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  1. Hardware Review: ISEE IGEPv2 embedded computing platform

    by , 12-20-2010 at 10:35 AM

    What is it?

    The IGEPv2 is a fan-less, low-power computer system featuring an OMAP3530 processor.

    The Verdict:

    The IGEPv2 is a car PC hacker’s dream platform. It's a true power-sipping design with enough processor to handle most embedded car PC functions. The real benefit to the IGEPv2 is its flexibility. However, the fact that it doesn’t run windows adds complexity to the software installation process and restricts front end options. The fact is, unless you are a Linux programmer the IGEPv2 may be more trouble than its worth.



    What's in the box?

    The IGEPv2 board.

    Description:

    The IGEPv2 is the latest of a batch of ultra-portable, low-power embedded systems available to consumers. Measuring it at 3.7 x 2.5 X 0.7 inches, the IGEP has connectors for everything an installer could need to run the device as a primary car PC. Included is 1 DVI over HDMI port, 1 micro SD port for external storage, 1 USB OTG port, 1 USB host port, 1 stereo audio-out and 1 line-in port. Also included is a built-in wireless b/g card, built-in Bluetooth, and a RJ-45 Ethernet port. As if that weren’t enough the IGEPv2 has a RS232 serial debug port and several connectors for daughterboard add-ons. Conceivably, you could use the IGEP with any existing hardware you have.




    The IGEPv2 comes with an embedded Texas Instruments OMAP3530 processor running at 720mhz. While nowhere near top of the line, the processor will adequately perform tasks. The IGEPv2 has 4GHZ of flash NAND memory. This allows a portion of the on-board memory to contain the operating system files and boot configurations. The IGEPv2 features an OpenGL ES 2.0 capable graphics accelerator. While it’s certainly not capable of running HD video, it’s more than capable to run front ends like Open Mobile and MeeGo. That is of course, if you can figure out how to install them. Because the IGEPv2 is built on ARM architecture, it will not run your standard windows operating systems and front ends.


    Without windows as the standard go-to operating system for car computer installations, IGEPv2 is capable of utilizing several other alternatives. The IGEPv2 comes with a Linux distribution named Poky. While not pretty, poky is capable for use as a front end in itself. It loads quickly and has an easy to use (if not generic) interface. Honestly though, most purchasers of the IGEPv2 will use one of the many alternatives such as Ubuntu Linux, Android, Windows Embedded, or MeeGo. This flexibility is truly the key benefit of a device like the IGEPv2. Advanced users and people familiar with linux technologies can design and build a custom version of software which will allow them to optimize the lower-class specifications of the board. For my review, I allowed the users of the mp3Car forums to decide which operating system to install, and they chose Ubuntu Linux. Installing Ubuntu was not easy. There are instructions installers can find through the manufacturer website that show how to easily install Ubuntu via SD card. The problem is to the best of my knowledge, these instructions are incomplete. After several days of attempts, I finally caved in and got my Linux buddy to build and install for me.


    Once installed, the IGEPv2 can run Ubuntu smoothly. There are moments where you can tell the OMAP processor is being tested, such as during video playback or loading a large flash file, but the overall experience was pleasant. There shouldn’t be a problem running Open Mobile. The main problem with running Ubuntu on the IGEPv2 is wifi and bluetooth connectivity will not work as there are currently no drivers available.So with software installed, you have yourself a neat little Car PC, barring you can overcome a few other drawbacks. Because the IGEPv2 requires a clean 5v, you still will need some sort of automotive power supply in order to power it. The obvious benefit of usually only 5v is the power savings. I can run my IGEPv2 in car for 5 days without worrying about my battery not starting. But I think the device should have some method of 12v-5v voltage regulation on board. The second omission on the IGEPv2 is the lack of any kind of battery. This means your system will require a pretty reliable internet connection to show the proper time and date. This problem becomes more prevalent when you figure that some front ends and their associated plugins require clock-based functions. The last and perhaps smallest issue is that the host USB port requires a self-powered usb hub. I was unable to use my single-cord usb keyboard and mouse combo until i connected a 12v powered usb hub in front of it.

    The Positive:

    • Small form factor and built for low-power operation
    • Flexible software options
    • Various expansion options
    • 100% silent, fanless operation

    The Negative:

    • Requires an automotive power supply for the 5v
    • Software installation is for the advanced only, few front end options
    • No CMOS battery
    • USB Host mode requires a powered usb hub

    The Verdict:

    The IGEPv2 is a car PC hacker’s dream platform. It's a true power-sipping design with enough processor to handle most embedded car PC functions. The real benefit to the IGEPv2 is its flexibility. However, the fact that it doesn’t run windows adds complexity to the software installation process and restricts front end options. The fact is, unless you are a Linux programmer the IGEPv2 may be more trouble than its worth.

    Updated 12-20-2010 at 11:47 AM by Sonicxtacy02

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  2. Hardware Review: Mini Touch 700 7" Touchscreen Monitor

    by , 11-04-2010 at 09:31 AM

    What is it?

