Imagine this: it's summer vacation time. You've got the family packed into the minivan and you've been on the road for hours. It's hot, even with the air conditioning on. But not once have the kids in the back complained, asking if you're there yet. In fact, you've been enjoying the radio, and haven't heard a peep out of them, except maybe the occasional fit of the giggles. How is this possible? You have the power of mobile video on your side.
Mobile video has really taken off as a fun, viable, and even necessary addition to in-car entertainment. Several new SUV and minivan models feature mobile video components as factory options, and a growing number of people have decided to retro-fit their vehicles with video entertainment systems.
Why mobile video?
There are plenty of reasons for stepping up to mobile video, including:
Entertainment. There's no denying that every trip, from jaunts to the local supermarket to cross-country vacation hauls, are much easier and more enjoyable when the kids have access to engaging entertainment options. Backseat video systems, for which there are plenty of options we'll explore a little later, allow your kids to watch their favorite movies and cartoons, or, in some cases, even play their video game system. As a bonus to you, most incorporate headphones into the system, so they'll be able to hear the movies privately, while you still enjoy the radio up front.
Safety. Some video systems give you the option of connecting a navigation system, which provides turn-by-turn visual and voice directions, which help you get where you're going efficiently and accurately. Not having to fiddle with conventional maps is a huge advantage, especially if you're driving through unfamiliar territory for the first time. Some systems also allow you to connect a backup camera, which can be a tremendous safety enhancement to larger vehicles, such as RVs.
The Wow! Factor. Few mobile electronics components cause the stir that mobile video does. Take in-dash receivers with monitors for example — if you've got one installed in your dash, the first time your passengers see the retractable monitor motoring out of the dash and into position, they won't be able to help oohing and ahhing. Some systems offer touch-screen controls, which never fails to impress. Just the on-screen graphics alone are enough to produce delight in most people.
The car is a fun environment in which to watch movies. It's great to be able to watch your favorite movies in the backseat when the vehicle's in motion. And it's just as enjoyable to pop a DVD in an in-dash receiver, park the car, and start the show. If you go with a comprehensive setup, you can even get true 5.1 home-theater-style sound, which sounds spectacular in the cozy environment of the car.
The Wild Cards. Mobile video systems drastically expand the number of entertainment options you can have in your vehicle. Movies, video games, local television, even satellite television (we're not kidding) are all available for use in your car, truck, van, or SUV. And mobile video technology just keeps getting better all the time.
In systems that involve separate components, LCD monitors, which generally range from 5 to 7 inches, are often mounted in the front-seat headrests. You can install your own screens in your factory headrests, or pickup headrests with the screens already installed.
EliteAutoSound-Sales have designed factory replacement headrests that have monitors already installed. They look remarkably like the factory originals, even down to the fabric color and texture, and simply take their place in the seat.
Factory-style headrests simply take the place of your vehicle's factory headrest, and feature monitors already installed. The fabric and color of the replacement headrest match your vehicle's interior.
In either case, once you've installed the monitor, you'll have to connect it to a separate player. Component DVD players (or videocassette players) can be mounted in out-of-the-way locations: center consoles are very popular choices; under the seat can make sense, as well. You'll just have to make sure you can access its front panel in order to insert and remove your discs. And don't forget, you can use an in-dash DVD receiver with backseat monitors; the receiver becomes the main media source in this scenario.
The video outputs of your player should be connected to the video inputs of the monitors with video cables specifically designed for mobile applications — they'll be better insulated than cables designed for use in-home, and will generally keep radiated "noise," which is always prevalent in a mobile environment, from sneaking into the system and degrading your video quality. You'll also have to connect the audio outputs of your player to an audio component in order to hear your DVDs; we'll discuss your audio options momentarily.
Fold-down overhead monitors are popular, too, especially in SUVs and minivans, where there's plenty of space. Between mounting and wiring them, they demand a fairly significant amount of installation expertise; if you go this route, you might consider letting a professional handle the installation.
