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  1. Car Computer Install: Wiring The Car

    by , 11-30-2011 at 05:41 PM

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    Sean Clark, from mp3Car, shows us how the various components in the vehicle are wired. Getting power cables through the firewall is one of the more difficult aspects of any install. In this case, drilling through the firewall of the Altima in the wheel well proves to be the best option. Be sure to use plenty of fire-retardant adhesive on these holes once the wires are fed through. Running the power cables to the trunk can be done along the sill of the driver door. Use care when prying the panel loose. A trim removal tool is recommended to prevent scratching of your OEM parts. The backup camera switching wire and accessory turn on wire are also run along the driver door sill. Wires that aren't associated with powering any device are run along the passenger side sill to prevent interference. These include the front speaker wires, an HDMI video cable, a USB touch cable, a USB iPhone cable, a USB OBD-II cable, a USB cable for an aux input, and a microphone 3.5mm audio cable.
  2. Why can I buy a Kindle Fire for $200, but an OEM Nav system for my car costs $1000?

    by , 10-31-2011 at 07:59 PM
    Parag Garg is a passionate technologist with over 10 years of experience in consumer electronics. He’s done automotive work for car brands like BMW and Porsche in his own start up, later he worked in the Automotive team at Microsoft delivering the Ford Sync product, afterwards he worked in other teams like Embedded, Courier and XBOX. Parag is currently at Amazon in the Kindle group working on World Class Products. When not working on “gadgets”, Parag enjoys his time at home with his wife Linh and their 3 kids.

    Why can I buy a Kindle Fire for $200, but an OEM Nav system for my car costs $1000?
    You would think the obvious answer is that the Auto Makers want to hold a high premium for these features in their vehicles. From my experience this is not actually the case, after contemplating the pivots that increase the cost of a in car infotainment system, I’ve narrowed it down to these 5 reasons:

    Business Licensing
    As a consumer we think that Maps should be free, it’s a “give me” feature that we get on our PCs, Phones and Tablets without paying anyone. This is not true in the car, the automakers need to pay significant fees to Navteq or Teleatlas to licensing their road mapping data to use in a vehicle GPS system. A few years ago, the licensing terms used to even have clauses that charged differently if a GPS system used in a mobile device on in a vehicle.
    The same holds true for licensing of other components such as Audio/Video codecs and 3rd Party Periphrials like iPod/Phone.
    Licensing for Moble Devices is greatly different and cheaper.

    R&D Development Costs

    Typically the R&D development costs to build an infotainment system are fairly high. An carmaker may involve 3-7 suppliers to develop the complete end to end system. Automakers also like to “protect” any components that go into their vehicles, so that usually means proprietary protocols for communication between the different pieces of their infotainment system. The Auto industry also has a very long development cycle, something like an iPad gets refreshed every year, while vehicle models are refreshed every 5-7 years. The 5-7 years in my opinion hurts the development of technology in their vehicles as they feel like they have a lot of time to develop new features.
    You typically get a new iPad or Kindle every year.

    Auto Qualification of Components

    One thing that consumers generally overlook is how robust the components in your vehicle have to be. Your car could be parked in -30F to 130F degree weather, regardless of the weather condition, you expect your vehicle to start up and the infotainment system to “just work”. To support this extended temperature range for components, Auto makers work closely with component suppliers to get parts that are Automotive Qualified. “AutoQual” certification of a part both costs money and time which adds to the overall development cost and final cost of the product.
    Your Kindle Fire or iPad 2 does not need to operate in those weather extremes.

    Consumer Liability

    The automakers are extremely concerned of infotainment liability; all it takes is a way to blame the infotainment system as the cause of the accident and their liability could shoot through the roof.
    The other consumer liability to worry about is warranty repairs, generally the Infotainment system is one of the more complicated parts in the vehicle, so the automaker needs to account for repairs and replacements of this system at it’s dealerships.
    Unlike an Infotainment system in your vehicle, it’s assumed that you can use your Kindle Fire in MANY other places. The vehicle is not a primary use cases for most people.
    Units sold to share development costs
    The development of any Infotainment System has a lot of Non-Reoccurring Engineering Costs also known as NRE. These NRE costs are generally costs that the automakers likes to divvy up amounts all the sold Infotainment systems for accounting. While not 100% accurate, the NRE costs of a iPad or Kindle Fire are similar to those of an Automakers Infotainment system. The difference is that the Auto industry as a whole sold about 11 Million vehicles in the US. While the iPad 2 sold 11 Million tablets in Q3 2011 alone. ~44 Million a year.
    Now of the 11 million vehicles sold in the US, that’s ALL brands with or without Infotainment systems. Even if you take a 20% slice, you need to divvy all Infotainment Development costs between ~550,000 Infotainment systems vs. 44 Million iPads.
  3. Mp3Car's Sean Clark on "Why Tablets?"