    The Mini Touch 700 is a first generation 7-inch touchscreen TFT VGA display.

    The Verdict:

    The Mini Touch 700 should definitely be considered when searching for a new 7" VGA display. This new screen packs in most all of the features found on Xenarc and Lilliput units, and goes a step above by ensuring that 800x480 native resolution is available without hassle.



    What's in the box?

    The Mini Touch 700 is boxed with everything you will find included with a Lilliput and more. Included is the 7" Touchscreen, VESA mount, home and car power supplies, cables for USB, VGA, and composite audio/video. Also included are the touchscreen driver cd (uses the same drivers as lillput/xenarcs do), stylus pen, and a nice headrest shroud that the monitor fits right into.


    Description:

    It is always nice when new items are produced that fit directly into the car PC realm, and the Mini Touch 700 is just that. The Mini Touch was designed specifically for use in a car. The creators made sure to include most all of the latest bells and whistles available on competing touchscreen units. The Mini Touch 700 has automatic power-on and automatic backup camera switching (it actually has two different options for auto-switching). It's missing the automatic brightness control via an ambient light sensor that the Xenarc 700TSV has, but there are plenty of software options which overcome this omission.


    Being that the Mini Touch is designed for car PC use, the designers put an emphasis on creating a clear and crisp display, and the Mini Touch shines here. The display uses a true 450 Nit LCD with LED backlight, and the Mini Touch 700 is definitely brighter than competing units.


    With a 500:1 contrast ratio, the screen is as beautiful as you will find in the car PC arena. The designers went above just having a clear display though. Another nod to the effort put into the screen being car PC friendly is the fact that it uses a video chip which allows a true native 800x480 resolution. If your video card drivers support 800x480, the Mini Touch will display in 800x480, no guesswork, no custom driver hacks needed.


    Now with most first-generation devices there are usually problems or bugs that present themselves over the course of time. In my extended testing, which covered roughly 6 months, I had no problems at all with the Mini Touch 700. There was no flickering, no image ghosting, and the unit seemed to have no problem with differences in temperature. My only real gripe with the Mini Touch 700 is the lack of DVI/HDMI. With VGA slowly phasing its way out of the market and more and more touchscreen devices including HDMI, I feel like a new product should factor those options in. Then again, if they included HDMI output in the first-generation, what's to look forward to in the second generation?

    The Positive:

    • Brightness and crisp display, about the best you'll find with analog video
    • Includes most all the features found in competing devices• Included headrest shroud makes it a breeze to fabricate into a dashboard
    • True 800x480 compatibility
    • New product from a new company. Car PCs arent all tablets yet!

    The Negative:

    • No HDMI input option
    • Potentially limited replacement part capability should the need exist.

    The Verdict:

    The Mini Touch 700 should definitely be considered when searching for a new 7" VGA display. This new screen pacts in most all of the features found on Xenarc and Lilliput units, and goes a step above by ensuring that 800x480 native resolution is available without hassle.

    Updated 11-04-2010 at 01:33 PM by Sonicxtacy02

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  3. Mp3Car High Brightness Monitor Comparison

    by , 10-11-2010 at 04:24 PM

    From left to right: Lilliput 669GL-70NP/C/T, Lilliput 669GL-70NP/C/T-HB-RV, Lilliput 669GL-70NP/C/T-5HB, Inelmatic XF700HB-USVA2.

    The two new Lilliput high brightness models are noticeably brighter in all lighting conditions than the standard Lilliput 669. Reflection on the standard Lilliput 669 is slightly higher. The new Lilliput models offer nice improvements over the standard Lilliput 669 for their respective prices. The Inelmatic monitor is noticeably brighter than all compared monitors in all lighting conditions. Contrast appears better and colors are noticeably more vivid with the Inelmatic. The Inelmatic also benefits from increased vibration, shock, and operating environment specs.


    In addition to brightness differences, The Lilliput 5HB model features a 5-wire resistive touch panel that assures more precise touch control. The HB-RV model uses the standard 4-wire resistive touch panel, but includes an exposed wire for auto-switching to a backup camera. The 5HB model has a slightly different touch panel design that doesn’t allow it to fit in our double din frame. The HB-RV model does fit in our double din frame and can be fabricated into any one of our direct fit dash kits.



    Comparison with iPhone
  4. Hardware Review: Lilliput 669HB

    by , 09-28-2010 at 03:49 PM

    What is it?

    The Lilliput 669HB is the latest version of the 669 series. It offers all of the benefits of the 669GL (reviewed here), with the added function of a high-brightness display

    The Verdict:

    The new version of the Lilliput addresses the one main complaint most people had with the original. The brightness of the display when in direct sunlight is definitely an upgrade over the 669GL, and while the difference may not be enough to upgrade, new potential buyers should look at the 669HB as the first choice in the lilliput product.

    See the Lilliput 669HB on the mp3Car Store here.



    What’s in the box?

