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  1. Hardware Review: 2010 Xenarc 1020TSV 10.2

    by , 01-26-2010 at 04:53 PM

    What is it?

    The Xenarc 1020TSV is a 10-Inch 16:9 Widescreen VGA monitor with 5-wire resistive touch panel.

    The Verdict:

    The Xenarc 1020TSV is a work of art when compared to rival car PC monitors. Its aluminum bezel and new features stand alone in the market. However I just don’t feel the 1020TSV was meant to be customized to the point of installing permanently in a vehicle.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.


    What’s in the box?


    The 1020TSV comes with an instruction manual, VESA mount, desktop stand, an attachable stylus pointer, and a single-loom wire which includes connectors for USB, VGA input, 2 composite inputs, and an audio cable which connects to the built-in speaker. Also included are a home power supply, car cigarette lighter power supply, full function remote, and the touchscreen driver CD.

    Description:

    The 1020TSV is Xenarc’s latest entry in the 10-inch touch screen market. The company has an outstanding reputation for building high-quality displays, and the 1020TSV is no exception. Upon opening the packaging I was immediately in awe of this monitor. It has a huge screen, an absolutely stunning brushed, anodized aluminum front bezel, and fascinating display quality. All this backed by a company who’s been building monitors for our hobby reliably since the very beginning. The rear of the 1020TSV is constructed from ABS plastic, and features the same cable locking design of the smaller 700TSV. Both power and input cable are forcibly held into place, up and out of the way for fabricators.


    The 1020TSV has all the standard car PC monitor connections. There is a VGA connector, 2 audio/video composite connectors, and an audio connector which allows installers to run pc audio directly to the built-in speaker in the Xenarc. The speaker is around 3 inches, so do not expect full-range audio, however it would be nice to be able to route GPS guidance prompts separate from your music. Like the 700TSV, the 1020TSV does not have a DVI connection, something that should be common for all new monitors in today’s world. The 1020TSV does have auto-switch sensors built into the composite input 1.

    The 1020TSV has the same Advanced Image Scaling and Sharpness (AISS) feature has the 7-inch 700TSV. This, coupled with the native-resolution of 1024x600 means with the 1020TSV you get a big, bold, beautiful display. With competing monitors it’s often the case that you can see individual pixel differences in an image. AISS fixes this problem and processes both static and moving images with extreme clarity.


    The size of the screen becomes even handier when coupled with the new Picture-in-Picture mode. This mode allows for an auxiliary input to be displayed while VGA is still displayed. Either composite input can be displayed in small-window mode or split-screen with a press of the button on the remote, and each screen is swappable. This could come in handy with say a backup sensor or rear seat camera.



    The 1020TSV has a new ambient light sensor on its front bezel. This allows the monitor to automatically dim based on the amount of available light. The automatic dim works well, but like the 700TSV, the 1020 doesn’t dim nearly enough to make it work well at night without manual adjustments. The buttons on the front bezel are backlit blue and take quite the amount of force to use when compared to other monitors of its kind.

    When looked at as a whole, the 1020 sure seems like a lead competitor in the big-boy screen department. But upon closer analysis, you may come to realize this monitor really wasn’t made to be mated to a car PC. Why? Well for starters, it’s heavy. At 3.3lbs, its going to take more than just bondo to get this fabricated into a vehicle. And that beautiful brushed aluminum bezel is not made to be cut, which means you must have an awful lot of space in your dash to make this your display. My Dodge Caravan is a rather large vehicle, but there’s simply no way the 1020TSV is going to fit the dash in its current form.


    Here is a photo comparing the actual bezel size difference between the 1020TSV and the 7”inch 700TSV.


    Even if you have the space, you have to factor in that this monitor is not transflective. The instructions indicate there is an anti-glare film applied to its 5-wire resistive touch screen, but in my testing I noticed no improvement over Xenarc 10-inch screens from years ago. The simple fact of the matter is more screen size means more room for glare, and while driving around with the 1020TSV as my monitor for a partly cloudy day it was a chore to navigate my front end.


    All these things as a whole make me believe the Xenarc 1020TSV was not made to be used in a vehicle at all. It seems at its best when it’s a secondary display, sitting on a desk and able to show its stunning visuals without having to worry about glare.

