March 25, 2015
Intel Car PC at Cebit
Intel Installs a PC in a car
If there is anyone who wants to promote this technology its Intel. There are more than 300 million cars on the road, that outnumbers PCs. Having foresight and hearing the future ChaChing! involved with making this technology a must have, Intel wedged a PC into a MiniCooper. Now, the rectangle screen looks dumb in the round hole, we wont even mention the metaphor they seemingly missed in doing that but the concept is right. Lets get it in the car, lets use computers in cars like super laptops.
Where this all gets sticky is the 50 month paper to roll-off-assembly-line turn around that is STILL the standard for automakers. PCs have a 36 month useful life. Putting that in perspective, by the time a car is off the line, the PC designed for it might be 4 years old. That's about as useful as a bag of belly lint. There are cars that have been going through the cycle in 24 months which is encouraging but the solution might be in only making space for the standard form factors and installing systems that can be SIMPLY upgraded.
The article mentioned the danger of in-car computers becoming infected with a virus and hurting the car. Intel said that the in-car PC could be completely disconnected from the car. I don't think that will be the case. More and more sensors will connect up to the computer, allowing for complex route planning, efficiency monitoring, car health remote monitoring and the list goes on. In car viruses will be something to deal with in the future and cannot be ignored. Perhaps *nix is the suitable choice as it's nearly virus-proof. OSX is in that *nix family, it could come up quickly as the OS of choice. Where does that leave Windows and its partner Intel? Securing the Windows OS is a big issue right now and only closed versions of the OS built for specific purposes is somewhat secure. Longhorn, the next Windows juggernaut is on its way along with a new version of IE this fall. It needs to address and solve these issues before automakers look to MS for an in car PC platform. I will note that MS has had an automotive branch for about 8 years now so I find it hard to believe they are not looking to overcome these hurdles.
The eSoccer Mom Market
I was interested to see this ad on the opening spread of this monthâ€™s Nick Jr. magazine. (The magazineâ€™s audience is primarily women with small children.) Note the description at the bottom of the page, and the tag line on the left side. It appears that the little ones want more in the back seat than sponge bob. Little Amber wants to IM with her friends in their respective back seats. Mobile WiFi, GPRS/GSM will allow vehicles to have broadband just like our home computers. Is that even more access, more information overload, more stimulation? Yes, isn't it great? What it tells me is that the major automakers in their own way are seeing the possibilities of adding more complex systems to their cars, systems that may not be closed. There is no denying that computers in some shape or form will occupy the vehicle and provide some set of services. Lets all make sure its not narrowcasted ad-driven crap served up by telcos and cablecos. Its about freedom man! Er, woman!
Mac Mediacenter - UI for Mobile Macs?
The Mac Mini is only short a DIN mounting cage and wiring harness as an in-dash ready to go computer. FOrtunately that minor oversight will be corrected with an iSomethingorother from one of the many white/blue/clear plastic Mac fetishists. Bless them and their ability to fill in the blanks Apple leaves behind. The missing link for Macs to be viable in an an automotive or home theater setting is the 10' UI. What can you use from across the room. Center Stage Project is looking to fix that and not wasting any time doing it. The UI is already very usable with that OSX feel and soothing Mac icons. I would love to see a retail box product come out of this in the next few months. As with anything that is as fluid as mobile computing, it will need to be upgraded on the fly as new plugins and patches come to market. In the meantime we all anxiously await a final beta. I wonder how commited they are to the platform, I didnt see an "i" in front of any of their markenting language. I'll write them a note telling the people wont know its a Mac project unless they call it the iCenter iStage iProject.
Carbot mentioned on radio - eTech Remixed Part Deux
Tech News Radio eTech was a huge hit this year. Steve Holden loved the CarbotPC product and raved about it in his review of the show
It's great to see people getting excited about technology again. This time around its not about high flying dotcoms with stupid names like Fnoople.Net, "Hey, we are going to be the big dog on the street of on-line towel sales" or RedDingus.com, the leaders in the on-line games for the blind space.
Xenarc and Lilliput, the two big dogs in touchscreen mobile monitors have yet to bless the unworthy masses with an in-dash motorized 7/8" screen. I suspect that they are hesitant to get into the moving parts business as people tend to get hamfisted with their gadetry and the concept of an entire RMA department crying might outweigh the neato, first-to-market factor. Ok, I feel ya.
