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  1. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build - Apps That Rock!

    by , 08-15-2013 at 02:33 PM

    No matter what operating system you choose to control your automotive infotainment, software plays a heavy role in how the driver controls the solution. With Android, most every knows about the popular Google applications like Voice, Maps, and the Music, but someone venturing to install android as the heart of their car computer may not realize the power of the Google Play store in creating a terrific Android-Powered experience. The purpose of this post is to recognize some of the software products that provide functions to an automotive setup. So without further delay...


    Car Home Ultra


    I've mentioned this piece of software in prior posts, but it deserves recognition as a valued car Android software centerpiece. Car Home Ultra is a terrific solution for someone looking to access a host of android applications in a touch-friendly manner. Designed similarly to the Windows-based front ends we've all grown to love, Car Home Ultra may be the current best option to those looking for that experience. The buttons are large and touch friendly, allowing for 5 screens of 3x3 application launch buttons which can be customized to your liking. The colors can all be uniquely altered to match driver preference, and items like Speed, Weather, and Time/Date are all handy. Car Home Ultra can even be set to replace the Home launcher in Android. You can set the software to load on boot and use it exclusively to manage your android functions.

    Tablet Talk


    The would be hands-free solution for the ODROID. Short of creating a hands-free call link, Tablet Talk can do it all. The application must be installed on both your ODROID, and Android smart phone, but once the Bluetooth connection is made your Android car computer can send, receive, and manage your SMS messages. Users can select ringtones, receive text pop-up screens, and reply to texts via on-screen keyboard or voice. Tablet Talk will also ring for incoming calls, display incoming call prompts, and mute audio playback during a call. Keep in mind that with the ODROID, it can not play your caller through the audio system, based on lack of Bluetooth HFP profile support, but the app is still great!

    Tasker


    Anyone who has ever thought about automating an Android has probably heard about Tasker. There are many ways in which Tasker can come in handy when installing an ODROID in the car. While not the most touch-friendly application, Tasker can be used to automate tasks large and small. Want to dim your screen at a certain hour? Tasker can handle it with ease. Tasker can also tackle small tasks with the ODROID, such as reducing power consumption by underclocking the CPU when a Bluetooth phone is not connected. Tasker can lift heavy duty scenarios too with built in scripting support.

    MortPlayer Music


    I used to really love Google Music... until I tried to use it in a car. The interface is beyond chaotic to try to navigate, and if you're looking to play media from local storage like an external USB drive you better have a computer science degree. Enter MortPlayer Music. Built for touch from the ground up, MortPlayer can give you access to all of your music on local media in a clean and easy to use manner. MortPlayer does not rely on a database for music sorting, it relies on the user to have a folder structure in place to make the most out of the music library. MortPlayer has built in support for playlists, ID3, cover art, and more. It can also be heavily customized with themes, movable buttons, and color options.

    Other Android apps that rock include...
    Tunein Radio Worldwide radio stations at your fingertips. Nice touch interface.
    Torque Pro Incredible OBD-II/CAN all in one solution. Heavily customizable and Touch-friendly.
    Waze Crowd Sourcing navigation and live traffic information, Waze can many times serve as a free-replacement to Google Maps
    Beyond Podcast A great podcast downloader and manager allowing for streaming and offline support of your favorite shows
    PL2303GPS MockLocationProvider If you have a Prolific-based GPS device such as the BU-353, you need this app to make the device work with Android!
    Paragon Ntfs Mounter Users playing songs from external based storage will appreciate this app which will auto-mount USB media at boot or when its plugged in.

    Have an Android app you'd like to add, please do!

  2. Hardware Review: Andrea Electronics WNC-1500 Wireless Computer Headset

    by , 03-11-2013 at 10:52 AM

    What is it?

    The Andrea Electronics WNC-1500 is a Wireless Computing Headset featuring digital audio enhancement and noise cancellation.

    The Verdict:

    The WNC-1500 is an excellent option when looking for a wireless communication device for VOIP. Communication was crystal clear in a variety of busy environments. The headset is very comfortable and provides a secure fit allowing for a pleasant listening experience.



