By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Signs that the car stereo head unit is undergoing a radical shift may be seen in every corner of the mobile electronics booths at International CES.
In size alone, the single-DIN CD receiver of the past 20 years is converting to the double-DIN format used by close to half of all OEM radios at present.
But the shift goes beyond the size and shape of the CD player. At CES, the beginnings of the transformation can be seen in the launch of new “expandable” head units that are designed to allow all users' favorite gadgets to plug in to the car's stereo system through the head unit.
Industry members see expandability as a key means to compete with newer high-tech OEM radios. Already almost 100 percent of new cars come with a CD player, and many of these have built-in XM or Sirius.
Panasonic's mobile entertainment group director Rob Lopez noted that many of the newer OEM radios “are already MP3- and, in some cases, satellite radio compatible. There was little incentive for consumers who purchased new vehicles in 2005 to add a new radio.”
The strategy for 2006 then, is to offer a wide array of media options, which could give consumers a reason to upgrade their factory systems. These media options include:
iPod cable connectors that are faster and more intuitive than last year
PlaysForSure connector kits for Microsoft MTP based MP3 players
Bluetooth kits for wireless connection to a cellular phone for hand-free communication
USB ports for connections to flash drives or portable hard drives
Dual XM and Sirius compatibility to give consumers a choice of satellite radio service
HD Radio capability
Suppliers face a second OEM challenge because even when consumers do choose to upgrade their CD player, many of the newer cars discourage the removal of the head unit because it is tied into other car functions. To this challenge, the aftermarket is countering with new OEM integration devices that bypass the OEM radio to allow consumers to add gadgets or new amplifiers and speakers to their sound systems (see story p. 162).
Here is an overview of the many media options that suppliers are adding to their 2006 lines, as well as other product highlights and strategies:
Alpine is focusing on all of the above segments including media options, OEM integration and navigation.
The company's new media options include Bluetooth, PlaysForSure and USB compatibility, dual XM and Sirius capability and HD radio compatibility. Many of these are available as add-on kits. Also, Alpine upgraded its iPod connection kit, claiming it is now 200 times faster than the previous adapter. The new kit eliminates the black box and is now a $30 cable that works with Alpine 2006 models from $179 up.
Another new kit from Alpine is for both PlaysForSure and USB connectivity. It allows MP3 players and USB flash drives to be controlled by an Alpine head unit and to play through the sound system. The kit will have a target price of $129; shipping is expected in late spring.
Alpine's new Bluetooth adapter kit works with AiNet head units to offer hands-free calling and phonebook display on the head unit. Finally, the company's new HD Radio adapter (TUA-T500HD) converts AiNet receivers to HD Radio at a target retail price of $249.
Clarion is adding satellite radio capability for both XM and Sirius to many 2006 models and has included a USB port and SD card slot on select products.
The new Clarion DM365USB has a USB port in the front of the unit. It offers MP3/WMA playback, 200 watts of built-in power, two-channel RCA output and remote control. Shipping is expected this spring at a suggested retail price of $259.
Also new is a double-DIN CD receiver with a front-panel SD card slot called the DFZ675MC. It has MP3/WMA capability and Music Catcher, which lets users rip CDs to the unit's memory at 4x speed (so users don't have to carry around CDs). It can store up to six CDs worth of music and is satellite radio ready at a suggested retail price of $499.
Directed is introducing a portable media player, model DMP740, that can operate as a handheld or dock into a Directed overhead monitor. The 40GB unit has a 7-inch LCD and shipped in December at a suggested retail price of $599.
Dual is introducing a Microsoft PlaysForSure external adapter for three new in-dash DVD players and several CD players. Called the EAUSB-20, the adapter allows a head unit to control a PlaysForSure device and to display song and artist information on the radio screen. The adapter is expected to ship this spring at a suggested retail price of $99. Other Dual units offer “iPlug,” which can connect the head unit to an iPod, but not control it.
Eclipse is expanding its AVN line with a new double-DIN AVN5500 with 6.5-inch motorized screen and a Memory Stick slot. It offers navigation, audio and video DVD playback and Sirius-ready tuner, and will ship toward the end of January at a price to be announced.
