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  1. Hardware Review: Car/Droid Double Din All In One Car Multimedia System

    by , 12-14-2011 at 02:10 PM

    What is it?

    The Bybyte Car/Droid is a fully featured double DIN multimedia system with a detachable 6.5" Android Tablet.

    The Verdict:

    As a whole, the Bybyte Car/Droid is a feature packed multimedia system giving you the bits of the best things a car PC has to offer. The device harnesses the power of a standard head unit with the power of Android, and sprinkles in a little iPod connectivity on the side. When viewed separately, the double DIN head unit still manages to incorporate most of what the device was made to do, while the Android tablet is crippled by its hardware limitations.



    What’s in the box?

    The Car/Droid comes jammed packed with every cable needed to connect the system to your vehicles audio wiring harness and other support devices. Included is the double DIN radio, the detachable Android tablet with case, a separate 12v power brick for the tablet, external GPS, a proprietary iPod connector, radio wiring harness, and a host of cables for optional accessories like rear DVD and rear camera support. An instruction manual is generously included, but strangely omits information regarding the head unit.


    Description:

    A double DIN radio, created to house an Android tablet with the backing of the popular Android Market. What's not to love about it? The idea behind the Bybyte Car/Droid is quite clear up front. The device can be used simply to play music, allow hands free phone usage in the car, or allow the kids to watch a DVD through a rear screen (not included). Bring the tablet with you, and do all of this, as well as just about anything that an Android device can do. Stream Pandora, listen to Sirius, or perhaps play a game. When factoring all this with the idea that you can easily connect your iPod device and control its music playback all through the 6.5" touchscreen the tablet provides, it seems that the creators of the Car/Droid have considered everything. Heck, you can even easily connect your built in steering wheel controls to the Car/Droid and configure their usage right from the tablet's interface.


    Sounds like everything that anyone that doesn't want to hack into a dash would desire from a multimedia vehicle system. The Car/Droid is technically just that, but beyond the surface is where you could find the device is not the dream system that non-hobbyist yearn for.


    Let's start with the good. The "Car" portion of the Car/Droid device is rather satisfying in itself. While not particularly modern looking or stylish, you do get a head unit that is absolutely jam packed with available features. In fact, the only features that the head unit does not allow for is the use of the included GPS receiver, and the rear camera connection. Because there is no touchscreen, and save for the small VFD on the face, no screen at all, you could hardly use or control a navigation system. The head unit will obviously allow CD playback, but will also accept a DVD and feed it to a rear screen, or you can connect a TV antenna and feed that through to a rear screen. You can accept phone calls with the device and speak through the built-in mic port (that surprising works well), and will even accept a micro-SD card for auxiliary playback.


    On the rear of the head unit, you'll find connections for all of the optional accessories, as well as your standard looking wiring harness for your speaker and power connections. There's also a fan which keeps the unit cool under the wildest of temperatures ensuring you have all features regardless of the weather conditions. The creators of the Car/Droid were wise in considering the mounting depth of the device and making sure the wiring will not interfere with installations in cramped DIN openings.


    The face of the head unit is sprawled out with control buttons for all of the media device options. You get six presets for radio, and can control Radio/TV/DVD/Audio with the same sets of buttons. Again, the device doesn't look as fancy as most aftermarket radios out today, but it at least has all of the controls needed without having to do too much hand surfing. Below the tablet dock mount are the volume and mute buttons, a source/power button, a host of buttons for some of the advanced features like phone and "pad" mode (more on this later), as well as the built-mic and IR receiver for the included remote control.


    The obvious key feature of the Car/Droid is the Android tablet dock, and plugging the tablet into the dock is done without fuss. Once docked, the Android tablet instantly displays your main menu in a touch friendly interface that I will call "radio" mode. Here you have options to change instantly between sources like Music, Radio, iPod, and Phone. While the main menu works well with the head unit to present you with whatever source you want, here is also where the first problem is presented. The Android tablet, at its best, displays a 800x480 resolution. To us car PC users, this is pretty standard, but the "radio" mode of the device does a very poor job of utilizing that resolution to its fullest. The main menu, and each screen under this mode uses colors and gradients you could easily find something manufactured by ColecoVision in the 80's. It's obvious that more work should have been done in the interface design of this mode.


