Today, cars are not only a means of transportation, but also a multimedia entertainment room on wheels, replete with some of the best electronics (and not just automotive electronics) for audio playback, movie watching, satellite radio, navigation, and more. In a growing number of vehicles, the audio and visual capabilities of many of these traveling entertainment/information centers exceeds that of living rooms of just a decade ago.
Vehicles provide “infotainment” in an environment so clear and pleasing in its delivery of news, talk radio, music, and film that some are reluctant to leave their seats even after they arrive at their destination.
The future is here
Unquestionably, more money is going into upgrading automotive audio and visual equipment than ever before. For automobile manufacturers, this translates into an increasingly powerful selling tool that beckons to entertainment lovers, in addition to those seeking comfort and performance.
Yet there is a potential Achilles’ heel for automotive entertainment systemsthe rapidly escalating need for large amounts of digital storage. Two very different approaches to digital storage need to be considered: Hard disk drives (HDD) and non-volatile, or flash, memory. The alternatives are compelling, yet distinctly different.
Overall, a typical vehicle today may be carrying many gigabytes of data for a combination of audio, video, and navigational applications. As infotainment becomes more dynamic and the aggregate cost of storage in vehicles grows, manufacturers must ask whether current solutions will meet tomorrow’s needs, or whether radical changes are required.
On-road storage today
Most modern automobiles contain multiple independent sub-systems in the form of optical media. A typical car may contain a CD changer, a DVD player for back seat video, and a CD or DVD navigation system. Satellite radio such as XM and Sirius are also growing in popularitysoon consumers will want to time-delay comedy acts or special live performances requiring additional storage.
Optical media solutions have provided a steep downward price curve for the automotive industry that has enabled such devices to embrace the mainstream. Keeping these sub-systems independent has enabled the automotive industry to develop, test, and debug each in an isolated environment. Interactions between systems are minimized, helping contain the number of usage cases which must be quality assured by a manufacturer prior to release.
While the benefits of optical media are numerous, some of the disadvantages are even better known. Slow access time and lack of a continuous re-write capability limit usage in more dynamic data environments, such as content synchronization with home servers, and download and storage of over-the-air content. Also optical media’s tendency to easily scratch during handling limits the lifespan of their use in vehicles.
New sources, new channels
Meanwhile, the home AV multimedia system is beginning to create a more challenging cost-benefit equation. As optical media gradually leave the living room (initially audio, then video), their persistence in automobiles will no longer offer any ancillary benefit. This is already being seen with automotive cassette decks that were all but replaced with CD players after the home AV system went digital.
Digital storage entered the automotive world with the introduction of car CD players in the late 1980s. Today, with vehicular CD players rapidly being replaced by cables or wireless that connect to an MP3 player, the automotive industry has a choice: Do auto manufacturers continue to provide an integrated infotainment environment that takes into account issues of ergonomics and driver distraction; or will cars become the modern equivalent of a stereo cabinetwith slots and holders for consumer electronic devices? We at Samsung believe that it’s highly likely to become an integrated entertainment/information environment. With considerable margin at stake, it is difficult to imagine Detroit relinquishing the infotainment market to Taiwan.
The very near future will see more convenient ways of delivering dynamic digital content into vehiclesfrom pre-packaged or home-recorded sources to broadcast/satellite networks. There will also be advanced interfaces that help consumers more readily search for, and make use of, the content being delivered.
As for storage, deciding between HDD and flash memory will drive the integrated digital architecture of tomorrow. It all boils down to a single overarching question: Will vehicular digital storage be centralized or decentralized?