Having said that, people still demand them, still hack them together and even threaten to make kits so non IEEE members can share in the love. The waiting has ended with the arrival of a kit that an avid reader of Popular Science might not mess up. Readers of US and People may want the non pocket protector model, complete unit.
DigitalWorldWide Has a kit that fits just the Lilliput screen, the most popular unit people will already have. Thats a good option for those who pined long into the night for an in-dash, broke down and got the regular one and in-dash models came out right after. Now the options abound. Keep in mind that anything with a motor is in a state of entropy and is just waiting to fail. That goes for all things but motorized rams, pivots, gears, its just a waiting game. If you decide to get one, be gentle with it.
March 15, 2005
ETech Day 1: Hack Sci-Fi Features into your Car
Sadly, I didn't make it to ETech. Lets all have a big, collective awwww. Ok, group hug. Now that we're done with that, I was happy to read a very cool piece on Damien Stolarz, our proud sponsor, who spoke at the show. He showed off the Nash and the, oh, it kills me to write the words... Minivan. Robert Kaye, the writer, mentioned a very important point; automakers are using primitive technology in cars and until they make a better interface, a standard interface, that allows deeper connectivity into their core systems, many systems will run in parallel rather than together.
I propose re-naming minivans to something cooler than minivan. How about sport utility bus, or activity wagon. Oh scratch that, wagon is a no-no now. Its called an "estate". I prefer that, the English have better names for pretty much everything. Loo? C'mon, that cool.
For The Love of Big Brother
I am torn between hating and loving this idea. First, I could have used one to prove that I had the right of way in an accident I was involved in where the office just decided to side with the f-ing liar who hit me. I'm not still mad, that was in 92. I've moved on. On the other hand I don't love the idea of something recording what I do with my car that could be used against me. Hey, I know myself, I'm duplicitous and it shows.
The ACLU would like to put the kibosh on stuff like this and those folks there and the folks at the EFF are fighting the good fight and are looking out for us. The problem is, there might be a way to secure your right to privacy while still being able to provide useful data to investigating officers.
If the FDRs would only keep the last 30 seconds before an impact, then you could get a good idea of what and who was where while not showing officer friendly you were doing 140 on the interstate the night before. Cant we all win this one? I don't see any nodding.
Buzz Kill Buzz Box with no Buzzcocks.
C-Net Watched at the wheel
(Oldsters and Wee Ones should note that the Buzzcocks were a punk band and not some euphemism for something naughty)
Oh what a tangled car we drive. Can we not trust teens to not speed? Where could teens be speeding to? Oh, beer run then off to the party, then the club, then to some friend's house where the 'rents are out of town so the sex can begin. Oh, its late, time to speed home, sexed up, drunk and tired. I don't see the problem.
I'm not sure how a little box that peeps when the g-meter gets tripped is going to tell the teen something he/she doesn't know, like say... you're in a 4 wheel skid going sideways at 60. I thing the device will act is the same way the bell does on that hit-pad-with the-hammer game at the fair. They will TRY to make it ring. $280 is a lot to spend on something that doesn't even keep a log of the event like some rental car companies do. That's a huge bummer, I'm almost tempted not to abuse rental cars now. Almost.
Getting The Business
The New Media Hub? Your Car
One of the things I find refreshing about the New Media business publications is their ranks seem to be filled with folks who grew up with a C64, played intellivision until their eyes hurt, and then played some more. Squinting.
Gartner Group, a company that makes its shekels reading the tea leaves for the fortune 500, has seen the in-car computer and said it was good. I've read some of their publications and have never seen them to be lacking in the research department. I've also checked out some of their older dot-com boom era papers and guess what, they said the end was near. They may be going out pretty far on a techie limb by stating that 9 million cars will have broadband access as of 2020. Consider where we were 15 years ago... The computational equivalent of banging rocks together. I think I get their optimism.
What I would like to see in these articles is the grumblings of a formation of some sort of standards group. In the gelatinous phase this technology is in right now, what could be more appropriate than having a bunch of new-pundits squabble over protocols? I don't know much but I do know that technology wants to run free and pee on the carpet if you let it. I'd be in favor of a standards committee even if it were powerless and only got together to play golf, go to strip clubs and drink martinis. Then again we don't need a committee to do that... I'm still working out the kinks in my plan.
