wired for Sound
Like the EGO Look, Parrot's $300 MKi9200 is another hard-wired Bluetooth kit that can control and charge an iPod or iPhone. It also provides an aux-in jack for other MP3 players, a USB port for plugging in a USB drive loaded with music and an SD card slot for the same purpose. Like the EGO Look, the MKi9200 provides A2DP wireless music streaming with compatible devices, can download a phone's address book and features voice-activated dialing, text-to-speech phonebook search and audible and photo caller ID via its 2.4-inch color screen. To help corral all these features, the EGO Look comes with a wireless remote control.
Dual's XHD7714 is yet another example of the convergence trend in mobile electronics. It's a single-DIN in-dash CD radio with built-in Bluetooth hands-free capability and an integrated HD Radio tuner. It also comes with a cable for plugging an iPod into the front-panel USB port and controlling it using the radio's buttons. A slick feature called iTunes Tagging allows you to save the title and artist information for a song you've heard on HD Radio, so the next time you sync your iPod with iTunes, you have the option to purchase it. All this for $199.
The Azentek SmartMirror not only enables a driver to see what's behind, but also what's ahead. The replacement rearview mirror has a built-in GPS navigation system that provides voice-prompted turn-by-turn directions, displays 2D and 3D maps, and offers millions of points of interest. The 4-inch touchscreen monitor incorporated into the mirror displays maps, directions and other navigation info, and it can also be connected to an optional back-up camera. Plus, the $799 SmartMirror has built-in Bluetooth hands-free capability and will display caller ID on the screen.
Anyone who's bought an iPhone 3G or one of the latest-generation iPods and has tried to connect one to any existing OEM or aftermarket car accessory knows that often the device's batteries won't charge. To solve the problem, Scosche has developed the $30 passPORT adapter. It fits between the device and the 30-pin plug in a car with iPod compatibility or on an aftermarket accessory, and allows passing juice to the battery of an iPhone or iPod.
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