2005 Head Units Push DVD, Removable Media

By Amy Gilroy On Jan 6 2005 - 8:00am

After the long reign of the CD as king of the 12-volt universe, car audio is finally shifting over to DVD as an audio format.

New head units from Alpine and JVC allow MP3s to be played back on DVD so that users can fit up to 8,000 songs on a shiny disc vs. 2,000 for CD.

The new DVD MP3 feature starts this year at a price of about $349, for JVC, but in a few years, it could drop to a baseline of $200, said Alpine's marketing VP Steve Witt. Basically, DVD will eventually replace CD, say industry members.

Some other new features gaining prevalence at CES here, are high-resolution mini LCDs that are embedded in the faceplate of a head unit, and the inclusion of removable media slots, such as CompactFlash (CF), Secure Digital (SD) or Memory Stick.

More of the new head units also offer HD Radio compatibility, and Pioneer is joining Alpine in providing dual-compatible head units that work with both Sirius and XM satellite radio tuners.

One of the notable new products this year comes from Eclipse. The company is introducing several CD receivers with a Memory Stick-based navigation system, allowing a common CD receiver to function as a navigation unit, said the company.

Users can go to an Eclipse Web site and download point-to-point directions onto a Memory Stick. Then the receiver can show the turn-by-turn directions with arrow indicators on the display. Several new receivers will offer the feature, including the new top of the line CD8455. It “brings navigation to people who don't want to pay for it and just want it in their head unit,” said marketing director Michael West.

The CD8455 also has HD radio and Sirius capability and 8-volt pre-out at $550 to $600.

Both Alpine and JVC are showing new models that convert DVD to an audio format by allowing MP3 to play back on a DVD. Alpineis also showing a new track pad feature that is similar to track pads found on laptop computers. It lets users quickly scroll through MP3 files and change modes by sliding a finger along the pad. The track pad or GlideTouch feature will start at $499, said the company.

JVC'snew DVD/MP3 capable units also feature Secure Digital (SD), which is now available on all JVC head units at $299 and above (at no price premium). According to the company, SD is the leading format for digital storage and can be used for storing MP3 files or for downloading photos as personalized screen savers. National product specialist Aaron Novak claims the time is right for offering SD as the price of the memory cards has dropped to a low of $55 for a 1GB card.

One of JVC's hottest new products is an in-dash DVD receiver, KDA-VX1, with an oversized face plate to accommodate a built-in 3-inch TFT. The screen may be used to play back DVD movies or in conjunction with a rear-vision camera or navigation unit. The KDA-VX1 also has MP3 DVD playback and Sirius capability and is expected to ship in March at a suggested list price of $699.

In satellite radio, Pioneerbecame here the second supplier to offer head units that can work with either an XM or Sirius tuner, joining Alpine. And Panasonic, after originally planning to offer Sirius capability, has released an XM-ready, 15-model line for 2005.

Said Panasonic's national marketing manager Rob Lopez, “At the time of developing the 2005 line, we were only able to execute one of the satellite radio providers' strategies. However, ongoing planning includes incorporation of both Sirius and XM.”

Panasonic is also offering a new lower-priced HD Radio-ready head unit, model CQ-CB8901U, now at $499 with built-in HD Radio tuner — down significantly from last year's HD Radio model at $999.

Pioneer's new line is able to work with a new Pioneer-branded Sirius tuner called the SIR-PNR1 that plugs directly into Pioneer units. The tuner is also backward-compatible with some Pioneer head units; however these will have limited display capability, said marketing VP Michael Townsen. “We believe that ultimately the consumer is going to decide which service they want, and we just want to be able to provide them the choice.” The new SIR-PNR1 is expected to ship in January at a suggested retail of $120 including antenna.

Sonythis year is emphasizing ATRAC 3 capability on its 2005 lineup. ATRAC 3 is a compression scheme similar to MP3, but it offers higher sound quality, says Sony. The company's new online music Web site, called Connect Online, uses the ATRAC 3 format, as do Sony's digital audio players. Atrac 3 will be in Sony Xplod head units, starting at $139, which will ship with a CD for downloading music from Connect Online. Sony is not offering an adapter kit for playing its digital audio players.

Clarion is expanding its Music Catcher feature that allows users to capture up to six CDs worth of songs, or about 80 tracks, from a CD in the unit's flash memory. It will be available on the flagship DXZ955MC and models DXZ755MC and DB455MC.

The flagship model DXZ955MC comes with a built-in 4.2-inch touch-screen display on the faceplate, with 4V/6Channel line level output and 53 watt x 4 power .

Kenwood's new top-of-the-line CD receiver features a built-in accelerometer that links to the display. It allows the display to change as the car accelerates or turns either left or right. Kenwood is also offering an OEL display for the first time, featuring 4,000 colors, and claims it “looks like a mini HD monitor.” The XXV-01D is a 25th anniversary special-edition model that is expected to ship in April at a list price of $600.

Several new Alpine receivers feature a Biolite display, which “doesn't wash out in high sunlight,” says the company. Alpine's new top-of-the-line single-DIN DVD, model DVA-9965, includes Biolite, GlideTouch track pad, MP3 playback for DVD, built-in HD radio tuner and full DSP. It is also satellite-radio- and iPod-ready — when used with a kit — at an expected suggested list price of $1,299.

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