    The Positive:

    • Top-notch display quality delivered from AISS
    • Installation-friendly wiring design
    • Composite Input auto-switch
    • Picture in Picture with easy controls
    • 500:1 Contrast Ratio
    • Native resolution of 1024x600
    • Auto-power on when VGA signal is detected
    • Solid build, outstanding quality reputation
    • Built-in ambient light sensor

    The Negative:

    • No DVI input
    • Only 1 composite connection can auto-switch
    • Below average sunlight-readability
    • Only 300nits brightness
    • Aluminum bezel must be accounted for in fabrication

    The Verdict:

    The Xenarc 1020TSV is a work of art when compared to rival car PC monitors. Its aluminum bezel and new features stand alone in the market. However I just don’t feel the 1020TSV was meant to be customized to the point of installing permanently in a vehicle.

    Specifications:

    Aspect Ratio: 16:9
    Screen Size: 10.2” Diagonal
    Colors: 18-bit (262, 144 Colors)
    Native Resolution: 1024x600px
    VGA Modes: 640x480 to 1600x1200
    Viewing Angle 160° Horizontal, 140° Vertical
    Contrast: 500:1
    Inputs: VGA, 2 x Composite Video Optional, 1 x PC audio
    Touch Panel: Resistive 5 wires.
    Power Consumption:

    Updated 01-27-2010 at 05:13 PM by Jensen2000

    Categories
    Product Reviews
  2. Hardware Review: 2010 Xenarc 700TSV TFT LCD Touch Screen Monitor

    by , 01-26-2010 at 12:30 PM

    What is it?

    The Xenarc 700TSV is a 7-Inch 16:9 Widescreen VGA monitor with 5-wire resistive touch panel.

    The Verdict:

    The Xenarc 700TSV adds a few wrinkles to a product well-known for its outstanding quality. The addition of auto-brightness control is welcomed; however the lack of DVI certainly raises an eyebrow in 2010. The quality of the visuals on-screen somewhat makes up for this glaring omission.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.



    What’s in the box


    The 700TSV comes with an instruction manual, VESA mount, an attachable stylus pointer, and a single-loom wire which includes connectors for USB, VGA input, 2 composite inputs, and an audio cable which connects to the built-in speaker. Also included are a home power supply, car cigarette lighter power supply, full function remote, and the touch screen driver CD.

    Description:

    The 700TSV is Xenarc’s latest entry in the 7-inch touch screen market. The company has an outstanding reputation for building high-quality displays, and the 700TSV is no exception. It’s a heavy screen, which usually indicates it’s solidly built to withstand harsh car PC environments. The 700TSV’s exterior design is built with both form and function, featuring solid tactile front buttons and a rear cable connector that keeps both power wires and input wires out of the way for fabricators.


    The 700TSV allows for a near full-set of input connections. There is a VGA connector, 2 audio/video composite connectors, and an audio connector, which allows installers to run pc audio directly to the built-in speaker in the Xenarc. The speaker is 3 inches, so do not expect full-range audio, however it would be nice to be able to route GPS guidance prompts separate from your music. There are a few wires missing from the feature set, most notably a DVI connection. The majority of car PCs and PCs in general are shying away from VGA, so DVI should be included in all monitors in 2010. Also missing is an auxiliary connector allowing the 700TSV to automatically switch to an aux input, but this is forgivable as the first composite cable set have the feature built-in. So without the addition of DVI, you may be asking yourself what separates the 700TSV with Xenarcs prior offerings. The first new item is the presents of a light-sensor on the bottom front of the Xenarc panel.


    This light sensor provides built-in brightness control. In my testing I found this sensor to work well. It provides a nice subtle change in brightness without any on-screen indicators getting in the way. However, I do wish the sensor dimmed the screen more during night-time operation. The brightness only appears to drop around 10%, and as a result the screen is still too bright at night.The most notable improvement may very well go unnoticed, but the 700TSV has an absolute beautiful display when compared to both Lilliput and Xenarc units in the past. The instructions call it “AISS- Advanced Image Scaling and Sharpness”. What this means to the average user is the images displayed on the 700TSV, both still and moving, are extremely crisp. When comparing this unit to my old 2008 Lilliput 629 I found the Xenarc display far more vivid. Edges are less jagged and it’s harder to spot the actual pixels at work.