    What’s in the box?

    The WNC-1500 Comes with the headset, a 2.4ghz USB adapter, USB charging cable, a convenient carrying case, and an instruction manual. Software is also available for download from AndreaElectronics.com


    Description:

    Andrea Electronics is widely known in this community for the stellar series of Superbeam USB microphones. When installing a automotive PC, the Superbeam was the best available option for hands-free audio communication for a very long time. The quality of the Superbeam bundle has been reassembled into a wireless audio headset named the WNC-1500.


    Each part of the WNC-1500 package has been considered for fit and finish. The headset itself is extremely comfortable, which each part of the headset which touches your ear cushioned more than adequately with genuine leather. The attached microphone with included pop filter rests away from the face but in ideal position for vocal clarity. Microphone placement was considered not only for clarity, but it stays out of the way during video conferencing for the most part. The headband is also cushioned and does an excellent job of securing the headset speakers comfortably. Being wireless, the device is made to be mobile, and consideration was certainly made to keep the headset snug without being painful.


    The WNC-1500 comes with a convenient set of controls on the right earbud. Included buttons are for volume control, music playback next/previous track, power, and configuration. The buttons are raised with a firm press, but unless you use the headset often, you may find using conventional computer controls more friendly. I find myself hunting for the proper control through trial and error too often.


    The most endearing feature of the WNC-1500 set is the audio quality. Its crystal clear that in it's out of the box form, the headset is made for verbal communication. Despite being wireless, I could effectively speak and listen as if using a landline form of communication. There was simply no static or filtering noises with callers, and they never reported issue in response to my end. Andrea calls it "military grade acoustic noise cancelling technology", I'll just say it does the job and then some. The headset does just enough to filter ambient noises locally as to not disturb what your ears are hearing through the 40mm speaker drivers. By default, the headset doesn't thrill in regard to music or gaming enjoyment, but the included software has a 10 band graphic equalizer to aid in this regard. Despite this, I still felt at times that the headset muffled the audio experience while gaming at its most ideal setting. The virtual surround sound feature was lacking.

    The WNC-1500 is powered by a built in lithium-ion battery. Simply plug in the WNC-1500 with the included USB cable and it will charge fully and relatively short time. The LED indicator on the headset will indicate when charging has completed. During testing, I observed battery life in the 5-7 hour range, more than enough for one sitting. The wireless range too was outstanding as audio clarity would hardly be affected until I was some 40 feet from the USB adapter. This far exceeds any bluetooth headset I've used to date.

    The Positive:

    • Terrific audio quality and noise cancellation
    • USB rechargeable
    • Comfortable design and secure
    • Fold away design and included carrying case means the headset will go where you do
    • Excellent battery life and range

    The Negative:

    • Not immersive sound for gamers
    • Must use device manager to enable/disable the USB adapter as your primary sound card


    The Verdict:


    The WNC-1500 is an excellent option when looking for a wireless communication device for VOIP. Communication was crystal clear in a variety of busy environments. The headset is very comfortable and provides a secure fit allowing for a pleasant listening experience.



  3. Hardware Review: Phoenix Audio MT107A Array Microphone Car Kit

    by , 02-03-2012 at 09:14 AM

    What is it?

    The Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A is a USB-powered array microphone kit with echo and noise cancellation technology.

    The Verdict:

    The Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A is the most ideal solution for hands-free operation with a car PC. The technology built into the kit allows for clear communication whether using the device for voice commands or phone calls through compatible Bluetooth phone systems. It's flexibility in installation is a well-considered feature which means the microphone position and accuracy can be optimized regardless of vehicle type.



    What’s in the box?

    The MT107A comes with a stereo microphone, the noise cancellation processor and its stand, a USB cable, and an instruction manual.