The very interesting point in the article is in the convergence of media into the car, where it goes, how to get it there, who the players will be and what it will cost. Comcast wants in in a bad way but the "cart-it-to-my-car-via-plane-train-WiFi-raft" method leaves me wanting. Perhaps their implementation will be a few generations ahead of anything Scientific Atlanta has had to offer. It will need to be if they want to join in the electric reindeer games.
DirecTV has a very good place in all of this. If they can get a 12" X 4" or better auto-tracking antenna for roof-top mounting or even better a little XM style dingus, they might beat all of the operators before the gate drops.
XM will be the narrowcast king. They already deliver traffic data to the Acura RL. How cool is GPS with a traffic overlay? That's the future. That's useful. Pharos offers the same gig for your phone and PDA. I like those Pharos folks, they need to get in with the automakers before the OEMs have all taken sides and they are left out.
Sirius, I don't know. $500 Mil to Howard Stern? Can they, with 1.2M customers support his pale white expensive ass? I don't see good things for the KOAM. Sure, FM is dead dead dead and no amount of "digital radio over FM" is going to bring it back. Satellite radio is commercial free. Clear Channel, you might become the lonely broadcaster if you don't jump in, buy Sirius and somehow boot Stern. Ok, I actually find his stuff funny sometimes but the daily stripper IQ test, drunken midgets and stupid homeless people tricks just don't do it for me. Don't get me wrong, as much as I want to say I listen to NPR in the morning, I cant. I watch Tivo'd shows from the night before like Big Break 3, Alias, Super Nanny and of course Desperate Housewives. C'mon, why are you looking at me like that?
March 14, 2005
Pharos Smart Traffic Review
Oh, how many times have I looked at my SmartPhone and said "Why the hell cant you do cool stuff like tell me what traffic is like on my route home!?". To tell the truth, I often punch up that little tirade with an f-bomb here and there to get the phone to understand just how disappointed I am. Pharos, makers of a multitude of GPS dongles, devices and "where the hell am I" type of software shot back an answer .They packaged together a rather useful app for SmartPhones and PDAs that can give you real-time traffic maps replete with color coded indicators. The SmartPhone software pulls data from their site which aggregates DOT traffic maps and data from local DOTs (Dept of Traffic or whatever they decided to call it where you cuss in traffic).
There are two categories of service, full map and sort-of-map. I happen to live in a sort-of-map area where you do still get a map but it's not filled out with red and green indicators along the entire route. That's a function of the lame DOT where I live and not Pharos. I do get the text detailed alerts which are very nice. Angelinos can try out their "new" friendly wave thing out using this system as it will show you with gory detail exactly where not to be. Having lived there, anything that allows people in the 818 and the 909 to more effectively get to the 310 is a bad idea. That said, if you live in a congested city and spend a lot of time commuting, this is a tool you need to have. The full map versions cover most of the major metro areas and a few podunk towns who happen to have a big traffic reporting budget. Pharos Smartphone
The software install is super easy, and the interface leaves nothing to scratch your head over. My only complaint is I'd like more zoom and pan options as well as possibly a little time lapse. Acu-Weather maps got me all hooked on the time-lapse map. I'd also like to see it default right to my "home" city. As cool as it is to have traffic maps of the tri-state-area, I don't need the option to pick the city each time I open the app. The strength in an app like this is the ability to open it, update the info, determine route and go. I can always futz with the options in the dentist waiting room if I need something to do.
With positioning technology getting cheaper and installed in more and more vehicles, its only a matter or time before traffic report alerts will become a standard part of GPS mapping systems. It would make sense that OnStar would pick up on this thread and just do it over their install base. Hi, yeah, GM, feel free to pay me a royalty for that little nug-o-wiz.
March 13, 2005
Behind the Times
NYT: A New Techie Mantra: Start Up, Then Sign On
The New York Times, a pillar of the fourth estate, has recognized car computing as a new, vibrant market with untold possibilities. The writer mentioned a number of facts about the current marketplace relating to it being very new and having few actual installs. The number in reality is hard to estimate but we guess its a little more widespread than he infers.
He did mention the MacMini as a mobile-computing platform and that its minions are shorthanded on current UI and other implementation necessities but as popular as Macs are with tinkerers, that slack will be taken up very quickly.
The NYT is not alone in the general media's discovery of Telematics. The local paper here, Austin American Statesman ran a story last week on the Intel install in a Mini over at CeBit. Having a player like Intel show that kind of interest bodes well for the market. AMD may want to start getting on the wagon here if they want to stay and play with the other kids.
