By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Hot new displays and MP3, CD-R and CD-RW capabilities are the key features of head units debuting at CES this year.
Many leading brands have added MP3 capability to a third or more of their 2002 lines, where last year, suppliers tended to offer only a single MP3 unit. The feature is also available at increasingly lower price points and should hit the $179 mark this year, suppliers say.
In addition, nearly every supplier is showing improved displays, including Sony, which is debuting the first head unit with a TFT LCD display. Alpine is also taking an unusual tack this year by showing a Nokia cellular phone interface.
Sony's new TFT display unit, model number MEX-5DI has a 90 by 360 pixel, 32,000 color screen that allows consumers to view their own digital photographs, animation and screen savers on their car stereo. Users can upload photos to the screen via the unit's Memory Stick slot. They can also assign pictures to certain frequencies so that the pictures pulsate to the music. The new unit also features a motorized CD tray, G Protection — that spins the CD so fast it bypasses a scratch — as well as MP3, CD-R and CD-RW playback. It comes with a wireless remote and is expected to ship in April at a suggested retail price of $999.
Alpine is introducing a new face panel that is an industry first in two ways. The FantomFace XL features a fully motorized face panel that is 30 percent larger than a standard DIN face. It is the first head unit to be compatible with certain Nokia cellular phone products. Through a co-development project with Nokia, Alpine users will be able to place a Nokia phone cradle anywhere in the car, but control the phone functions through their head unit. FantomFace XL comes with a 10-key pad and can display text and numbers as well as short mail service (SMS).
"This is the first step in integrating a telematics-based system architecture into the traditional car audio platform. The FantomFace XL also interfaces with our navigation products," a spokesman said. In the future Alpine is also expected to integrate Bluetooth technology into its head units.
FantomFace XL will be available on the CDA-7998, a CD receiver with MP3, XM and changer controls, and the model CDA-7897.
Panasonic's new display technology was code named "Ghost" prior to CES. It includes a film inside the actual glass of the display, which lights up when electricity is applied but turns black when the electricity is turned off so the face is hidden. When the radio is on, the control panel appears as soft buttons on the extra large touch-panel screen and the user has a choice of seven display colors. The technology is available on the new Panasonic CQ-DF802U, a slim mount CD player with detachable, flip-down face, built-in 50 watt by 4 MOSFET amplifier, and CD-RW compatibility.
JVC is showing two new models offering 3D displays that the company likens to screen savers for a PC. Users can pick from several screen savers and fonts to customize their display and can select any one of 512 colors for the dot matrix STN LCD, as there are eight gradation levels for each of four primary colors. The new displays are available on the KDLH 1000 and 2000. The latter model is a CD receiver with 50 watt by 4 built-in power, MP3 and CD-R/CD-RW playback. It comes with a flip down faceplate and wireless remote.
Other new products debuting this year include several Sony models featuring its new stabilizing system — a motorized slide out CD tray with a spindle to prevent a CD from skipping, even under extreme conditions, said the company. The company's new CDX-MP70 also features G Protection. The CDX-MP70 has MP3 playback, XM-ready receiver and built-in 52 watt by 4 power, as well as CD/MD controls, selectable 7-color display, EQ and new dual knob design. It is expected to ship in February or March at a suggested retail price of $499.
Pioneer's new line includes sixteen single CD models, seven of which offer MP3 capability and, of those, four units will support Windows Media Audio (WMA). Pioneer says it believes WMA will grow more popular because it is integrated into the new Microsoft Windows XP OS released in October 2001. Advantages of WMA include smaller file size and better audio quality, said Pioneer.
Models DEH-P9400MP, DEH-P940MP, DEH-P8400MP and DEH-P840MP allow "multisession" playback, for automatic playback of burned CDs with multiple formats. Shipping is planned for the first quarter.
Panasonic's 2002 lineup includes approximately five MP3 models as well as two DVD players, compared to last year, when the company offered only a single MP3 model.
Sony's line offers approximately four out of 10 models with MP3 capability, and Alpine has five MP3 head units in addition to a DVD changer with MP3 and a multimedia station with MP3.
Clarion is showing 10 new CD receivers, nine of which offer CD-R and CD-RW playback. The top-of-the-line model DXZ925 is one of the first in the industry to incorporate Dolby's new Pro Logic II circuitry. In addition the new unit has a dual-action motorized face, MP3, 6-channel line out, and IR remote. The unit can control Clarion's new outboard Dolby digital/DTS processor as well as DVD and CD changer at a suggested $599.
All of Clarion's new non-Pro Audio units have new high contrast blue back displays and the Pro Audio line has new multicolor displays.
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