    Description:

    Throughout the existence of the in-car entertainment genre, a perfectly working voice recognition solution has been one of the primary systems to attempt to integrate. Unfortunately, OEMs and hobbyists alike have found it is an incredibly difficult task. Road noise, vehicle attenuation, and user individualism each add their own set of issues to tackle when considering the installation of a true hands-free voice solution. The Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A microphone car kit does the best job yet for hobbyists of mitigating these issues and more.

    The immediate question any potential installer will ask about this stereo microphone bundle is "how well does it work?" The answer I'd reply with is "darn well". In fact, I was so enamored with how well my voice replayed back through the windows audio capture utility that I decided to attempt to type these two introductory paragraphs using nothing but the MT107A and the Windows 7 built-in speech recognition program, all while traveling down the loud and crowded streets of the Washington DC metropolitan area.


    Minor grammatical errors aside, the MT107A did the job without any issue. Of course, most car computer users are not going to be using this microphone bundle to type reviews or even respond to an email. The primary use of most in-car microphone setups is clearly the use of voice commands and hands-free phone calls.

    Before proceeding to anymore bragging, I will discuss a bit more of the hardware installation of the MT107A. Most people realize that compared to most devices, installing a microphone is pretty much a breeze in the car, and the MT107A definitely falls in that notion. Simply connect the USB cable to the microphones control box and processing core, then run your stereo microphone to the location of your choice. The primary benefit the MT107A has over competing devices is the fact that the stereo microphone comes with easy to use clips, allowing the microphone to be installed anywhere from the rear-view mirror or the sun shades in any vehicle today. In short, these clips allow you to have the microphones as close to your mouth as possible without interfering with driver view or personal comfort. Even if your microphone installation isn't as ideal, Phoenix Audio has a host of SDK applications on their website that can be used to tune the MT107A to your liking.


    Wires connected and tucked, a small configuration in Windows sound manager gets you off and running with using the MT107A as your primary means of voice control in the car. Once configuration is completed, its up to the user to decide how to utilize the MT107A DSP based sound management systems. In testing, I loaded up the RideRunner front end with the DFXVoice plugin. Having previously having a lot of frustration from this software and my Andrea array microphone, I can say that it now works perfectly with the MT107A. Voice commands spoken at normal volumes get picked up and processed right away.

    The more extensive test of an in-car hands-free solution is its use during a phone call via Bluetooth. In trying a few calls with a few different smartphones I received mixed results. My Motorola Droid Bionic worked rather well. Call participants reported no echoing or artifacts during the call, and the bi-directional communication flowed as well as any speakerphone based call would. My wife's LG smartphone however did have some echoing with the MT107A. Callers reported that they could hear themselves talking prior to hearing my response. These results were duplicated in many different scenarios; in my car parked, in my car while driving, and in my wife's minivan under the same conditions. The discovery in all of this testing was the MT107A can do the job of providing clear and precise voice fidelity... provided your phone manufacturer and bluetooth stack are doing their respective jobs.

    In the end, I don't have a problem replacing the Andrea microphone I have "somewhat" used over the last 3 years with the Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A. The MT107A control box, despite being fairly larger than the Andrea's, does a better job of allowing me to control my experience with my voice in the end.

    The Positive:

    • High fidelity voice capture
    • Flexible installation of microphone
    • SDK available to tune to personal preference
    • Can be used with 2 sets of stereo microphones
    • USB bus powered



    The Negative:

    • Sound processor housing is rather large
    • Microphone wiring could stand to be longer to accommodate more installs without extensions
    • Isn't the all-in-one solution for all Bluetooth phone calls




    The Verdict:

    The Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A is the most ideal solution for hands free operation with a car PC. The technology built into the kit allows for clear communication whether using the device for voice commands or phone calls through compatible Bluetooth phone systems. It's flexibility in installation is a well considered feature which means the microphone position and accuracy can be optimized regardless of vehicle type.

  4. Hardware Review: Series DTA45 Internal Audio Amplifier

    by , 02-28-2011 at 02:27 PM

    What is it?

    The DTA45 is a compact, 2 x 25WRMS car audio amplifier designed to fit a Nano ITX enclosure.

