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Car Audio Gets Some Play At SEMA

Las Vegas — The car stereo industry converged here this week for the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association show (SEMA), the largest specialty automotive show in the world, which is becoming a popular venue for new car audio technology and is increasingly attracting top car audio exhibitors.

New products from Pioneer, Sony, Alpine, Kenwood in navigation, HD Radio, Bluetooth and other leading technologies were announced here.

In addition to the tech gear, SEMA offered a magnificent display of hot rods and show cars, including a Sony demo car with an installed PlayStation 3 running the new Gran Turismo HD game displayed on a 46-inch Bravia widescreen inside a modified Scion xA.

On a more practical note, Visteon unveiled at SEMA one of the first HD Radio plug-and-play devices that can shuffle from the car to a home stereo.

Pioneer and Lowrance showed new navigation devices including a Pioneer in-dash AVIC-D3 navigation system that accepts streaming audio from a cellphone.

Visteon’s new HD Jump loosely resembles an XM or Sirius plug-and-play receiver, but it receives HD radio, including multicast HD radio stations, and displays song titles and artist names as they are played. It will ship in January at a $199 suggested retail price with a car kit that must be professionally installed to the car radio’s antenna. An optional home kit will also be available so that the HD Jump can be shuttled from car to home.

Directed Electronics also debuted at SEMA an add-on HD Radio receiver for car radios and a tabletop radio with detachable speakers. Both units display multicast stations and artist and song names and will ship in December at $249 and $299, respectively.

In navigation, Lowrance debuted a new iWay 600c that is one of the first navigation devices to offer both land and sea operation. At a suggested retail of $799, it can convert to point-to-point navigation for boat use. It has a 5-inch high-resolution (640 by 480) screen that can be viewed in direct sunlight said the company. It offers pre-loaded maps of the United States and Canada plus marine depth contour maps of 3,000 lakes. It also has an MMC card slot to load specific depth contour maps of specific lakes. The unit does not have battery operation for handheld use but can be shuttled from car to boat. It includes an MP3 player and photo viewer and will ship Dec. 1.

Pioneer’s new double DIN AVIC-D3 is a DVD-based in-dash navigation device that also offers video playback. It can be used with a new iPod cable to stream video and audio to the AVIC-D3 and it also works with a hideaway Bluetooth module to stream music from a cellular phone or to provide hands-free cellphone communication. It has a 6.1-inch touch display with customizable illumination and comes with maps of the U.S. and Canada and nearly 11 million points of interest. It offers optional XM real-time traffic and it allows users to navigate while playing a DVD or CD. Shipping is expected in March at a price expected to fall below $1,500.

Sony showed 14 new products at SEMA including a splash-proof IPx5-compliant marine car CD receiver. The marine head unit has a unique design that resembles boating gauges and is XM- or Sirius-ready, to be available this winter at $300. Sony also introduced its first slim line amplifiers and subwoofers aimed at the high volume truck market. More than 1.4 million Ford 150, Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram pickup trucks sold in the U.S. from January through September, according to Sony GM mobile electronics Brennan Mullin. The new amplifiers and subwoofers are designed for the cramped cab space of these vehicles and are based on the Sony P5 but measure less than 3 inches deep. They will be available in January in 10 and 12-inches from $130 to $250 and will joined by the two Slim Series amplifiers, each in hte $250 suggested retail price range.

Also at SEMA, Alpine announced a new sound processing technology designed specifically for the car in conjunction with Audyssey Labs, which was co-founded by the inventor of THX. Alpine claimed the new sound processing, called Imprint, restores music to the quality of the original master recording and can be set up by an installer in 20 minutes. The technology will first appear on a new OEM integration device, PXE-H650 at $400 to ship in November, and is expected in Alpine head units starting next year.

The new iLane e-mail reader from IMS is a blue box that connects to a Bluetooth hands-free kit and a car stereo. It reads aloud a user’s e-mail, text and schedule alerts from a Bluetooth Blackberry or cellular phone as he drives. It will be offered by cellular carriers and possibly car audio dealers beginning in the first quarter of 2007 at a price to be announced.