    The alternative mode is "pad". Pressing the pad button on the head unit instantly transforms your tablet into a standard Android-style tablet. You get Android 2.1.x with the "Droid" portion of the Car/Droid device. To this date, the latest publicly released build of android is in the 2.3 range, so the Android tablet which comes with the Car/Droid is a few years out of date on the software side. Aside from the touchscreen friendly Home, Menu, and Back buttons which always display in the notification area on the tablet, it appears to be a "vanilla" Android experience. Still though, with Android comes the power of Android applications. With the Android market, you can download a host of applications which enhance the tablet's ability to act as a vehicle multimedia system. Google Maps can use the head unit's external GPS for navigation (internet is still required however). You can get better music applications, download Facebook, and most anything else you'd want to do while driving in a car. Because of the version of Android available to the tablet, some pretty large enhancements are not allowed. You can not use the popular Google Music streaming service, you can not get Adobe Flash. Good luck flinging your angry bird around.


    The top of the tablet has buttons for Android functions Power, Menu, and Back, as well as the button which releases the device from the head unit. The side of tablet has connections for power, USB, USB-Host, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and strangely enough an HDMI output. It's odd to see an HDMI output on a device which such small resolution. A plus of the tablet is that it too has a micro SD port for external storage. It also charges while docked into the head unit.


    Despite the appeal of the head unit, the centerpiece for the Car/Droid is the tablet and it's touchscreen. Sadly, you're restricted far too much by the tablets specifications to actually enjoy using it anywhere other than the car. For starters, you are limited by a restrictive touchscreen, which is particularly hit-or-miss when it comes to presses and debilitated when scrolling. It is also extremely reflective to sunlight or other light sources.

    The other specifications for the tablet aren't as impressive either for the most part. Inside you get a 720mhz processor, 256MB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage, most of which is occupied by Android and pre-installed applications. Also of note, the battery life of the unit I tested was very poor. In fact, in the amount of time needed to post this review the battery meter went from 90% to 40% with minimal use. While the tablet is removable and this is a pro, i'm afraid you won't get much use from it outside of the car.


    The Positive:

    • Device capable of doing everything a All-In-One is made to do
    • Detachable screen ensures portability and security
    • Offers a very good hands-free phone experience
    • Head unit automatically controls and powers tablet when docked
    • Tablet can use the GPS connected to head unit while docked
    • Head Unit is feature rich and can do most of what the device does without the tablet installed.
    • SD Card ports on tablet and head unit allow for abundance of storage options
    • Simple iPod hookup and control


    The Negative:

    • Tablet is running outdated version of Android and is not upgradeable
    • Tablet specs limit the effectiveness of the Android experience in the car
    • Included controlling application uses poor resolution and poor graphic interface
    • Tablet as tested had a poor battery and is not replaceable
    • Low resolution and sunlight readability


    The Verdict:

    As a whole, the Bybyte Car/Droid is a feature packed multimedia system giving you the bits of the best things a car PC has to offer. The device harnesses the power of a standard head unit with the power of android, and sprinkles in a little iPod connectivity on the side. When viewed as separately, the double DIN head unit still manages to incorporate most of what the device was made to do, while the android tablet is crippled by it's own hardware limitations.

    For more pictures on the device, please check out my album.

  2. Hardware Review: Rupel iVox102h HD SSD Driving Recorder

    by , 12-05-2011 at 03:34 PM



    What is it?

    Purchase the Rupel iVox iVox102h on the mp3Car Store here.

    The Rupel iVox is a high-definition audio/video recording device with built-in GPS, accelerometer, and rear camera support. Video is recorded for playback on an included 16GB USB solid-state drive.

    The Verdict:

    The Rupel iVox102h is a feature rich recording device with all the bells and whistles. It’s “install and forget” configuration as well as its high quality image capturing means the iVox102H is a very versatile device. It seems its creator has done an amazing job of incorporating a variety of sensor capabilities into a useful and intuitive device.



    What’s in the box?