There are many facets to in-car computing, also known as Telematics that are changing every day. The feds have no idea what to do if they even know they exist, the DOT is clueless, mainstream PC makers are blind to the market. This is all new stuff. We are at the beginning. Actually, this has been going on in garages for a few years now but 2005 is the year of the in-car computer.
For the skinny, the dirt, the unedited, completely unhinged version of the story, this is your home. Contribute, post, tip, rant, rave, add to the forums, advertise, live and breathe it all in, here, with people who get it. Otherwise, you'll have to get your news from you know who.
This is a growing list of vendors that deal in every aspect of in-car computing products. Please send new vendors to the tipline so they can be checked out and Added.
In Car Computers - Complete:
CarBot PC Manufacturers of complete headless / headed in-car computers. This maker uses a special RF remote to control most funtions without having to be distracted by a VGA monitor.
CarCPU Sellers of turn-key systems purpose built for your car. The mild version is simply a box, screen and input devices. The more involved models include GPS and remote.
CappuccinoPC Sells more than in-car systems, they focus on the itty-bitty systems. They have a good selection of hardware for various implementations.
Xenarc Makers of touch screens also sell a number of in-car computers including a 1 DIN model albeit 266mhz. Not sure exactly how useful that is. Their other stuff is pretty current.
Computers - Parts:
Pharos Makes many many wonderous GPS devices for your car. Their iGPS-360 is now included with Microsoft's Streets and Maps 2005. It's a very powerful and useful combo for about $100. That beats $2000 for some Pio-Alpi unitasker.
Delorme Has a spiffy rugged yellow (all things become tougher when painted yellow) GPS dongle for laptops and in-car computers. It comes bundled with Street Atlas USA 2005.
Getting MP3 In Your Car
With automakers asleep at the wheel, the aftermarket is taking an inside line. Car manufacturers are not yet caught up to "Internet Time", leaving digital music technology out of design plans. XM radio and DVD bundles are good baby steps but cars are a platform that has always demanded aftermarket exploitation. Aftermarket manufacturers are racing to sell some great and some not-so-great products to fill the void left by automakers, who are still having great difficulty getting out of their own way, unable to respond to the demands of customers.
BMW and Audi are the only manufacturers responding to the clamor from the washed masses. The unwashed, myself included, are still dying to get all of that (legally, wink wink) downloaded music and movies into our g-rides. Still, its not quite enough. We have a taste for WiFi, Bluetooth, navigation, DivX, GPRS systems that won't stink up the parking lot with stale technology in 2 years. Cars will need to be upgradeable and standards established in order to provide customers with new technologies for their cars' 100-200K mile lifecycle. As much as automakers long for days when AM/FM/Cassette was enough, times are changing, the market is changing and consumers are demanding more. As cool as it is to walk around the Villages with an iPod, looking hip and making sure not to get mugged, a large number of people drive to work, drive as a job and otherwise spend a crapload of time in cars. Cars without the benefit of the entire Ween discography in the trunk.
Until car manufacturers offer up an OS (Please let it not be Windows [Don't get your hopes up - ed.]) and a Firewire integrated automotive system, the aftermarket will continue to hack the wiring harness. The good news is, it's been blown pretty wide open, so get that Captain and Tennille record dubbed to MP3 and Private Benjamin compressed to DivX, because your car is ready.
A few automakers are offering Phatnoise, a hard drive-based music jukebox that mounts in your trunk, connecting to your stereo via wiring harness or FM antenna interconnect. Audi is first to market with that, although others are soon to follow. If you aren't bumping an Audi, though, it's time to get out the tools and tear into that dash.
Phatnoise and Kenwood offer up kits for most makes and models. Some can pipe ID3 tags and file names to the head units in some but not most cars. They offer tethered accessory displays which, through the magic of Velcro, secure to the dash.
The Phatnoise Music Keg, obviously named to appeal to those who prefer to purchase everything by the barrel, come in three configurations. A 10GB (tall boy), 20GB (pony keg), and a 60GB (frat size) seem to be offered (although different sites have contrary details). The unit is about the size of a CD changer and has a nifty USB 2.0 connector port that is used to connect the keg to a computer. Using the Phatnoise software (PC only), music is downloaded to the box and can be used to play at your desk in a spiffy dock.
