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Car Video Suppliers Looking Beyond DVD

3/24/2006 01:50:00 PM Eastern

New York - Suppliers are looking beyond the DVD disc to new ways of getting video into the car, and many are turning to the same content that is popular in the home and in portables.

Today’s consumers want more choices than “the same disc that sits in the car so you keep playing the same movie,” said Audiovox mobile electronics senior VP Tom Malone. “Anything now with rear-seat entertainment is, ‘How do you get content into the back, instead of the traditional DVD that everyone is used to?’” he said.

Although many suppliers say that DVD is not going away any time soon, some expect that alternative content sources will become a key factor in mobile video in the next two years.

An early pioneer on this front is Vizualogic, which is planning a video-on-demand (VOD) system for the car, including a version of the system that would send movies to a moving vehicle (see story, right).

Brands such as Audiovox, Clarion, Directed and Rosen are offering portable HDD devices that can hold up to 25 movies or more. These are designed to dock with rear-seat entertainment (RSE) systems.

Other companies believe that the new video iPods that support up to 150 hours of video will become a popular alternative to the DVD, which holds only two hours of video. Alpine, Blitz Safe DICE, Peripheral and Vizualogic are planning video-capable iPod-ready systems or offering adapters.

Plans are also afoot to link car video screens to cellular phones that support live TV. In three to five years, most cellphones will be video capable, according to the Boston-based Yankee Group. New live TV services are under construction, such as Qualcomm’s MediaFLO and Modeo that will offer 10-20 channels of live TV directly to cellphones.

A third service, MobiTV already offers nine live TV channels to a half million cellphone subscribers through carriers including Sprint and Cingular.

Modeo says bringing service directly to car video RSE systems “is on the radar.” Modeo was demonstrated by Kenwood in a car video system at International CES. Modeo plans to launch in three or more markets (New York, Pittsburgh and Houston) this year.

Other mobile video content services include satellite video, expected from Sirius in 2007 with about three to four channels, and satellite TV for the car offered by KVH, RaySat and Audiovox.

At present the two front-runner alternatives to DVD in the car are the video iPod and PMPs, said suppliers.

Just as the iPod caused an upheaval in head unit integration, so it may shake things up in the rear seat.

“Already unless you are buying a lower-sized nano or Shuffle, you can’t buy an iPod without video. It’s going to become standard in higher-end digital audio players,” said Nitin Gupta, analyst for the Yankee Group. Demonstrating the early success of the video-capable iPod, Apple announced last fall that it sold a million downloads of video content in the first 20 days of availability on its iTunes Web site.

Rosen, DICE and Audiovox claim the video-capable iPod is a natural content delivery format for car video because it offers an easy RCA-based connection to a screen; it delivers sharp resolution and has a ready-made method of acquiring content through Apple’s iTunes Web site.

Audiovox said it may offer video-capable iPod-ready products in the next five to six months.

DICE Electronics is introducing a video-capable iPod cradle that connects to an existing car stereo system and video monitor. It offers an audio output and video output and allows the radio (or steering wheel controls) to control the functions of the iPod. “Rather than using a DVD player, you can just now play your iPod,” said Jim Lucas, sales VP.

The cradle will also charge the iPod. It works with BMW, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Toyota and Honda vehicles and the company is working on video-capable iPod cradles for Ford and Chrysler cars. The unit will be available in late April at a suggested retail price of $199.

Peripheral is offering an iPod2Car adapter for video iPods at $189.95 suggested retail price that began shipping in February. Blitz Safe said it will offer video-capable iPod integration devices later this year.

Video iPod integration, however, is not expected to be as widespread as the rage in audio integration because of the limited number of video screens in place in vehicles. More than 6 million vehicles had some type of video screen at the end of 2005 (compared to a base of over 200 million cars), according to TRG Research, Minnetonka. In 2005 alone, approximately 2.2 million car monitors sold (split roughly 50/50 between OEM and the aftermarket) with 22 percent growth forecast this year, said principal analyst Egil Juliussen.

But Directed and others said the car market will inevitably “follow the MP3 audio model” with consumers downloading from portable media players (PMPs) and MP3 players, according to a company spokesperson. Audiovox’s Malone said the PMP portion of that market will be a “fairly small segment of the business,” as many people are intimidated by downloading video to a PMP. “But it’s where the market is going. It’s going to HDD based systems that offer tremendous capability for customizing your content,” he added.

This May, Audiovox will ship its first car video PMP, and Rosen will ship a portable HDD player (without screen) that works with various car video monitors.

Audiovox’s PMP is designed to dock in an Audiovox headrest system. It will include 20GB or 40GB of storage with MP3/WMA/MPEG-4/DiVX and other format capabilities. The headrest/DVD/PMP system is expected to be available in May at a suggested retail price of $1,199.

Rosen’s portable HDD does not have a mini screen. It stores 20GB of movies, or about 25 average full-length movies or 80 half-hour TV shows. It connects to a video device (TV, TiVo, DVR) to record video and will have a suggested retail price of $399. It will also dock with two overhead screens in Rosen’s new T series. The portable HDD will also dock with any OEM or after-market screen, provided it has auxiliary inputs, through a car dock that Rosen will offer in May.