    The iVox102H comes with the high-definition camera, a 16GB solid state USB drive, a windshield mount with GPS built in, a 6 meter cigarette lighter power plug, and a rear auxiliary camera. Wire looms are also generously thrown in.


    Description:

    In car, I talk, a lot. A lot of the things I say cannot be repeated in this blog post. In fact, I should probably invest in installing a swear jar somewhere in my mass of PC components and wiring. The Rupel iVox102H was the device that taught me this. That’s because this high quality audio/video capture device sees and hears all that’s going on during my daily commute. It does a clever job of recording what I see as a driver on the busy streets of the DC metropolitan area, all while (optionally) recording all audio that echoes throughout my travels.


    Installation for the device is only slightly more difficult than installing a portable GPS unit. The included base, which features a built-in GPS receiver, simply sticks to your front windshield or dashboard. It connects to the camera with a standard VESA mount and 3.5mm cable so that the GPS data can be written to the camera’s 16GB solid state hard drive, or optionally, a SD card. Next step in installation is to simply run the power line to your nearest 12volt cigarette lighter port. Then optionally the camera will take a 3.5mm audio/video out and yet another 3.5mm jack for the included auxiliary rear camera.


    Once installed, the iVox102H powers on when power is supplied through the cigarette lighter port upon ignition, and powers down shortly after the vehicle is turned off. Optionally, you can connect the device to an always-on 12volt source and record 24/7, though, as always applies in the car, this will only work if you maintain 12volts or more at the battery.


    Shortly after powering on, the camera will automatically begin recording, emitting a simple “recording started” phrase which is elegantly created. This is the “normal” mode for recording. A secondary “event” recording mode is automatically created based on the built-in accelerometer crossing a preset threshold. In this automatic mode, the iVox102H will recapture the prior 15 seconds before the event, and continue recording the preceding 5 minutes after the event before returning to normal mode again. The idea behind event mode is that the moments that need to be captured are captured without the default 30 second splitting the camera saves the files at during the default setting.


    While the iVox is declared as an “HD” capable device, the reality is at its highest setting the primary camera records at 3-megapixels. The video quality is still good enough to capture a license place or an occasional street sign. The rear camera is of lesser quality, but is good enough to use in parking scenarios, which is what the creators designed it for.


    The iVox102h comes with a Rupel Viewer application which allows the video files created by the capture device to be displayed with metadata in tow. The app will show you your calculated speed, latitude, longitude, and built-in accelerometer values in a nice graphical interface. You’re also presented a Google map window which will show your recorded travels. The application, while useful for configuring the camera for things like quality, time format, and distance display, requires a very large resolution display (no car PC will display it), and doesn’t genuinely do anything special. All metadata is shown embedded on the video replay, so users are welcome to simply use they’re own video application.


    The Positive:

    • High quality video capture without the need for a PC
    • Composite video output means you can connect the device to a PC if you wish
    • Quality imaging and audio pickup
    • Auto-power on/off
    • Captures GPS and accelerometer data and uses it for event detection
    • Included software gives you all the video information in a nice GUI
    • Two channels means you can record from two cameras


    The Negative:

    • Camera itself is somewhat large for windshield mounting
    • Can run into cable management problems if connecting all accessories
    • Included application requires a high resolution display to use.


    The Verdict:

    The Rupel iVox102h is a feature rich recording device with all the bells and whistles. It’s “install and forget” configuration as well as its high quality image capturing means the iVox102H is a very versatile device. It seems its creator has done an amazing job of incorporating a variety of sensor capabilities into a useful and intuitive device.

    Updated 12-29-2011 at 02:06 PM by Jensen2000

    Categories
    Product Reviews
  3. Car Computer Install: Wiring The Car

    by , 11-30-2011 at 04:41 PM

    Embed this video



    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.
  4. Why can I buy a Kindle Fire for $200, but an OEM Nav system for my car costs $1000?

    by , 10-31-2011 at 06:59 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.
    http://online.wsj.com/mdc/public/pag...autosales.html
    http://vnsmartphone.com/2011/11/17/a...report-claims/
  5. Mp3Car's Sean Clark on "Why Tablets?"

    by , 10-17-2011 at 03:56 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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