For the weekend dashboard thrasher, PIE and PAC Audio make adapters that add auxillary inputs to a large number of factory head units. The AUX inputs provides 2 RCA Line-in channels of audio from sources like an iPod, portable DVD player or console mounted record player. In addition, PAC Audio makes an adapter called an AUX POD which hooks an iPod directly to most stock wiring harnesses. The in-dash fondling is worth the effort as it only connects to the harness clip, switched 12V+ and ground. Difficulty lies in making sure you get the right adapter as there are many different head units for each make. Get the right one - for some crazy "electricity" reason, it matters.
Other harnesses include the much-hyped ipodmybmwwithacrappyexpensiveadapter.com. BMW, bless their little hearts, offer up a multi-million dollar ad campaign to sell an iPod connector that lets you put your iPod in the glove box and shows your music as Track 1, Track 2, etc. Thank you very little.
Which is silly, because as it stands, the iPod, in all of its white and pastel mini glory is still the king of portable music. Belkin has gone hog wild making lots of white gadgets that let you take it everywhere and hook it to just about everything. The Belkin Auto Kit, a nice little jobbie, plugs right into the cigarette lighter, where from the 12v socket connects directly to the iPod dock connector and gives you a handy 1/8-inch output. They also offer FM and Cassette adapters but after dropping multiple Bens on the iPod, you might as well take it uptown and install a PIE or PAC-AUDIO AUX input. Cassette adapters are the orthodontic headgear of car audio (don't get me started on automakers still putting cassette players in cars).
For direct connection to the harness, ICELINK from Dension and AUX POD [pictured] from Pac Audio offer iPod dock connector direct to wiring harness connectors. I've not tried these guys out but if your car matches their listed applications, they offer a quick and easy way to get the job done. Alpine shows much love for the 'pod with their KCA-420i. The hookup goes from iPod to AI-NET and can be controlled just like a CD-changer but - get this - it shows the ID3 tags, unlike a certain Bavarian aftermarket solution. Crazy, right? I know! This is a very elegant solution for people who have Alpine head units or are considering an aftermarket stereo.
Bypassing the iPod directly, the folks at Alpine also offer up the relatively anemic HAD-5460 16GB 1DIN in-dash MP3 player with removable drive. The concept is good but execution misses the mark. 16GB is just too small for the $850 price tag. Alpine makes outstanding car audio electronics, though, so we're expecting a massive 200+GB big brother lurking around the corner, although assuming the same price-to-GB ratio, it should cost about $10,625.
Sure, the shiny shiny of a new Alpine or Phatnoise unit is nice but there are a small number of head units and trunk mounted drives that are kicking big-name butt. Some of these relative unknowns are more geared for the slashdot crowd who like dragging the oscilloscope out to the Corolla but for the non IEEE of us, there is a palatable solution. Dension offers up no less than 4 products with oodles of spinning disk space. They slice and dice the options enough to make even the most fickle of us happy. The trunk mounted remote-drive option even lets you stuff a 300+GB hard drive in it. With line levels out, built in 12V power supply, remote LCD display and upgradability, this could be the best way to get a massive collection into your car. It has optional FireWire and USB connections as well. At $899 US the bang/buck ratio works out to be rather favorable.
Depending on the depth of your wallet and needs, getting MP3s into your car en-masse can go from a few hundred dollars to thousands. If you don't know what you want, start with a foundation you can build on by installing a basic AUX interface or a decent head unit that takes multiple inputs. From there adding an iPod or a computer is a matter of adding rather than replacing equipment.
March 12, 2005
Car PC Round Up
Car DVD players are so 5 minutes ago. DirecTV in the car, old news. X-Box in the back seat, puhleez. Any car enthusiast worth their salt has a computer in their car. That doesn't include the old laptop you "forgot" to give back to that we're-all-gonna-be-rich dot com before it folded.
Only a few years ago, putting a working PC in a car meant wedging a desktop PC in whatever vehicular orifice one had available, and performing DC/AC gymnastics to get the beast humming. There was also the issue of where exactly on your dashboard do you put a 15" monitor. All said and done, even a finished product wouldn't be terribly useful, but the CPU would make a nice projectile in a head-on collision.
A new generation of car specific fanless cases, power supplies, screens and input devices have made installing a fully functional computer as simple as adding a new stereo. No bodywork required. No projectile computers.
The compelling argument comes from the fact that a modern computer can do anything a car stereo can do and much, much more. Currently you can install name brand DVD, MP3, TV, radio, XM and navigation hardware into your car, costing you thousands and the possibility that it wont all work together. A computer in your car can offer up all those options and lots more to make sure you're distracted enough to plow through a farmers market. Internet access, encoded movies, gigs of MP3s, email, web browsing, in-car gaming, and even, *gag* office applications are just some of the things that a little box in the trunk can offer.