    by , 10-17-2011 at 04:56 PM

    Our resident nerd and car computer enthusiast, Sean Clark, won't shut up about tablets. Not a day goes by that he isn't half-rambling on about the potential benefits of integrating a tablet into his already tech-laden vehicle. So, if for no other reason than to give Sean the opportunity to get it out of his system, I thought I'd ask him a few pointed questions about why this tablet trend is going to be so... well, trendy. Here is Sean Clark, in his own words (and even and interjection by Rob Wray).

    CAP: Why tablets? What benefits do they offer someone that are above and beyond a car computer?

    SC: Off the top of my head, I can think of three big reasons:
    a) The screen. You can spend over $1000 and still not get a screen that's as dreamy to touch as a tablet. All of these tablets have glass, capacitive (more on this below), multi-touch displays that have a coating to keep your finger happy. All of these CarPC displays are resistive (more on this below), plasticy, and single touch. There are SOME that are multi touch, and some that are capacitive, but it's inferior technology that cannot compare.
    b) The Price. Tablets can cost as little as $600 for a fully functional computer plus a multi-touch screen. That same package is gonna run you close to $800 and you will still have to run a ton of wires.
    c) The Software. Software on CarPC's is always growing and always developing. But the market for car PC developers is maybe .6% the size of the Android market, and an even lower percentage of the iOS developer market. You just get access to way more apps and way more customization to the user's liking when you go android.

    Rob - I'm not so sure that stat is accurate - and the car PC developers may disagree.

    Sean - Well, it's true that there are many more apps, but they may not necessarily be car centric. Rob - I can agree with that. There is just no "front-end" glue holding it all together. Very similar to the Car PC market in the late 90s. A bunch of random software with no glue.

    CAP: What are the differences in the monitor and touch screen? Why would this be particularly helpful in a vehicle?

    SC: A normal car PC touchscreen is between 7 and 10 inches, is 'resistive,' and single touch. Resistive by definition means that you have to contact 2 layers together at a point to create the touch input. That means you will, on some level, feel the 2 layers. That gives the screen a softer feeling. Which is actually bad. Softer screen means more friction, which means more heat your finger generates when trying to swipe and gesture. Which brings me to my second point: gestures. CarPCs aren't really geared towards gestures. Because the screen is so "one touch," the software and displays are designed to treat "your finger as a mouse." Tablets have been designed to treat your finger(s) as a NEW input device. This means that you're expected to swipe and make gestures with one or more fingers.

    Let's take scrolling for example. On a car PC, you would tap down and up arrow buttons. But on a tablet, you just swipe up and down, a much more natural interface for the user to use, and the displays make this all possible for tablets.

    CAP: How would you integrate one into a car? What size would you need?

    SC: The biggest challenge one faces when installing a tablet into the car is the fact that they don't conform to any auto standards. A lot of cars generally have a double DIN-sized opening (or close to that) which a 7 inch display can be fabricated into. That is to say - the 7 inch screen can be taken apart, and is now SMALLER than the double din size, which means it can be built in. A 7 inch tablet cannot be taken apart. So the bezel on the tablet will make the tablet BIGGER than the double DIN-sized opening. Therefore you will need CUSTOM installation for a tablet. So if you can't blow fiberglass or weld metal, your looking at $1200-$1,500 for a custom installation.

    CAP: Where are we headed? Beyond the early adoption phase, what features do you see a tablet performing that might be exciting horizon concepts?

    SC: I see room for what we call a "black box". There is still a void with tablets that car PC's still fill: connecting to hardware. Because of all the USB and serial hardware that has been created over the years, you can control your lights, engine features, remote functions, tuning and more with your car PC. None of that exists for tablets (except for the engine diagnostics). A black box would fill this void; it would interface with all of this hardware, and then translate its data to the tablet. Once this black box is made, the tablet will be able to do everything the car PC can do, including all the bells, whistles and customizations car PC hackers love.
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  4. Hardware Review: Xenarc 700TSU USB Powered Touchscreen Monitor

    by , 10-13-2011 at 10:27 AM

    What is it?