    The Positive:

    • Top-notch display quality delivered from AISS
    • Installation-friendly wiring
    • Composite Input auto-switch
    • 400:1 Contrast Ratio
    • Native resolution of 800x480
    • Auto-power on when VGA signal is detected
    • Solid build, outstanding quality reputation

    The Negative:

    • No DVI input
    • Only 1 composite connection can auto-switch
    • Marginal sunlight-readability
    • More expensive than competing brand’s product

    The Verdict:

    The Xenarc 700TSV adds a few wrinkles to a product well-known for its outstanding quality. The addition of auto-brightness control is welcomed; however the lack of DVI certainly raises an eyebrow in 2010. The quality of the visuals on-screen somewhat makes up for this glaring omission.

    Specifications:
    Aspect Ratio: 16:9
    Colors: 18-bit (262, 144 Colors)
    Native Resolution: 800x480px
    VGA Modes: 640x480 to 1024x768
    Contrast: 400:1
    Inputs: VGA, 2 x Composite Video Optional, 1 x PC audio
    Touch Panel: Resistive 5 wires.
    Power Consumption:
  3. Hardware Review: PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi OBD Scanner

    by , 01-05-2010 at 11:00 AM


    What is it?

    The PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi is an easy to use wireless OBD-II scanner which connects to iPhone and iPod Touch Devices.

    The Verdict:


    The PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi OBD-II scanner is a handy device, which makes OBD scanning and code reading simpler than it’s ever been before. However, its wireless accessibility is both a blessing and a burden. I would recommend this device based on its code-reading abilities more so than its day-to-day data reading capabilities.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.


    What’s in the box?


    The Kiwi Wifi comes with the main OBD-II Module, a 6-foot OBD port cable, and a simple yet effective set of instructions.

    Description:


    The Kiwi Wifi device is a plug and play tool used to scan OBD-II data from modern automobiles using either an iPhone or iPod Touch (not included). The magic in the device is it uses an 802.11x wireless signal to send the data read from your OBD-II port to the Apple device. This means you can simply connect the OBD-II cable to your vehicles port, and tuck the Kiwi away. The device has a switch to turn the Kiwi on/off. This may come in handy if you are worried about power consumption (the device does constantly pull power from the OBD port in its ON state), but for most applications it shouldn’t be necessary. The only other notable features of the device are a red light indicating the device power state and a green “LINK” light that indicates an iPod connection is present.




    To complete the setup, one need go to "settings" on your iPod or iPhone device. Turn on wifi, and a wireless signal named “PLXDevices” should display after a quick signal search. Connect to that device (no encryption needed), then click the blue arrow to enter that particular connection’s settings. Click the “Static” button then enter an IP address of 192.168.0.11 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. Save, and the setup is complete.



    The Kiwi device is supported by various applications from the iTunes store. The instructions indicate that both popular apps, Rev and FuzzyCar, support the Kiwi. FuzzyCar supports all PID data and is quite a bit cheaper than the paid-for version of Rev, so that was my app of choice. Once installed, FuzzyCar ran a quick scan of my vehicles supported PIDs. Once the scan was done the information was displayed in a neat and clear fashion.








    The ease of use of the Kiwi Wifi when paired with an iPod is amazing. The instruction booklet reads “This Won’t Take Long” in bold print and it couldn’t be more correct. Still, there are two issues that need be mentioned. In order to use the device, you must first manually connect to the “PLXDevices” wifi connection each time you want to use it. It would seem the applications should automatically switch when they are started but this is not the case. The bigger issue is the speed at which the information is updated. A standard serial OBD-II port will update information at nearly once per second. The Kiwi Wifi appears to be hindered by the wireless connection, as the information updates at close to once per ten seconds in my testing with FuzzyCar. This obviously makes information such as RPM and engine load % worthless. Even still, the PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi handles OBD-II well and does an excellent job of adding a handy feature to an already potent Apple device.

    The Positive:


    • Super-fast installation routine
    • Supreme portability
    • Seamless integration with iPhone/iPod Touch
    • Wireless means less wiring and easier to stow away
    • Power switch to conserve energy
    • Bus (OBD-II) powered

    The Negative:


    • Requires an external device (iPod or iPhone)
    • Slow data updates
    • Requires manual connection of the wireless device
    • No free application. Adds to the cost of the device.