Integrating the audio with your existing system is as simple as using an AUX input adapter.
All of the systems listed here come with or have optional touchscreens. Touchscreens run about $375. Well worth the price but if you're going lo-dough, a regular 7" TFT with VGA input will do you just fine. Lilliput and Xenarc screens are available through Xenarc and Logic Supply. These brands are the standard in car PCs as they have VGA inputs rather than composite, which will look like sheep snot in comparison.
Standard I/O devices like Keyboards also come with or are options with all systems. Gyration sells an RF keyboard and pad-free air mouse. Using it while driving may scare other drivers. Some even come with an IR or RF remote that controls numerous functions without having to whip out the QWERTY. Earn your nerd stripes by using a PocketPC Rudeo or Niveus remote.
Mounting the PC is pretty straight forward. One Xenarc PC model is single DIN sized so it fits in most factory radio slots. The rest are small enough to be mounted where one would put a CD changer, although these are often smaller than changers. Some units could, with a little dash-hackery, mount in larger Chrysler / GM sized factory radio holes. Power requirements are handled by DC/DC 12V mainboards so no power supply needs to convert the power from AC to DC per your home behemoth. No need to get your panties in a twist about when the car turns off, most systems have power management that makes the PC go nightey-night after a few minutes. Ones that don't come with that option from the factory can be upgraded with a part from Opus Solutions that puts the PC into a sleeper hold.
What's the point of having your PC on the road if you cant crank up that old Interweb. Options are aplenty for getting that TCP/IP stack humming. Before the WiFi geezers get their Depends askew, lets cover that gray area of Wardriving. Latch on a USB or PCI 802.11 card (PCMCIA if you got it) and start sucking down that bandwidth from those unsuspecting folks who cant manage to assign a WEP key. The de-facto standard software for Wardriving is Netstumbler. In order to get any range at all, its important to get a WiFi card that takes an antenna attachment. PCI is preferable as most of those cards use standard connectors that let you crank up the gain a few Dbi with a stronger antenna The NetStumbler store has a whole slew of combos for you. It's best to buy it all as a kit since all of the parts are mated up and mating is important stuff. 5Dbi omni directional is the minimum you want for an antenna. Avoid directional antennas as they are just that, directional, so its only good if you know where the access point is, while you're moving, in a car. Nuff said.
Another way to get that coveted bandwidth is to use that vibrating nuisance in your pocket. Most modern wireless phones have a USB cable (and yes some jackass phone makers *still* sell serial adapters as if I were going to TTY into the phone) that along with their connection software let you use their GPRS / PCS to surf the web. The downside is some providers charge you astronomical prices per MB. Check out the pricing structures before signing up for a data plan.
The foolproof method is to buy a PCMCIA data access card from a wireless provider. Sprint has 3 different connection cards. Verizon also has 3 cards, some using older networks and the Sierra Wireless AC580 which does a very respectable 2Mbs. At $350, it should. AT&T only has one card but its the Sony Edge card which I've used and it kicks all of the other cards shiny flat butts. At $free and $79/mo its hard to argue with it, in spite of my feelings about AT&T customer service. Yeah, its 130Kbps but unless you're downloading off of Giganews.com driving down the highway, its plenty. The only difficulty using these cards is that their little antennas may not be able to get great reception if locked up in the trunk. Most of the wireless Internet providers offer a Sierra Wireless connection card. Sierra, thinking about the many possible uses, makes a bunch of antenna extenders. They run about $40 which is easier than extending the PCMCIA slot out to some other place in your car.
Sound reproduction and the ability to process complex decoding allows for a very broad range of audio options. A few the car PC's have some sort of 5.1 digital audio out. Car amplifier maker Phoenix Gold makes a new line called Octane which takes Digital Coax and TosLink optical in and decodes / distributes Dolby Digital and Pro Logic.
I harken back to the day dad bought me a black and white 4" tube TV that worked in the car. Oh the joys of watching the shifting snow that I could almost make out as Barney Miller. Over-the-air TV is still kinda crappy but for only $100, BAM! All done. Barney Miller may still look like a gray snowy blur.
Remote mounted slim form-factor DVD drives are available so as to avoid stopping to get into the trunk to change out movies stored on physical media. Weird, I know, but some people don't encode all their movies. Jack Valenti is rolling in his future grave.