    As with most of the Lilliput touchscreen devices out there, the box is packed with everything you need to use the device right away. Included is the 7" TFT display, an HDMI to HDMI/USB cable, DVI to HDMI/USB cable, VGA/composite cable with sub-connector, home power brick, cigarette port power supply, Remote control, touchscreen driver CD, and instruction manual.


    Description:

    As most of us know by now, the ability to clearly see and control the touchscreen in most car PCs is paramount to the system working as intended. With all of the technical innovations the first-gen 669 series Lilliput carried one gaping flaw in design was the "new" controller board's ability to only display with 200nits of brightness. This new display, the 669HB (high-brightness) addresses this issue. While its still doesn't boast the visual quality of the transflective units that are out there, it does have key features that they still lack. The 669HB excels at providing installation flexibility with it's 4 different methods of signal connection.

    While the VGA and composite cable option is still available (and frankly, still viable), the digital connection options (DVI-I and HDMI) allow for users to get the most out of there 7"-diagonal display. The digital connections allow for the bump in brightness to shine through in a greater light than the 669GL provided. Now you can enjoy the crisp colors and sharper contrasts in the daytime!



    450nits isn't the only change from the first-gen 669. Now also included from the factory is the accessory wire which allows the Lilliput to automatically change to the composite 1 connection upon powering. I found it pretty strange that this was excluded in the 669GL considering there are other, older Lilliputs which have the feature, but now it exists in the 669HB and works as described.

    The 669HB uses the same 5-wire touchscreen controller found in the 629 and 619 7" units now, and the uniformity should come in handy when installers look for double DIN options on the market now. The 669GL used a different, oddly shaped board which made the Double DIN frames available incompatible.

    The only holdover negative from the original 669 device is the lack of auto-dimming control found on many other Lilliput and Xenarc devices. While this technology generally doesn't make or break a monitor, it'd still be nice to have so users wouldn't have to look for alternative means of controlling the screen brightness at night.

    The Positive:

    • Brightness increase means the 669 is on par with other Lilliput LCDs in the daytime
    • HDMI connectivity remains a huge plus
    • Auto-Power and Auto-Switching available from the factory

    The Negative:

    • Still not transflective from the factory (see here for the new transflective version)

    The Verdict:

    The new version of the Lilliput addresses the one main complaint most people had with the original. The brightness of the display when in direct sunlight is definitely an upgrade over the 669GL, and while the difference may not be enough to upgrade, new potential buyers should look at the 669HB as the first choice in the lilliput product

    Updated 09-30-2010 at 03:22 PM by Sonicxtacy02

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  5. Hardware Review: Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio

    by , 07-23-2010 at 11:03 AM


    What is it?


    The Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio is a USB device which allows FM and DAB broadcast to be controlled and played through a computer.

    The Verdict: The Ultimate Computer DAB / FM USB Radio is a solid solution when searching for an FM capable radio device. The fact that it is controlled and powered but only usb means its easy to install and less susceptible to interference in a car computer setup. You wont get digital FM broadcast, nor AM radio, but the Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio worked every bit as well as an OEM radio deck.



    What's in the box?

    The Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio comes with the radio module and a USB cable. It should be noted that the device does not come with an SMB to motorola cable which is needed to connect the Venice 7 to a car antenna in the US.


    Description

    The Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio is the latest in radio devices to hit the car pc arena. Its true claim to fame is the fact that it carries both FM and DAB broadcast within the same unit. There have been other devices on the market which have this feature, but the Ultimate Radio's reception quality rivals after-market head unit reception quality. No, it doesn't have digital or "HD" FM capabilities, but in all honesty, the Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio sounds every bit as good as my HDRadio, and it has a smaller footprint as well.

    Another key feature of the Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio is the fact that its powered by only a USB cable. Again, there have been other devices which have been USB-only, but none that I've experienced can match the sound quality of the Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio. The obvious benefit to being powered by USB is the ease of installation. To get the Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio radio working you simply need to connect the USB to your computer. The drivers are windows standard drivers, so no CD or download is necessary. After the driver installation, connect your factory antenna to a SMB to Motorola adapter cable (not included) for FM signal. The last step simply involves running a 3.5mm patch cable(also not included) from the Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio device to the line-in on the computer. Sadly, there's no USB-over-audio applied.


    Once the radio is installed, its just a matter of finding a program for the computer to manage it. Impressively enough, there are already plugins for both RideRunner and Centrafuse front ends available prior to the formal release of the Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio. There's also a standalone application available from the designers website. All applications for the Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio are built to manage both the FM and DAB radio functions of the unit.

    The Positive:

    • High-quality sound in FM mode (could not test DAB)
    • Both DAB and FM work through 1 antenna port
    • Smaller than most high quality radios available
    • USB controlled and USB powered. Installation is a breeze

    The Negative:

    • No casing
    • Lacks AM radio
    • May require purchasing extra accessories

    The Verdict:

    The Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio USB radio is a solid solution when searching for an FM capable radio device. The fact that it is controlled and powered but only usb means its easy to install and less susceptible to interference in a car computer setup. You wont get digital FM broadcast, nor AM radio, but the Ultimate Computer DAB / FM Radio sounds every bit as well as an OEM radio deck.
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