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Hardware Review: mp3Car's New HD Radio - BoomzBoxHD

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by , 12-02-2009 at 10:57 AM (4242 Views)
Tom Berry (aka Bugbyte) takes a look at the new BoomzBoxHD, a device used to add HD radio to a mobile PC. This ingenious device will be available on the mp3Car store in the upcoming weeks and proves to be a quick and painless installation. Software for the interface is included. Read the complete review below.

What is it?

The BoomzBox HD radio is an HD radio that is controlled and played back through your PC.

What’s in the box?

- Boomzbox HD radio
- USB interface from MJS Gadgets
- 8 pin mini DIN cable
- Mini USB cable
- 12 volt AC to DC power supply
- Mini CD with drivers and BoomzBox player app


The BoomzBox HD radio is an easy way to add HD radio to your car PC setup. Out of the box, there are two main components, the BoomzBox HD radio itself and a USB interface box. The interface box connects via USB cable to the PC and also via an 8 pin mini DIN cable to the BoomzBox. In addition, the 12 volt power supply connects to the interface box. The setup is very similar to using the mp3Car XM radio adaptor and XM Direct radio except that the BoomzBox's audio is routed via USB into the PC -a very nice touch that makes it simple to manage with front end programs.

The last connection is the car antenna on the BoomzBox itself. The Boomzbox includes a standard Motorola antenna socket that allows you to plug a standard U.S. car antenna cable into it with no modification (some cars, like my VW Beetle require an adaptor to the Motorola socket). In addition, the BoomzBox includes antenna in and out to allow the user to keep a head unit on the car's antenna as well as the BoomzBox (you'll have to purchase the Motorola cable to do this separately). A very thoughtful addition that many folks will find handy.

Once connected, installation is a snap. The included mini-CD has the required drivers on it. Just plug the interface box into the PC, load the drivers and check the device manager to ensure that the interface box shows up under the USB devices and also under the COM devices with a port number assigned to it. (If you don't have a CD/DVD drive with a caddy on it, you'll have to download the drivers and software to a USB stick like I did. It would be nice if they came on a full sized CD as many car PC's have slot load drives that can't handle a mini-CD.)

The BoomzBox HD comes with a software app that mimics a car head unit to control the radio. It includes seek, direct tune, three banks of presets and several different skins to change the look of the app. On initial startup the app scans for the radio. If all is well, it will automatically find it and turn it on the BoomzBoxHD. Specs for the radio were not included with my test unit but to my ears the quality of the sound was very good, although I have to say that I'm no audiophile. It certainly sounds much better than analog FM radio!

One important feature of the BoomzBox is the USB audio feature. This reduces the number of cables from the box as well as solving the problem of getting the sound into your PC. In addition, I found that when using the RideRunner car front end that the program would seamlessly switch between the radio and mp3 files without requiring any input from the user. Nice!

I tested the BoomzBox HD with the RideRunner car PC front end program. RideRunner is arguably the most popular car front end and I'm happy to report that it worked perfectly with this program. A simple change to RideRunner's rr.ini file to specify "HDRADIO" was all it took for the program to recognize the BoomzBox. Using the Carwings skin I was able to play and tune the radio with no difficulty.

What could be improved about this product? There's little to dislike about the BoomzBox HD but I found a couple of things that would be nice to improve. The separation of an interface box and the radio itself makes the product clunky and adds more cables to your car PC mix. With space at a premium in many car PC installations, it would be nice if the interface box was integrated into the radio itself with all cabling internal. I'd be willing to trade a bigger box or even some type of header pin connector system that would allow the interface box to piggyback onto the BoomzBox.

In addition, the requirement for 12 volt power is, I suppose, necessary but tiresome. With 5 volts on the USB line, it would be nice if the USB power could have been used to run the BoomzBox, eliminating another cable. I'm fairly sure that the 12 volt power runs through the mini DIN plug and powers the BoomzBox rather than the USB interface and it seems like it might have made more sense to put the 12 connection in the side of the BoomzBox as opposed to the interface box.

