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  1. Hardware Review: Portal Media Bluetooth TPMS module

    by , 06-16-2014 at 11:31 AM

    What is it?

    The Portal Media Bluetooth TPMS module lets you monitor tire pressure wirelessly via Bluetooth.

    The Verdict:

    Portal Media's Bluetooth TPMS improves on the last generation of devices by allowing wireless communication via Bluetooth. The module is sleeker and reception appears improved. Once the kinks are worked out of the Android app, the Bluetooth TPMS module will be an awesome addition to any compatible car.


    Quite a few years ago at mp3Car's first national car PC meet, I was lucky enough to win a prize for having as many as 19 USB devices connected to my car PC. The prize received was USB number 20, a car PC connected tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) from Portal Media. Many years and several dead sensor batteries later, the device had served me well, but it was time for an upgrade. Luckily, the guys at Portal Media have been busy at work improving on their existing technology. For years it's seemed that the Bluetooth variant of their TPMS devices was simply an idea in our mp3Car forum, but the time has arrived, and the device really exists. I've been privileged to spend the last few weeks testing this new device out and getting to see if the wireless abilities actually improved the experience.

    Let's get the obvious information out of the way first. The tire sensors required for the Bluetooth TPMS device must be professionally installed, so be sure to account for the cost of installation when considering this purchase. My cost was roughly $30/tire, but yours can vary. Also, as if this review, there is no Apple or Windows application that will work with the Bluetooth TPMS module. It's unknown whether this will be created by Portal Media in the near future, but as the mp3Car community is founded on the idea of tinkering and fitting square pegs in round holes, I'm sure solutions will exist shortly. Once the sensors are installed in the tires, the rest of the process of setting the system up is a breeze. The TPMS module is smaller and sleeker this time around, so it's easy to plug into any available 12v source and slide in a glove box or other compartment. It's recommended to install the device in a centralized location in relation to the tire sensors, but I've had far more success with reception despite installation location in comparison to the USB unit. Once the device is mounted and powered, the Android application will need to be downloaded from the Play Store. Once the app is installed, its time to begin the process of synchronizing the tire sensors to the Bluetooth module. Check out the video below on the steps required here.

    The Android application for the Bluetooth TPMS is very easy to use. The user interface is very simple, and once the sensors are learned, it will quickly and accurately report sensor information. In the app settings, there are a large number of variables which control sensor alert notifications and display preferences. The app is not without faults though. I have the application installed on three of my Android devices; A Samsung tablet with QHD resolution, a Samsung smartphone with HD resolution, and the ODROID X-2 Android low resolution head unit. Each instance gives me a different take on the app. The smartphone displays the perfect scaling of text, buttons, and images. On the tablet, the buttons are very small and often a chore to press, and the vehicle image and text does not scale to make use of the added real estate. The ODROID's low resolution allows for the buttons and images to display correctly, but the text is too large for the bubble window it's presented in. Portal Media has acknowledged some of the drawbacks of the app, and is aggressively working to correct the issues.

    Ultimately, the experience of being free of the installed car PC screen when dealing with my tire pressure is a much needed improvement. Rather than having to run back and forth between tires and the monitor to check pressure levels, I can take my tablet with me to each tire. I'll still receive alert notifications through my Android car PC, but the flexibility to use an additional screen when I choose is awesome.

    The Positive:

    • Module has a sleeker and smaller profile
    • Tire sensor reception seems improved
    • Android ability allows for cross-device usage
    • Easy learning and setup process

    The Negative:

    • No current iPod or Windows support
    • Android app is functional, but will need work

    The Verdict:

    Portal Media's Bluetooth TPMS improves on the last generation of devices by allowing wireless communication via Bluetooth. The module is sleeker and reception appears improved. Once the kinks are worked out of the Android app, the Bluetooth TPMS module will be an awesome addition to any compatible car.

  2. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build Part 1

    by , 06-05-2013 at 02:49 PM

    The Crossroads...

    Somewhere, far too long ago to remember, I realized that a “practical” Windows-based car PC platform with all the bells and whistles may perhaps be an unreasonable goal. Now that my seemingly powerful-enough hardware is becoming more and more unreliable (and outdated), I find myself smack dab in the middle of crossroads pertaining to the future of my automotive infotainment platform. On one hand, I’ve got years and thousands of hours invested into attempting to create the perfect Windows automotive ecosystem. The other hand sees a more efficient platform brewing in Android, with updates and supporters that are seemingly blurring the lines between “on the go” and “in the car” applications.

    Old (Not So?) Faithful

    Perhaps I should have prefaced this blog with the fact that I am not a user of the “common” Windows car PC. My current Zotac/Intel dual-core car PC features include the following capabilities:

    - GPS Hardware with live tracking
    - Tire Pressure Monitoring
    - SpaceNavigator Control
    - Parking Sensor Interface
    - Rear Backup Camera
    - Fusion Brain with a host of various Sensors
    - XM/HD Radio
    - Custom Bluetooth Phone Hardware
    - Bluetooth ODX MX
    - USB Array Microphone for hands-free communications
    - A total of 21 USB devices, spread over 3 self-powered USB hubs

    All this hardware and more is being delicately managed by my choice of front end software. For the most part, the system as a whole works. But there are times where resume for system sleep doesn’t occur so smoothly, HD Radio fails to initialize, or the system draws so much voltage at rest that it completely drains an auxiliary power cell.

    The New Kid On The Block

    Now, based on the details of the Windows system, one might surmise that the run of the mill android tablet install might come short of fulfilling my demands. Raspberry Pi seemed initially intriguing, but falls short on true horsepower. In short, I need an Android board that can haul the load without compromise, all while sipping power. Enter the ODROID-X2, a 1.7ghz quad-core Android development board, complete with 2ghz RAM and a 64GB eMMC module. Essentially, this is the same Exynos4412 chip that powers the international variant of the Samsung Galaxy S3. It’s safe to say this device should meet my demands at a mere 5 volts and be powered by a Mini-Box DC/DC Power Converter.

    So the challenge as I so dramatically impose on myself, is to build a complete and total Android-based car PC platform to replace my current system and all of its capabilities. Join me as I get to know the development board, power up the system for bench testing, attempt the in-vehicle installation, and configure all necessary software along the way. Ultimately, the project may finally solve my longing desire to reliability integrate all of my madness into a modern automobile. Success or failure, every few days comes a new adventure. Check back next time for a new hardware component overview.