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Thread: Unobtrusive Interface for CarPC

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2006

    Unobtrusive Interface for CarPC

    Hello all. I've been periodically toying with the idea of a CarPC for a couple years now and have been lurking here on and off for about the same time. Some of the projects you guys have are off the hook. I used to spend a ton of time in my car driving cross country but that's slowed almost to a halt now and have no need for (or the extra money to put into) a massively cool system like I see here. Not to mention I've gotten heavily into motorcycles, but that's a whole different matter... anyway... great stuff here. My problem is this:

    I've been searching around and reading different threads on here most of the day and have come close, but havn't quite figured out my answer. I'd like a carputer that boots up and shuts down with the speed and ease of an xbox, which I use as a media center at home and is perfect. So I looked through the xbox threads... the touchscreen's a big issue (which didn't bother me) with those and so is bluetooth, gps, etc... so I gave up that idea.

    I don't even want a touchscreen. The problem I have is this, I'm replacing a head unit that got ripped off couple days ago and want as unobtrusive and simple a control surface as possible. I don't want the interior of my car to look like there's anything worth stealing and a touchscreen doesn't exactly give that look. I don't mind putting a bit of value in the trunk, which is damn near impossible to break into w/o a crowbar, but I'd like the dash to look more or less useless.

    I came upon the threads discussing character LCD's and found a couple that even had button interfaces and worked with winamp and such. Which I thought is perfect. Now here, finally, is my question and the problem I havn't been able to figure out how to solve.

    Can I set up a carPC that has the ease of boot and shutdown of an xbox (I know there are boot/shutdown relays but it still isn't as fast, and speed is key, or reliable as an eprom bios chip in an xbox) that I can fabricate and mount a character LCD with button control for in the dash that'll allow control over playlists, play controls, and volume and not actually need a full touchscreen or mouse/keyboard interface at all? It'd also be a big plus if I could interface my bluetooth phone for use as a speakerphone in the car but that'd just be an added bonus. GPS would also be nice through the possibility of an external monitor that I can just pull out of the car when I don't plan to use it... but again... just an added bonus.

    thanks all.

  2. #2
    Variable Bitrate
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Why not just buy an mp3 player then? Seriously?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    honestly... cause I like doing things the hard way.

    Though seriously folks... I had thought about doing just an Ipod, but I'd still have to setup some sort of receiver to plug the Ipod into, and I'd have to buy the Ipod (which of course I'd buy the big nice ones and still be spending $300+ on that.) I have the cable running from my dash back to the trunk already which has the stock amp for my mains and sub amp already so I suppose I could just do some creative cabling and make it work... but then I still have the hole in my dash and this sounded like more fun. Plus an amber character LCD that matches my dash would still look pretty sweet. Kind of a glorified head unit that has the expensive stuff in the trunk.

    I have an older 325i and though it's not new and state of the art I'm picky and finicky about having things all fit in and look nice. So even though I wouldn't have the massive touchscreen, which would be cool as hell don't get me wrong, this would fit in better and be better for night driving which I do a lot of.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    The problem with character-based displays is that they aren't exactly cheap. If you don't want a touchschreen or a high-resolution screen and don't want to spend a lot of money, consider one of the small LCD displays with just NTSC input.

    Another option, if you just want something cool and custom is to go with a PDA-based system. Dell's top-of-the-line Axim51 can be had for under $300 on sale, and it's all you need for a complete solution.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    I looked through some of the character lcd prices and they didn't seem too bad. Some of the larger character LCD's I found, with USB control topped out at about $70, granted they didn't have the color I wanted but still.... Replacing a $70 LCD as opposed to a $500 head unit isn't too bad. At least I don't think so.

    The problem I have with the PDA solution is the same as what I have with an Ipod. I want to be able to touch a button or twist a knob and know what it does without staring at a screen searching through menu's.

  6. #6
    MySQL Error scott_fx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Los Angeles Ca
    character lcd and vfd's are cheap, under $100. get one from and use centrafuse as your front end. (it supports this type of display) then get a ipac2 keyboard emulator and your stock stereo. hack apart the insides of the stock stereo, replace the lcd/vfd screen with one from matrix orbital. then take the button faces from the stock h/u and put mini momentary switches behind them. wire the momentary switches to the ipac2 board and then set up hotkeys in centrafuse to match what functions you want those buttons to emulate.

    get an epia board with an m1-atx psu for ease of start up and shutdown and hten just leave it in hibernation or standbye mode (whichever you feel is right for your purposes) and you'll have everything you asked for
    New System in progress:
    Phaze TD1500 ~> Dynaudio MD130
    Phaze TD1500 ~> Seas g18rnx/p
    Zapco Ref 500.1 ~ 12" tc-9
    Behringer DCX2496 ~ Envision Electronics psu
    Transflective Xenarc

    My Car Pc Install
    My Boat Pc worklog

  7. #7
    Variable Bitrate
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    No... i agree. Get an MP3 player. or better yet... get OmniFi. You don't really want a screen or Navigation... or any other of a million other possible toys. Mostly you just want an mp3 jukebox in your car. Even if you like doing things the hard way, there is almost no reason to bother with a CarPC for just that. It's like building your own tv for 2x the price that only USUALLY works, just because you can.

    Rockford Fosgate OmniFi

    You can even load it via Wifi and add software/features.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Hou. TX
    Ok, I have an idea. Why not stick a small LCD in the dash hole where the radio used to be. Recess it back a ways so that it can only be seen from the drivers seat.

    This is actually how I have mine temperarily setup until I can get a nice 10.4" touch screen. I have a cheapy ($40) 6.5" LCD just tucked in the cavity and held in place. Anybody that looks at the car from the side can not see it. It just looks like the radio is missing. Since you don't want a touchscreen, this idea would work. A cheap RCA connector screen isn't very sharp, but for a little more money you can get a good VGA screen without the touchpad for like $100-$150? Something like that.

    It also keeps the sun from washing out the image. I don't know how big the radio cavity is in your car, but maybe a 4" or 5" LCD, like from the Playstation would fit. I might even add a piece of lightly tinted plexi just to hide it some more.

    Anyway, just something to think about.

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