By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Video monitors for the car are proliferating — expanding from the overhead console to the dash, to the headrest and now, the sun visor.
More than half a dozen suppliers have begun offering visor monitors during the past year, though first-tier brands such as Audiovox and Rosen have thus far shied away from the segment.
A key benefit of the product is the front-seat passenger's ability to watch videos along with those riding in the back seat. It also provides enthusiasts who can't seem to get enough monitors in the car with another place to put one. The monitors are thin and lightweight and can run as low as $150 before installation.
The drawback is safety. Some people improperly place them on the driver's visor, and any video screen in the front seat is open to legal liabilities, said industry members.
Suppliers offering visor monitors include Emerson Mobile, BOSS and VizuaLogic. Additional brands listed on the Internet include Phoenix Digital, Power Acoustic, Farenheit and a handful of others.
Emerson Mobile offers four models, in screen sizes from 5 inches to 8 inches, and says it expects sales in the segment to double this year over last. Prices on Emerson models range from $249 to $399.
VizuaLogic is one of the few companies to offer OEM-style replacement visors with built-in monitors. The units sport 7-inch screens and are available for the Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, F150 Chevrolet pickup and all General Motors SUVs, including Suburban and Cadillac models. VizuaLogic said it expects a 50-percent increase in visor-monitor sales this year.
BOSS offers visor component monitors in 6-inch and 7-inch sizes and has sold about 1,500 units in each size to date. The niche accounts for less than 5 percent of BOSS' monitor sales, but the category is, of course, growing, said Tony Hicks sales and marketing VP. The biggest detractors to sales are legal issues, he claimed. "It's viewable to the driver and that is illegal in most states. But people do the same thing with in-dash monitors."
Hicks also noted that enthusiasts are known to put the super-thin visor monitors in their trunk and stop and show them off and watch TV. He added that visor monitors are well suited to marine applications because of their thin profile. "You can mount them to a wall on a boat, where there is little space behind the wall," he noted.
Joe Cavanaugh, president of Stereo West in Omaha, Neb., said drivers cannot see the image on a visor monitor that is mounted on the passenger side. "It requires a pretty high degree of side viewing," he claimed. Although passenger visors can flip sideways, they only flip away from the driver, he said. Cavanaugh added that his company refuses to install monitors on driver-side visors, although he does get many requests.
Visor monitors are often purchased for the "cool factor." "The monitors have become an option as the screens have gotten thinner and the prices have come down," Cavanaugh said. We have some customers who want to install as many monitors in the vehicle as they can find places to do it. [Some low-end monitors] are not great quality, but some kids are just looking for more monitors. God bless them," he added.
Steve Weimar, Rosen sales and marketing VP, said the company does not participate in the front-seat market for mobile video "because it's illegal in any state to have it in the front while the vehicle is moving. With all the legislation that has been proposed relative to cellphone usage, you can imagine what is being cooked up for car-video entertainment." Audiovox said it is examining the category.
VizuaLogic claimed its monitors are designed to be used only when the parking brake is on.
CEA advocates the position taken by VizuaLogic, and the same approach used in in-dash monitors — that the monitor or source unit should be connected to the emergency break or gear select so the unit cannot be played while the car is in motion, said a spokesman.
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