One of the big savings in setting up your car system is that the cost of adding a navigation "system" is nominal. There are a ton of USB GPS adapters available so its simpler to find the one that offers what you want than to list them all. For the sake of simplicity and hitting most of the marks, the Earthmate USB GPS hooks you up with a nice yellow (yellow makes anything more rugged and outdoorsy) dingus replete with on/off LED and a copy of Street Atlas 2004. Car CPU has this for $119 or $1500 for the Alpine. Your choice.
For whatever reason, XM decided to make a USB, computer specific radio. I'm not complaining at all, I just didn't expect that kind of subtle genius from a big company. The XM PCR for $50 is smallish and easy to hide in the car amongst the multitude of other devices. The antenna is made for home PC use but its not huge and can be hidden in the package tray under some fabric if not right behind a headrest. If you have XM, its only $6.99 more to add another unit. I said Unit, heh.
A few companies have the forethought to address most if not all of the needs of a car PC user. From a bare bones kit to a turn-key system, there are more than enough options. Prices start as low as $300 for a small form-factor unit and go up near 3K for the Macguyver do-it-all models.
CarBot PC Takes a more whole media experience approach telling us we don't need a distracting, accident causing display to enjoy the benefits of having a PC in your car. That said, the unit has a standard VGA out and can use a touch screen that gives you access to their custom designed interface. The whole system is set up to be controlled through a custom designed RF remote doing away with the need for an IR flasher. Their UI is designed to be easy to use while in motion. Fortunately, the remote can be used to access most functions. It also has a spiffy voice feature so you don't need to look at a screen at all. Swanky and a good deal at $1600
CarTFT offers up a "complete" solution that includes a 7" touchscreen TFT (nach) DVD player, 2.8GHz processor,60GB HD, 512MB RAM and a GPS maus. Seriously, they actually call it a maus. They slay me. At 1499 Euros, you would expect a real maus and keyboardenzi (I made that up) along with some sort of remote, IR sensor, WiFi, PCMCIA. It does include "espacially created memory" (sic) and you know we all need that.
The CarCPU Elite system, is just that, you know, l33t. A well thought out package that offers up just about everything possible in one box. The external DVD, GPS, IR Remote, smart power supply, WiFi, Gyration keyboard / mouse and touchscreen and USB Audigy 2 NX. The Audigy 2NX decodes 5.1 and 7.1 allowing you to use the above mentioned Phoenix Gold amp to give you the full cinema surround sound without faking it. All you would want to add is the TV / FM tuner and XM radio.
At $2849, its a touch on the pricey side but you get the whole enchilada. The Lite, low carb version has less goodies but saves you a bit at $1959 with screen.
Xenarc Technologies has a broad offering of car specific computers from a 1DIN (the only 1DIN specific model I found) to larger fanless models made to go into more cramped spaces with less ventilation. Fanless doesn't mean cram it under the rear seat, its still a computer and they do get hotter than your run-of-the mill car amp. The CP-1000 1DIN model could be the end all be all but for some odd reason they have a MMX-266MHz CPU which will limit it from being able to run modern applications and operating systems. Linux hax0rs can rejoice if they need a dash-mounted BASH prompt.
Their next up is the MP-FL8 which packs a 2GHz proc in a fanless chassis. It would also be a big winner except for its lack of PCMCIA slot which is critical for AT&T/Verizon/Sprint wireless internet cards. No PCI slot either, so any WiFi will need to be done via USB and I don't know of any USB WiFi adapters that can take an external antenna to extend range. I guess that model would be called the FL8io.
The big baby in the bunch MP-SC6 is larger but does offer a single PCMCIA slot. Enough for that wireless access card but still relegating your WiFi to USB if you choose to use both.
Cappuccino PC Slimpro boxes look just like the ones over at Xenarc. Someone here is "borrowing" from someone else.
Not that I'm pointing any fingers either way... What makes the offerings from Cappuccino different is that most of the models have PCMCIA making them oh so friendly for wireless internet. Cappuccino offers almost turn-key solutions and a ton of ways to roll your own. Since putting together the other parts to make the whole system sing isn't a huge stretch, this is a good starting point for do-it-yourselfers. If the Mini-ITX form factor is just too big, they also sell micro-ITX 12/12CM mainboards. No cases included, so dealing with the annoying guy at Radio Shack may be required to source a project case. That might be a deal breaker.