    The Verdict:

    The DTA45 Internal Amplifier is a good solution for installers that are looking for a simple, compact solution to connect a car PC to car speakers. Its charm comes in the ease of installation. While its power won’t rattle any neighborhood windows, the DTA45's sound quality is on par with most quality head units. Whether or not it lives up to its “audiophile quality” moniker will solely depend on the users available software tuning option and overall impression of what “audiophile” means.

    The DTA45 is available at the mp3Car store



    What’s in the box?

    The DTA45 comes neatly boxed with 1 power connector, 1 audio-in connector, 1 motherboard audio connector, instructions, and a set of plastic standoffs.


    Description:

    The car PC hobby has always had a defining line between where the computer ends and the car audio equipment begins. When it comes to getting the PC sound out to the car speakers, there were normally two choices; stick with an audio head unit, or go with a larger and more expensive car audio amplifier. Both of these options come with their obvious drawbacks. A head unit takes up precious dash space, and an amplifier’s expense can sometimes exceed the cost of the PC. The DTA45 attempts to blend a car PC and car audio in a manner which won’t break the budget and won’t require a work around for monitor installation.


    Measuring in at only 105 x 63mm open frame, the DTA45 is smaller than most any head unit or amp you can buy. One of the benefits of the reduced size is mounting locations. The DTA45 can fit in the smallest of car PC cases. In fact, you can even connect the DTA45 board directly to a motherboard with a compatible 10-pin audio connector. Having an amp this small eliminates the need to run long wires to the rear of the car and completely eliminates the need for large, noisy composite connectors. Even without the compatible onboard audio connector, you can connect the DTA45 to the 3.5mm jack on the back of the motherboard with a quick splice of a 3.5mm stereo cable.


    With the size of the unit, you can most certainly expect some omissions when compared to most audio amplifiers. You will not find any crossovers, gain, or any controls at all onboard. This means getting the best sound from the device will in most cases require software-based equalization and crossover settings. That being said, the sound without much adjustment is of high quality. The DTA will provide ample high and mid-range, and even provide a small amount of sub frequencies of it its wee 2x25 watts RMS. Truth is, unless you plan on attempting to wake the neighbors, the DTA45 should be enough for motherboard audio. The rest of its specifications indicate it’s at minimum on par with current OEM head units today.

    Another drawback which may ultimately hinder compact installation is the fact that, like most amplifiers, the DTA45 gets hot. In my testing, there was a time after several hours of use the built-in thermal protection shut down the DTA45. Turning on a case fan solved the issue, so it may not be a good idea to install this device in a fan-less case.

    A benefit to most car PC users is the “soft-on” technology which allows the DTA45 to eliminate the dreaded speaker pop when the amp is powered before the PC. In fact, there were no clicks, pops, or any of the other noises that usually plague car PC audio installations.

    The Good:

      ● Small footprint allows for direct installation to motherboard
    ● Offers quality audio at a fraction of the expense of car amplifiers
    ● Built-in speaker “pop” elimination, voltage and temperature cutoffs
    ● Two-wire power connector eliminates the need for two 12v sources

    The Bad:

    ● No onboard controls for gain, crossover, or high/low pass filter
    ● Less power than aftermarket car PC amplifiers
    ● May require a cooling fan depending on installation preference

    The Verdict:

    The DTA45 Internal Amplifier is a good solution for installers that are looking for a simple, compact solution to connect a car PC to car speakers. Its charm comes in the ease of installation. While its power won’t rattle any neighborhood windows, the DTA45's sound quality is on par with most quality head units. Whether or not it lives up to its “audiophile quality” moniker will solely depend on the users available software tuning option and overall impression of what “audiophile” means.

    The DTA45 is available at the mp3Car store

    *This review was done with the following supporting hardware: Intel DG45FC built-in audio, Infinity Kappa 60.9cs component speaker system.

    Updated 03-01-2011 at 09:04 AM by Jensen2000

    Tags: amplifier, audio, itx, nano Add / Edit Tags
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