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  1. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build - Hardware Overview

    by , 06-11-2013 at 11:33 AM


    The Hardkernel ODROID-X2

    The heart of the Android head unit was obviously the item most considered for a new project build. Because I demand a lot of power from my system, as well as a lot of connectivity options, I simply could not choose the easier way to get Android up and running. The ODROID-X2 is a powerhouse of a development board, boasting specs that meet or exceed my prior Windows based installation. The processor that powers the ODROID-X2 is the Exynos 4 Prime ARM Cortex-A9. With four cores, a default 1.7ghz of power that can be easily overclocked if need be, the ODROID-X2 is the ideal launching platform for a powerful Android car PC. The board houses 2GB of DDR 2 RAM, and boast a very capable 3D graphics processor which can handle more than one would need in the car, unless of course you plan on hosting 4 player Mario Kart 64 tournaments in traffic.




    The Android standard benchmark utilities, Antutu and Quadrant, both prove the ODROID-X2 as a absolute powerhouse of a board. This coupled with its miniature profile at 90x94mm makes it the best choice for an Android head unit.




    Another key factor in selecting the ODROID-X2 for my car PC needs was the ability to purchase compatible hardware accessories at once source. Hardkernel.com sells the board along with compatible Wifi, Bluetooth, UART, and Android-installed storage solutions. For my build, I selected the 64GB eMMC memory module with the thought I could also add a 64GB SD card for additional storage, but you cannot use both at once. The board has a jumper that allows you to select which option you choose.






    The ODROID-X2 has a total of 6 host-enabled USB ports that can provide the max 500mA per port provided your supplied power meets the requirement. Considering that both wifi and Bluetooth need to be handled with dongles and your touchscreen needs an additional port, its safe to assume that at least one powered hub is a good option. Sound output is handled by a single 3.5mm port and input is handled by a second 3.5mm port. Additional components can be connected via the 50pin expansion slot. This allows interfacing with items like LVDS displays, GPIOs and more low-level device interfaces. If ribbon wires aren't your suite, the micro-HDMI port can be your primary display means. Take note though, that the ODROID-X2's HDMI port is hardware locked to display at either 720p or 1080p. That means that for devices like the Lilliput 669, you must use a HDMI-to-VGA adapter to achieve native resolution without overscan.


    Because the ODROID-X2 requires a regulated source of 5 volt 2 amp power, it cannot be powered properly via the unregulated 12v found in most car systems. Because of this, I acquired a Mini-Box DC/DC Power converter. In fact, I acquired two, one for the ODROID, and one for the display, as they both run on entirely differently input voltages. There may be an all-in-one solution that fits your bill, but I like that the two will be isolated. The ODROID-X2 is out of the box capable of auto start on power up, and doesn't need to be shutdown or put to sleep with ignition, so you wont have to deal with any timing issues.


    The rest of the Android head unit installation will allow me to use all of the car PC add-on equipment used from the Windows PC. OBD-II receiver, GPS receiver, USB hard drives, and cameras can all be plugged in and work without much muss or fuss. The eGalax touchscreen module found on the new Lilliput 669 charged with the task does however require some kernel modifying to work properly. More on this in the next blog.

    While finding a spot for the ODROID in my compact vehicle wont nearly be the hassle of my Windows system, finding a suitable case to protect it from at least some of the bumps and bruises of the road became somewhat a chore. Custom cases aside, there are a few eBay retailers which provide a solution. My choice of casing can be shown below. While it doesn't provide much side protection, my new Android head unit looks good in it's two-piece .


  2. Hardware Review: Andrea Electronics WNC-1500 Wireless Computer Headset

    by , 03-11-2013 at 11:52 AM

    What is it?

    The Andrea Electronics WNC-1500 is a Wireless Computing Headset featuring digital audio enhancement and noise cancellation.

    The Verdict:

    The WNC-1500 is an excellent option when looking for a wireless communication device for VOIP. Communication was crystal clear in a variety of busy environments. The headset is very comfortable and provides a secure fit allowing for a pleasant listening experience.



    What’s in the box?