    The Verdict:


    The PLX Devices Kiwi Wifi OBD-II scanner is a handy device which makes OBD scanning and code reading simpler than it’s ever been before. However, its wireless accessibility is both a blessing and a burden. I would recommend this device based on its code-reading abilities more so than its day-to-day data reading capabilities.

    Specifications:


    SSID: PLXDevices
    IP: 192.168.0.10
    Subnet: 255.255.255.0
    Port: 35000
    Range: 50 ft (line of sight)
    Antenna: Internal
    Power Consumption: 0.7 Watts
    Wifi Standard: 802.11a/b/g
    Operating Temp: -15 to 100° C
    Dimensions: 2.75x1.25x0.6 Inches

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.

    Updated 01-05-2010 at 11:08 AM by Jensen2000

    Categories
    Product Reviews
  4. Software Review: Centrafuse Auto Navigation

    by , 12-30-2009 at 07:17 AM

    What is it?

    A front end software that sits on top of Microsoft Windows, an interface between you and your car's infotainment. It allows you to play music, watch videos, assist in GPS navigation, listen to satellite radio, communicate with your bluetooth cellphone, respond to voice commands, display rear view camera, multiple media zones, etc. With it's strong emphasis on making it easy for programmers to make plugins, it can be used for controlling anything that's attached to your carpc through one common interface.

    The Verdict:

    Buy the software without GPS navigation and use a third party GPS navigation software. With the multitudes of plugins, integrating third party GPS software is easy and works well. Loading times are the longest I've experienced with any front end software but this won't be much of an issue if you use hibernation or suspend. If you don't have the time to make those other front end work correctly and just want something that works with support then I highly recommend you go this route. I like to thank mp3car and Centrafuse for this opportunity to make this review.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store here.


    What's in the box?

    I didn't receive a box or anything physical for this review, just an email message from mp3car.com with a serial key and where to register/download. I downloaded the software from www.centrafuse.com and registered my carpc hardware ID to it. A quick start PDF manual can be found after installation. For more documentation see the FAQ on their forum.

    Description:

    Test machine:

    Intel D945GCLF2 dual core 1.6Ghz Atom processor, 512MB ram, 80GB Seagate EE25 Automotive HD 5400rpm, GPS BU-353, Windows XP

    Set up:

    Installation starts by visiting www.centrafuse.com and creating an account (not to be confused with the forum user account). Select the link called "Looking for your 2.0 licenses?". It will give you a link to download the 3.0 software by clicking on the "Get Installer Files". This is also the same web screen you use to register your hardware ID -- more on this later.

    Before you install Centrafuse on your carpc, I highly recommend reinstalling a full copy of Windows if you plan on using voice control. My previous install of TinyXP Windows edition didn't allow voice control to function. If voice control isn't important to you and you want to continue using TinyXP, then you must enable "Windows Management Instrumentation" service for the hardware ID to function properly.

    Installation is straight forward. Click on Centrafuse_30_1106.exe. It first installs Microsoft's framework 2.0 and SP1, reboots Windows, and restarts the installation again. Next, it will ask if you want optional voice control and blue tooth to be installed before finally installing Centrafuse. The next step is to install the GPS navigation portion by clicking on Centrafuse_NA_30_part1.exe. Installation took a while, but it required no further reboots. Software installation total time was eight minutes. When you run Centrafuse for the first time, it will inform you of your hardware ID. Write this down and visit www.centrafuse.com again to obtain a license. Centrafuse will email you a license file that needs to be copied to "\Program Files\Centrafuse\Centrafuse Auto".

    Video:

    Centrafuse does so many things so I figured it would be best if I'd make a short 17 minute video exploring what it does.






    The screen shots from centrafuse are much better than mine, so please check them out here.

    The Positive:


    • Extremely touch screen friendly with large buttons. You do not need a mouse in your car.
    • Bluetooth cell phone interface
    • GPS navigation lowers volume progressively before announcing next turn.
    • Configuring the software is straight forward and very easy to do with it's nice GUI interface. No confusing .INI files to edit.
    • Changing the current song to another is very easy to do without disrupting your current screen. For example, you're entering in an address in the navigation window and suddenly there's a song you don't want to listen to. No problem click on a music button and you can quickly switch to another song. Click on the button again and you're back to where you left off, undisturbed.
    • Customizing the default skin can be modified easily if you want to rearrange some of the menus.
    • Voice control works well, although I couldn't request a song by title (someone would need to write a plugin)
    • No unexpected crashes, works well.