I hope that mp3car makes the standard for control of the BoomzBox HD available for hobbyists since the BoomzBox is currently a Windows only device. There's no reason it couldn't work with Linux or OS X since it uses standard Prolific FTDI drivers that make the BoomzBox show up as a serial port device. It would be dead simple for a developer to code up a program that would allow the BoomzBox to work on either operating system.

But these are all nits, really. If you are looking for an easy way to add HD AM/FM radio to your car PC setup, the Boozbox HD is the product for you. It solves the dilemma that many car PC'ers have of "should I keep my head unit or go with an amplifier?" by providing high quality HD radio reception that is piped into the PC and easily controlled by current front ends.

The Positive:

Works as advertised, sounds great, easy to connect to system. USB cable routes sound directly into the PC making it easy to manage.

The Negative:

YABB (Yet Another Black Box), requires separate 12 volt power supply for radio, interface box and additional cables add to in car clutter.

The Verdict:

Thumbs up! The radio Just Works(tm) and is easy to configure to integrate into RideRunner. BoomzBox software player works well, sounds great, sensitivity of radio is good. The BoomzBox HD comes with a pass through antenna cable connector which allows you to connect it inline with the antenna and keep your head unit connected if you desire.

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FINALLY, some forward thinking!!!!

That would be the BEST thing to do around here period. It would give everybody a properly designed & fully working unit in their cars before the 31st century, at least at the rate it is going now lol. Would give afford ability. As well as it would give everyone here a chance and opportunity to really contribute to (hopefully open source) and STAYS open source) not like roadrunner) the development of a enterprise class system & add all the finer points that everyone wants in a system! Google is already open sourced in the mobile world, I would think if everyone here played it right they WOULD jump at another opportunity to blow MS & Apple away with the next frontier of undeveloped mobile PC & media (music, movies, messaging, gps, mapping, etc..) market share!

Oh, and all us uber geeks that just have to hack or we shrivel up and die, would NOT be left out by a move like this! It would SOO broaden our horizons, as the platform development by major companies to manufacture parts & accessories, would be such high class, and more companies would develop more equipment for these PC boxes on a mass scale, that afford ability, and variety would make it sky's the limit of imagination! For the GEEKS like us, that only means there will be MORE stuff to chose from to turbo charge our systems WAY above any standardized system that could ever be come up with (as long as open source mind you)!

Power to the ones that can make this happen!

pretty much on the nose.

Alpine almost got it right with the iXA-W404.
But if you can't use the apps -- what's the use. However, the calculator app looks like it means more than it does now.

I also noticed the (errr, it was just posted all over this place) new iphone breakout set. Nice ... but still lacks in so many ways.

As much as I love my iphone ... I wonder if just shouldn't get together with a cell phone maker and ;-) ;-) ;-) make the system that would solve the Apple problem.

So, I'd start with a droid phone, get google backing, and then partner with lilliput or some other Chinese/Korea manufacturer that would build the Alpine like head unit that would hold the 7" monitor and inner amps and pc like dock to power the rest of stereo components.

But then again ... most people here would probably rather hack it together. mp3car seems more likely to follow up on my idea (or probably has been waiting for the momentum to start off ) and of course they'd want to build off the community's input and ideas.
I just bought the brand new Archos 5 Internet Tablet for around 500$ with 500 GB and Mini Dock etc.

This is the first device which could solve the Cons an Iphone/Smartphone has in a Car PC environment:

1. Enough storage - 500 GB (8, 16, 32 GB is not enough for music, video, DVD rips for kids). Mini dock allows to attach external USB HDs
2. Not bound to Apples own format which forces you to convert everything from your home pc to Iphone/Itouch
3. Good quality 5 inch screen is good enough also for DVD watching on the run - 16 Mio colors in 800x480 resolution on 5 inch beats Iphone easily
3. Android ... Let's see what the apps availabe are. The 3D GPS apps on Archos site is already a killer