    The Xenarc 700TSU is a USB controlled and powered 7-inch touchscreen monitor with optional composite support.

    The Verdict:

    The 700TSU takes a pretty large leap forward into making USB only touchscreen devices available to use as primary monitors. It maintains the rather stellar build quality of other Xenarc devices, while reducing the number of cables needed to operate the display. It's rather bulky when compared to other USB monitors, but with that size comes some pretty nice configuration options the segment has not yet seen.

    See the Xenarc 700TSU on the mp3Car Store here.

    What’s in the box?

    The Xenarc 700TSU comes packed with much more than most USB monitors include. There's the monitor, and a USB & composite (2 sets) cable for starters. Couple those with an optional 5v power brick, a cigarette lighter adapter, VESA mount, a full featured remote control, stylus pen, driver cd, and a host of operation manuals.


    If you are a regular reader of the product review section, you may have noticed an abundance of reviews and videos regarding touchscreens recently. This is a great thing for the community, as newer touchscreens seem to come out regularly with better brightness, sunlight readability, cabling and power options. As a whole, we've seen a pretty dramatic evolution of these devices, and the Xenarc 700TSU attempts to keep true to that idea.

    The initial concept we've seen before. The 700TSU is a 7-inch touchscreen monitor which can be powered and controlled solely by USB. This means instead of having to poke around for VGA, or HDMI plugs, one (or occasionally two) USB ports instantly power up and display your PC through this unit. This technology is available by use of a special driver suite called DisplayLink, and the 700TSU uses the latest version of this driver to display a clear and crisp image whether what's displayed is static or in motion.

    This capability with DisplayLink in the 700TSU is the best I have personally seen. First generation devices left pictures dull and grainy, and made videos appear distorted and choppy. The 700TSU looks every bit as good as a VGA quality screen, and the controller for the 700TSU actually allows resolution options, again, a feat unseen in the USB segment before. Even at wide angles the 700TSU does an excellent job of providing a quality image.

    Instead of settling for this enhancement in the device, Xenarc took a larger step forward by incorporating two sets of composite connectors. This allows for an even larger array of devices that can be used with this screen. Instead of requiring one USB, the 700TSU allows you to run one of it's two auxiliary power options to the screen and display the composite device, sound included. Xenarc was gracious enough to remember to include the auto-switch composite signalling, so that people who intend to install a backup camera still have that option available with the 700TSU.

    The only drawback to all of this flexibility is the fact that the Xenarc, when compared to the other USB touchscreens, is quite large. That's not to say that it is ridiculously large. In fact, appearance-wise it looks pretty much identical to the Xenarc 700TSV VGA monitor. Only when compared to competing products from Mimo and Lilliput does the 700TSU's girth stand out. Remember though that with those competing devices all you get is USB.

    The only other problem with the Xenarc 700TSU is an inherent problem with all USB touchscreens at this time. They all require the PC to be loaded with drivers to display. That means you get no BIOS, no windows loading notification, or anything until the DisplayLink drivers are up and running.

    The Positive:

    • High quality screen available with only a single USB connection
    • Composite connectors allow for various installations
    • Several different power options available
    • Auto-switch with composite connection included
    • Only USB touchscreen with a full configuration menu, brightness, contrast etc can all be set
    • Resolution options are available, a first in the segment

    The Negative:

    • Size of display is large compared to competing USB screens
    • That annoying wait for drivers to load before display works

    The Verdict:

    The 700TSU takes a pretty large leap forward into making USB only touchscreen devices available to use as primary monitors. It maintains the rather stellar build quality of other Xenarc devices, while reducing the number of cables needed to operate the display. It's rather bulky when compared to other USB monitors, but with that size comes some pretty nice configuration options the segment has not yet seen.

    For more specifications on the Xenarc 700TSU click here
    For a video comparing the Xenarc 700TSU with the other latest USB Touchscreens click here
    For more pictures of the 700TSU click here

  5. 7 Inch USB Touchscreen Showdown

    by , 10-06-2011 at 11:51 AM
    In this second series comparing the latest 7" touchscreens we have the Xenarc 700TSU, the Mimo 720f 2G, and the Lilliput UM70C/T USB connected monitors. Check out the video below to assist you in deciding if a USB touchscreen is right for you and which one should you currently consider.