It is joined at CES by a new flagship CD7000 single-DIN CD receiver with SRS Labs Circle Surround II and the Eclipse's navigation aid feature that allows users to download maps from the Internet to Memory Stick, and to display direction cues on the head unit's screen. The Sirius-ready unit is expected to ship at the end of January at a suggested retail price point near $599.
H&M is introducing a CD player with FM radio, iPod connectivity, SD/MMC card reader and front-panel USB connector called the CA-5555i It has a $199.99 suggested retail price. Also new is a Bluetooth converter kit for existing CD players, at $199.99.
Jensen is introducing the VM9021TS AM/FM/DVD monitor with an SD card slot and iPod control as well as a built-in TV tuner. The navigation-ready unit has a 6.5-inch touch screen and offers MP3, WMA, VCD, SVCD, JPEG, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, AVI and XM radio playback. It is expected to ship in April at a suggested retail price of $999.99.
Jensen is also introducing an in-dash car computer with navigation and Bluetooth. The model NAVDINPC 1.0 is a single-DIN, all-in-one-chassis computer using a 1GHz Nehemiah processor with 512 MB of RAM. It is bundled with navigation software, has three USB ports, Ethernet, printer and serial ports, and it is expected to ship in March/April at a suggested retail price of $1,699.
JVC is shipping an improved version of the iPod interface it debuted at last year's CES but held back from shipping. The KS-PD100 interface allows the head unit controls to mimic those of the iPod. It also charges the iPod and began shipping in December at $119.99.
JVC is also showing a new receiver with built-in 3.5-inch widescreen in the center of the faceplate. The KD-AVX2 has satellite-ready capability (XM and Sirius) and DVD Audio compatibility at a suggested retail price of $749.
Kenwood is adding USB connectivity and Bluetooth capability to seven 2006 source units starting at a suggested retail price of $199. A new KCA-BT1 Bluetooth kit will ship in April. It allows incoming calls to be answered from the radio and the cellphone's phonebook to be displayed on the screen at a suggested retail price of $250.
Panasonic is adding new full speed iPod connectivity, Bluetooth and satellite-ready tuning (for both XM and Sirius) and MP3 starting at a low price point of $139.
The company's new iPod cable does not require a black box and is expected to ship in February at a suggested retail price of $49.99.
For Bluetooth capability, Panasonic will provide a kit that includes a dash-mounted send/end button and a microphone. The radio will mute when a call comes in and display the caller ID function, as well as provide hands-free conversation. The kit will ship in February at a suggested retail price of $199.95.
Panasonic is also offering its first double-DIN DVD receiver/monitor, the CQ VD6503U. It is iPod, Bluetooth and satellite radio ready (for both XM and Sirius) and has MP3/WMA capability. The unit will also be able to work with a Panasonic navigation unit to be offered in 2006. The CQ VD6503U is expected to ship in March at a suggested retail price of $999.99.
Also new from the company is one of the world's smallest rear-vision cameras to ship in March at $229.95.
Pioneer is offering Bluetooth capability on two head units, one each in the Pioneer and Premier lines. Both models also feature the company's first full color OEL displays at a suggested retail price of $550 each. Also new is a full-color OEL model (without Bluetooth) at $430. The company has also improved its iPod integration user interface, it said.
Rosen is showing a new T12 overhead monitor with docking for removable cartridges for recording video from a home theater system or TV for playback in the car. It also has 25 built-in games.
Sony is introducing the CDX–GT300 CD receiver with satellite radio, MP3 and ATRAC capability, plus detachable face and second preamp out at a low $149 suggested retail price. This joins the MEX-1GP receiver shown at SEMA. This latter CD receiver has a removable faceplate that stores 1GB of flash memory. When detached, the face can connect to a PC via a USB port for downloading up to 500 songs. The MEX-1GP ships later this month at a suggested retail price of $349.
Valor is showing an adapter that can play back video, audio and other formats stored on an iPod through the car equipment. Even if the iPod is an audio-only version, the iLink lets users play video, photo and music files that may be stored on the iPod in about ten different formats. The iLink ships this month at $149 suggested retail.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.