“Are we there yet?” That interminable question kids always asked is becoming a thing of the past thanks to the evolution of in-car entertainment. Now the question is, “How long have we got?” as they work out which movies, games and music to play.
No more dangerous driving distractions (which will keep your car insurance company happy), just blissful silence from the back seat. In-car entertainment is not just for kids, either. There’s something for everyone and if you drive long distances or spend lots of time stuck in traffic, there are plenty of ways to stay occupied.
The first car sound systems were simple AM radios with limited channels and poor reception. Then came FM, with much improved sound quality. Then after cassette players and eight-tracks, CD players came on the scene and audio systems combined CD and radio in the one unit.
Today’s car sound systems are more like media centres. They provide connectivity with a variety of devices including iPods and now offer digital radio, internet radio and music streaming services, so you can listen to your kind of music wherever you go in high-quality surround sound.
From the moment portable DVD players first came onto the market, they found their way into cars, where they were propped on knees and provided entertainment as long as the batteries lasted. Some cars provided ports for them to plug into the power supply, but they were still very much hand-held devices.
Today’s in-car entertainment systems include drop-down screens with built-in DVD players or mounted on the back of the driver and passenger seats. And it’s not just in top-end vehicles, either. Any car can now have them installed. In-car television is now also available, with networks of channels exclusively for kids.
Modern cars also offer the driver a veritable cockpit of technological toys including:
- GPS navigation systems with voice directions;
- Bluetooth connectivity with your mobile phone for instant hands-free;
- Voice-activated or touch-screen control of temperature, audio/visual and navigation settings; and
- Driver aids such as reversing cameras, parking assistants and lane changing sensors.
The future of in-car entertainment is much like the future of audio/visual devices in general. Smart phones and iPads are now making their way into cars, bringing with them all the benefits of the internet. Manufacturers are also looking beyond flat screens and experimenting with things like three-dimensional displays on the backs of seats, which can be manipulated with hand gestures, and windows that become touch-sensitive screens and allow you to interact with the scenery outside.
Unfortunately, in-car devices also have drawbacks. Police and car insurance companies are seeing a growing trend between car accidents and people talking on mobiles, sending text messages or fiddling with DVD players and GPS systems while driving. If this trend continues, it may lead to restrictions on the amount and type of in-car entertainment allowed.
In the meantime, manufacturers continue to come up with ever more exciting and innovative ways to occupy our hours on the road. The cry of “Are we there yet?” is becoming a distant memory from our own childhood motoring days, when ‘I Spy’ was the only form of in-car entertainment there was.