    The Negative:


    • GPS navigation has many disappointments. Maps are dated from 2007. North America maps are divided into 10 regions, making things cumbersome. For example, you cannot select a destination to Detroit, Michigan from Windsor, Ontario because they're in different regions. Selecting gas, food, or hotel points of interest doesn't work if your map is set to Canada (bug). GPS navigation didn't work after immediately configuring the GPS device. I had to restart Centrafuse for the new settings to take effect.
    • My loading times are a bit slow; 25 seconds from a cold start, or 14 seconds on a reload. My other front end software loads in about half the time.
    • Memory usage has been 153 to 160 MB, about triple to what the other front end use. This higher memory usage directly influences the longer hibernation and read/write times. It takes approximately two seconds longer for hibernate to resume.
    • No gestures feature -- a minor inconvenience
    • Surprised to see a slight pause between main menu screen changes, this either suggests I need either a more powerful graphics card or better CPU. This popular dual core Atom has never shown any weakness until now.


    The Verdict:

    Buy the software without GPS navigation and use a third party GPS navigation software. With the multitudes of plugins available, integrating third party GPS software is easy and works well. Loading times are the longest I've experienced with any front end software, but this won't be much of an issue if you use hibernation or suspend modes. If you don't have the time to make those other front end software applications work correctly and just want something that works and has support then I highly recommend you go with Centrafuse Auto. I'd like to thank mp3car and Centrafuse for the opportunity to make this review.

    Specifications:

    Minimum: 1GHz processor, 256 MB RAM (note: my system required 351MB for Windows XP + Centrafuse 3)
    Recommended: 1.5GHz processor, 1 GB RAM
  5. Hardware Review: USB-SA Andrea External USB Soundcard & SuperBeam Microphone Bundle

    by , 12-30-2009 at 07:05 AM

    What is it?

    A USB based sound card with SoundMAX Superbeam array microphone.

    The Verdict:

    Most parts for any CarPC tend to run for a minimum of $50. With the bundle coming in at just less than $50, this is a value for anyone looking to add a sound card and microphone to a system. The microphone is clearly the more valuable part in the bundle and works very well in most environments. The straightforward installation and good sound with impressive microphone pickup make this a good buy.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store here.

    What’s in the box?

    PureAudio USB Sound Card
    Soundmax Microphone
    CD Driver(Mini CD – Won’t work in slot load CDRom)

    Description:

    This product is very basic, almost too basic. With only headphone and microphone jacks you are not able to add additional audio in connections. Because of this all testing of the sound card was done on a home PC, the microphone was attached to the internal sound card in my CarPC. This allowed for Audio IN and my HD Radio to continue to work. The cable on the microphone is long(~84”), this is very handy when connecting to a sound card that is in the trunk.

    The Positive:

    The microphone works very well, and the length of cable is very helpful. The install is also very easy once you download the software from their website (http://www.andreaelectronics.com). I tested voice commands with the top down on the convertible in a very loud garage and it recognized all the commands on first try. This is a drastic improvement over most microphones I have used.

    The Negative:

    The shape of the microphone is designed to sit on top of a monitor, but it does not come with any double sided tape or Velcro to keep it in place. The sound card works but without an Audio In, I am unable to connect external radio sources to my PC.

    The Verdict:

    Most parts for any CarPC tend to run for a minimum of $50. With the bundle coming in at just less than $50, this is a value for anyone looking to add a sound card and microphone to a system. The microphone is clearly the more valuable part in the bundle and works very well in most environments. The straightforward installation and good sound with impressive microphone pickup make this a good buy.

    SuperbeamArray Microphone Specifications Acoustic
    Microphone ConfigurationTwo unidirectional microphones with

    individual channels to a stereo outputRecommended operating distance12” - 48” (Varies with application)Acoustic signal reduction @ 1 KHz and 180º>10 dBElectrical Characteristics
    Mic bias Supply Voltage for rated 4 VDC

    sensitivity4 VDCOperating Mic bias Supply Voltage Range 2.5 to 5 VDC

    (with up to 3 dB sensitivity variation)2.5 to 5 VDCSupply series resistor2 KOhms +/- 0.5KOperating Current (each channel)0.6 mAOutput Impedance @ 1 KHz