Cable in Your Car
New technology promises to turn your SUV or minivan into a second family room.
It was bound to happen. You�re already keeping the kiddies quietly occupied watching DVD video while you travel. But if they ever do actually get bored watching Finding Nemo over and over, help is on the way courtesy of new technology and systems that will bring live video feeds to your incar video screens.
|The country that can�t go anywhere without a cell phone can now take their TVs with them. too.
For the MTV/satellite radio set who aren�t happy listening to music without the video, Delphi (the folks who build satellite radio receivers) and Sirius (the folks who bring the satellite radio signal) have teamed up to develop a system that would bring streaming video into the car.
Bringing streaming video into the vehicle is as simple as adding a video decoder to the existing Delphi satellite radio receiver. William E. Dyson, Delphi product line architect IBS/Audio, says that the extra board doesn�t add to the size of the existing unit and doesn�t add much cost.
A stand-alone box can also be added to vehicles with plug-and-play options. Both partners say that the system will be ready to go the second half of �05 with three to four channels at launch. Sirius spokesperson, Alan Chereson says that two or three partners on the aftermarket side are interested in the system but Sirius wants OEM involvement to drive it.
�We really need some OEM commitment to get it into market,� Chereson says. Both Sirius and Delphi did a number of demos for OEM and network executives at The 2003 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). �I had it in my rental car,� says Chereson, �and it performed all over that city.� Delphi has already proven that there is a market for pay entertainment in cars having already sold over 1.8 million satellite radio units. Sirius is currently polling existing satellite radio customers to determine what content would sell well in vehicles. While a good portion of the initial programming will be aimed at kids (obviously), Sirius is interested in beaming in such things as The Cartoon Network, CNN and sports channels and is currently working on relationships with Disney/ESPN/and Turner Broadcasting. Sirius isn�t promising full-on cable TV in the back seat with its system. The content would be specifically programmed just like satellite radio, though the actual packages haven�t been worked out yet. �A lot of it comes down to FCC regulations,� says Chereson, �and how much band width we�ll get.�
XM also demonstrated a satellite video system at CES. A direct-from-satellite video feed played music videos and cartoons. The system also had built-in memory allowing the user to store some of the programming in a hard drive within the system, like a Windows media player on a computer.
| The downside to in-car satellite TV is the size of today�s antennas. The KVH antenna weighs 45 pounds and takes up a good portion of the roof.
�From a capability perspective we can do it,� says XM�s David Butler. �We demonstrated it could be a viable consumer product one day, but it is not something in the near future.�
Butler says the primary purpose of the demonstration was to get OEMs excited about the technology and to demonstrate it for software and data companies that wanted to understand what kind of software was needed to make the system work.
Butler says that XM is focused on building a pioneering and leading radio service.
�When it makes sense to really dedicate the resources, engineering and marketing to add the video capability, we will look very hard at it.�
Bandwidth seems to be a concern for rival XM radio as well. Boeing�s satellite division has told AI that it�s working with XM on a technology that would compress the satellite radio channels, freeing up bandwidth for streaming video.
If you�re one of those who can�t wait for three or four channels of streaming video, or that just isn�t enough for you, then hold on to your seatbelts. KVH industries offers TracVision A5, an aftermarket antennae and receiver that will allow you to have satellite TV beamed directly into your van or SUV. For a suggested retail price of $3,495, you get a roof rack-mounted antenna with all the wiring and mounting hardware and a 12-volt receiver that mounts inside the vehicle, usually on the floor under the passenger seat. A single cable runs from the antenna usually sharing a hole with the roof rack and running behind the headliner to the receiver which is wired into the vehicle�s 12-volt power supply. The receiver plugs directly into the vehicle�s existing entertainment system using RCA jacks. The system is comparable to a home satellite TV system and pulls in the same signal.
�Video in cars is definitely taking off,� says Chris Watson, spokesperson for KVH. �People want content that goes beyond the content at home, that�s what we�ve seen in the marine market and in the RV market.�
KVH promotes itself as the number one supplier of satellite TV for the Marine and RV markets, supplying boaters since 1990 and has built up a strong relationship with DIRECTV. Watson says that a lot of boat and RV owners who already subscribe to DIRECTV have added the extra receiver to their account, paying less than $5 a month. He sees this as a possibility for minivan and SUV owners as well. If the $3,495 price tag isn�t enough to scare you away, the size of the antenna might. At 32.3 in. long by 31 in. wide by 5.3 in. high it takes up most of the vehicles roof and weighs a hefty 45 pounds.
Watson says that KVH is currently working on a demonstration vehicle with an antenna designed to mount between the roof and the headliner. They hope to attract some interest from OEMs.
|Motia and Delphi are using semiconductor technology to make an antenna that not only weighs half as much but fits flush with the roof.
�We are most definitely looking at options for factory installations,� says Watson. Motia, a manufacturer of semiconductors for smart antennas has teamed up with Delphi in the development of a satellite TV system. Motia spokesperson Robert Warner says that an aftermarket version, marketed under the name Cross Country, could be offered as early as the end of this year at an estimated cost in the mid-$2,000 range. The Cross Country production prototype uses the third generation of Motia�s smart antenna.
�The first version of our technology was the two-dimensional mechanical system, much like KVH has today,� Warner says, �where you track the satellite mechanically both in elevation and azimuth.�
Cross Country uses a small side-mounted pancake motor to rotate the disc while tracking the satellite on flat surfaces. �We actually use the signal power coming from the satellite to judge where our antenna should be focused,� Warner says.
During elevation changes, the antenna forms an electronic beam that keeps the antenna locked on the satellite. Electronics eliminate the need for extra electric motors and mechanical systems which add cost and weight. Warner says that both Delphi and Motia realized that if they were going to make a product that OEMs would embrace, it would have to be flat and lighter weight.
Cross Country is only about an inch and three-quarters thick (add an inch for the protective plastic cover) and Warner says that the target weight for the final product will be less than 20 pounds.
While the aftermarket version mounts to the roof of the vehicle, Delphi is working on a factory-installed version that can be installed between the roof and the headliner. �Some companies that we�ve talked to,� Warner says, �have discussed actually putting it in as part of the headliner.� Warner says that Delphi will manufacture this system using Motia components. �They actually use their own tracking system and their own mechanical platform,� Warner says. �We make one too, but they chose to use their own.�
The target cost for the factory-installed version would be under $1,000.
�The beauty of our technology is that it�s all electronic,� Warner says. �Just like DVD and VCR they�re all driven by chips and as those chips have become less expensive, so have the players.� Warner admits that Motia has had serious discussions with other suppliers and OEMs interested in the technology.
�The aftermarket OEM entertainment systems are really taking off,� Warner says, �especially in minivans and SUVs. It adds a whole new dimension.�
Warner says that the in-car video market will see a surge on growth with the widespread availability of Ka-band satellites in the next few years.
Ka-band uses multiple spot-beams along with a much higher frequency to enable twoway transmission and allow companies like Motia to develop smaller antennas.
�We see the (currently used) Ku-band and the entertainment services available today as sort of whetting the appetite of the consumer to get more and more interested in in-vehicle services,� Warner says.
After the magazine went to press, KVH Industries announced that they had reduced the price of the TracVision A5 to $2,295. "The new, lower price of the TracVision A5 reflects our extremely successful efforts over the last six months to reduce the manufacturing costs of the TracVision A5 as well as implement a number of enhancements to the product that increase both its performance and overall quality," says Martin Kits van Heyningen, KVH's president and CEO.