    The WNC-1500 Comes with the headset, a 2.4ghz USB adapter, USB charging cable, a convenient carrying case, and an instruction manual. Software is also available for download from AndreaElectronics.com


    Description:

    Andrea Electronics is widely known in this community for the stellar series of Superbeam USB microphones. When installing a automotive PC, the Superbeam was the best available option for hands-free audio communication for a very long time. The quality of the Superbeam bundle has been reassembled into a wireless audio headset named the WNC-1500.


    Each part of the WNC-1500 package has been considered for fit and finish. The headset itself is extremely comfortable, which each part of the headset which touches your ear cushioned more than adequately with genuine leather. The attached microphone with included pop filter rests away from the face but in ideal position for vocal clarity. Microphone placement was considered not only for clarity, but it stays out of the way during video conferencing for the most part. The headband is also cushioned and does an excellent job of securing the headset speakers comfortably. Being wireless, the device is made to be mobile, and consideration was certainly made to keep the headset snug without being painful.


    The WNC-1500 comes with a convenient set of controls on the right earbud. Included buttons are for volume control, music playback next/previous track, power, and configuration. The buttons are raised with a firm press, but unless you use the headset often, you may find using conventional computer controls more friendly. I find myself hunting for the proper control through trial and error too often.


    The most endearing feature of the WNC-1500 set is the audio quality. Its crystal clear that in it's out of the box form, the headset is made for verbal communication. Despite being wireless, I could effectively speak and listen as if using a landline form of communication. There was simply no static or filtering noises with callers, and they never reported issue in response to my end. Andrea calls it "military grade acoustic noise cancelling technology", I'll just say it does the job and then some. The headset does just enough to filter ambient noises locally as to not disturb what your ears are hearing through the 40mm speaker drivers. By default, the headset doesn't thrill in regard to music or gaming enjoyment, but the included software has a 10 band graphic equalizer to aid in this regard. Despite this, I still felt at times that the headset muffled the audio experience while gaming at its most ideal setting. The virtual surround sound feature was lacking.

    The WNC-1500 is powered by a built in lithium-ion battery. Simply plug in the WNC-1500 with the included USB cable and it will charge fully and relatively short time. The LED indicator on the headset will indicate when charging has completed. During testing, I observed battery life in the 5-7 hour range, more than enough for one sitting. The wireless range too was outstanding as audio clarity would hardly be affected until I was some 40 feet from the USB adapter. This far exceeds any bluetooth headset I've used to date.

    The Positive:

    • Terrific audio quality and noise cancellation
    • USB rechargeable
    • Comfortable design and secure
    • Fold away design and included carrying case means the headset will go where you do
    • Excellent battery life and range

    The Negative:

    • Not immersive sound for gamers
    • Must use device manager to enable/disable the USB adapter as your primary sound card


    The Verdict:


    The WNC-1500 is an excellent option when looking for a wireless communication device for VOIP. Communication was crystal clear in a variety of busy environments. The headset is very comfortable and provides a secure fit allowing for a pleasant listening experience.



  3. More on CES: "Square" your car PC away with Xi3

    by , 01-16-2013 at 02:10 PM

    The Xi3 booth at CES was jam-packed with these ultra-cool x86 computing systems. Shown above is the Xi3 5A. This 4" modular cube houses a 1.8ghz dual-core AMD CPU, 2GB of system RAM, and up to 1TB of solid state storage. It's modular design allows for a host of peripheral devices, with multiple options for USB/ eSATA, and display ports. The 5A does include a fan for system cooling, but I can say after demoing the device it's indeed silent. It sips power at only 20 watts, and can be powered from 12-24v.






    So what's missing from making this a go to Car PC option? The only downside i see is the lack of the smart automotive power management that we know from Opus and Minibox systems, but because the device is modular and Xi3 is looking at the device to be installed anywhere possible, the engineers eyes lit up at the idea of creating a automotive add-on module to handle that. ETA is of course unknown, but it's great that there's another company out there that gets frenzied up for car PC goodies.


