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Rear-Seat Entertainment Enters Transition To Live Media

New York — Mobile video suppliers say the rear-seat entertainment market is in a transition and must migrate beyond its roots in DVD players to the more fertile ground of live Internet and digital TV delivery to the car.

Consumer demand for live content in the car is significant, according to a recent poll by the Consumer Electronics Association. (CEA). But attempts to create this new market have been rocky thus far and the transition may be at least a year to 18 months away, said suppliers.

Vizualogic says sales of its VMOD Wi-Fi hard drive system have been disappointing. US Telematics is changing its go-to-market strategy for its Voyager WiMAX/Wi-Fi/3G Internet video system; Mitek has not shipped its Civita infotainment system, and KVH said its TracVision TV system is a steady “niche.”

Sales of Sirius Back Seat TV, which delivers three cartoon channels via satellite, are described by retailers as moderate although a Sirius spokesman said, “We are pleased with the rollout so far.”

It has been 10 years since any technology has replaced the DVD, but shifting over to live content to the car is expensive, said Audiovox Electronics president Tom Malone. “There’s no seamless affordable way to get live content into the vehicle. It will happen down the road along with vehicle computing, where the user can sit at the same screen that runs his movies and it will have a browser and he can go on MySpace, etc.” He said Audiovox is also looking into digital TV, just as Kenwood showed a prototype digital TV system last January, although a new standard for mobile digital TV, known as ATSC-M/H, is still under development.

Sales of DVD-based rear-seat entertainment have been challenged by OEM competition, and falling sales of larger SUVs — the target vehicle for most back-seat entertainment systems. The NPD Group reported a 43 percent decline in sales to consumers year to date through August compared with the same period last year in sales of overhead and headrest systems.

CEA claimed the market potential is high for live content in the car, particularly if it is well promoted (as it has not been) and if the live content is easy to access, said industry analysis senior manager Steve Koenig.

Vizualogic said it believes is VMOD Wi-Fi system is ahead of its time. The VMOD can send video files from a PC by using a Wi-Fi connection. Users click and drag movie files to a VMOD file on their PC and when the car pulls up to the house it will transfer the files to the car’s VMOD device. The system has a suggested retail of $799.

Another issue is, of course, the economy. Dealers are less likely now to take a chance on a new technology that is not widely promoted.

Concept sales and marketing VP Al Miller agreed that the rear-seat entertainment market is in a state of transition.

He believes Internet delivery to the car will begin to take hold in 12 to 18 months. But for now, Miller said, dealers are less likely to take a chance on an $800 piece when they can stock a headrest monitor for that investment that will move more quickly. “It’s going to take a little while and a little more awareness,” he said.