Regardless of who installs it, however, there are certainly some inherent advantages to an overhead monitor. Mounting a monitor on the ceiling makes it much easier for all your backseat passengers to see the picture. This type of monitor is also well out of harm's way whenever you're loading or unloading cargo from your vehicle. Some include built-in dome lights, in case you have to mount it over your vehicle's factory dome light. Some are also compatible with housings that have been designed for specific vehicles (that let you retain factory ceiling-mounted controls and displays).
As with a headrest monitor, you'll have to connect an overhead monitor to a separate media player and to an audio component.
Overhead monitors, like this model with built-in DVD player, secure to your vehicle's ceiling, and fold up and out of the way when not in use.
There are, however, overhead monitor packages that help make things significantly easier for you. Some feature DVD players built right into the housings, which reduces the number of wiring connections you have to make. Some overhead monitor/player combos even feature built-in wireless FM modulators, which beam the audio signal over an unused FM frequency directly to your factory stereo, as well as infrared transmitters, that send the audio signal wirelessly to a set of compatible headphones. These all-encompassing systems eliminate the need for you to run wiring all through your vehicle; your primary concern will focus solely on installing the monitor and housing on your vehicle's ceiling.
The easiest solution of all in the backseat mobile video arena is a self-contained player/monitor combination. These usually simply strap onto the back of your vehicle's front seats (typically at the headrest) and plug into the cigarette lighter for power. They'll feature some sort of audio output (such as headphone jacks, and/or an RCA composite set of audio/video outputs). They're convenient, easy-to-install, and totally portable. The only drawbacks: their picture quality tends not to be quite as good as systems with separate components, and their sound-delivery options are slightly limited. They also might not install as neatly as or exactly where you'd like them to, which can in turn limit their visibility. But if you're looking for a "quick fix" that requires no installation work, these are certainly viable options.
Headrest DVD player/monitor combos, like this are a great solution. They give you everything you need for instant, installation-free video entertainment.
Making sure you can hear your system
With any system, you'll have to find a way to hear the sound. A few monitors out there have audio inputs (so they'll receive the audio signal from the player) and jacks for wired headphones; simply plug the headphones in, and you have instant audio. Most likely, you'll want to connect the audio to a transmitter for wireless headphones.
There are two types of wireless headphones and transmitters: RF (radio frequency) and IR (infrared). In both cases, the audio output from your media source connects directly to the transmitter via audio patch cables. RF transmitters "broadcast" the audio signal over a specific radio frequency wavelength to its compatible set (or sets) of headphones. Because they use radio frequencies, the transmitters can be mounted anywhere in the vehicle; the headphones act as "antennas." These work remarkably well; the only potential drawback is that they might be susceptible to slight radio interference (although that's generally unlikely). IR transmitters "beam" the audio signal directly to a set of compatible headphones. They aren't susceptible to interference like RF transmitters are, but the transmitter itself must be mounted within a direct line of sight of the headphones; obstacles will block the signal from reaching the headphones.
Wireless headphones, allow backseat passengers to listen to the video source privately.
You can also use your vehicle's sound system to play your video soundtracks, if you prefer. If your receiver has auxiliary inputs (as some aftermarket receivers do), you can connect the audio from your media source directly to them using audio patch cables. If your receiver doesn't have auxiliary inputs (as is the case with many aftermarket and nearly all factory receivers), you can use an FM modulator. The audio from your source connects directly to the modulator; the modulator then connects to your radio's antenna input (power and ground connections are required, too), and "broadcasts" the sound over an unused FM frequency.
As previously mentioned, you might find a system that uses a wireless FM modulator. It operates on the same principle as wired modulators, except it doesn't require you to make a direct connection to your radio's antenna input, which is remarkably convenient! Like wireless headphones, wireless modulators may fall prey to occasional interference, and the range of frequencies over which they can broadcast can be a bit more limited than those of hard-wired versions. But they can solve some very tricky installation problems, by eliminating the need for you to access the back of your radio.