    If the 1.8 dual core isn't enough power for your setup, Xi3 has other builds that might work. The X7a, while slightly more power demanding at 40 watts, packs quad core power and more memory to boot. It's plenty powerful enough for the user who needs to video edit or game on the go.

    The Xi3 modular systems start at just $399.

  4. Hardware Review: MIMO 720F USB Touchscreen Monitor

    by , 12-16-2012 at 03:51 PM

    What is it?

    The MIMO 720F is a USB powered touchscreen monitor with a built-in fixture style mount.

    The Verdict:

    The second iteration of the MIMO 720F touchscreen monitor features improved performance all around. The colors are brighter, touch layer seems clearer, and drivers are more stable. Whether the 720F is the best for you simply depends on your mounting preference, as the mount design can make or break your install.



    What’s in the box?

    The MIMO 720F box comes with the touchscreen monitor, single power/control USB cable, driver CD, mounting screws, and instruction manual.


    Description:

    Ever since the USB Touchscreen Showdown I have received request for a more in-depth look at the MIMO 720F USB Touchscreen monitor. Having had a second go-round with the display, I can confirm basically all of the pluses and minuses from 2011. The 720F is a fantastic option if considering to add an additional monitor your car PC setup... provided you engineer a manner to mount it.


    Easily, the most differentiating item on the 720F is the "flex" mount. Where most 7-inch screens are going to come with a removable bottom mount solution, this version of the 720 system comes with four non-removable mounting arms. MIMO suggests that there are thousands of applications in which to use this unique design, and honestly, I can see many methods in which the mount would be preferred around the house or at work. The available suction cup mount means you can practically mount the 720F on any stationary mounting surface. There's also a headrest mount for display on the go. However, if you're the type who plans an installation that looks like it's meant the be there, the flex mount will more than likely be a hindrance.


    So while prospective purchasers may have a decision to make regarding the 720F's backside, no one will have a problem with the business end. The MIMO device is easily the nicest looking USB touchscreen to date. The bezel is sleek and clean with no forward facing buttons to speak of. Aside from the MIMO logo on the bottom of the bezel, the 720F can absolutely look OEM properly implemented in a car. Even the power light seems to be considered, as it is offset and not blindingly bright at night.


    The good looks continue when your operating system loads and the display comes to life. Where the first generation was inhibited with some pixilation and color banding issues, "Season 2" of the 720F has drastically improved visuals whether during movement or stationary. I'm not entirely positive if it's the improved DisplayLink drivers or the hardware itself, but rest assured the 720F will display the way you desire. Keep in mind though that you're still limited to a fixed resolution of 800x480, and USB display means your operating system must load before the 720F will work.


    As with all USB touchscreens, the driver requirement put Windows users first in terms of display and touch screen support. The included DisplayLink drivers for Windows have been improved and the result is an increase in stability. I have not experienced the problems resuming from suspend modes as I had in previous iterations. Mac OSX users have been added to the list of users that can take advantage of the MIMO display, provided they don't mind having to purchase a third-party USB driver. Android users may not be left out for long, as there are efforts to bring a Android-friendly driver to the front as well for host-mode compatible devices.

    The Positive:

    • Superb display quality which rivals HDMI competitors
    • Uses a single USB
    • OSX and Android driver options are now available in limited capacity
    • Sleek bezel design


    The Negative:

    • Mounting system may limit install capabilities
    • Still requires Windows to load before it will display
    • Single USB cable may cause problems with some USB hubs

    The Verdict:

    The second iteration of the MIMO 720F touchscreen monitor features improved performance all around. The colors are brighter, touch layer seems clearer, and drivers are more stable. Whether the 720F is the best for you simply depends on your mounting preference, as the mount design can make or break your install.

    The MIMO 720F is available on Amazon

    For a video comparing the 720F with the other latest USB Touchscreens click here


  5. GPS Review: Comparing the BU-353 with the new BU-353 S4 edition

    by , 06-01-2012 at 01:57 PM

    Looking for a new USB GPS device for your car PC installation? Check out this video on the latest entry from USGlobalSat, the BU-353 S4 and see how it compares to the forum favorite, BU-353.
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