Car audio systems, while standard infotainment automotive electronics in most Japanese, European, and North American vehicles, are still regarded by many to be a key consideration when shopping for a new car. Traditionally, trends in automotive audio systems have been fairly slow to emerge, and changes have been implemented gradually over the course of many years. For example, 15 years after its introduction in 1982, the compact disk has remained the standard physical medium for commercial audio recordings and playback.
However, in recent years the influx of new consumer devices and technologies has brought about the need for drastic changes in the way car audio systems are designed. The CD is now quickly yielding to new media formats and technologies. With the widespread usage of compressed audio codecs, music files are being ripped or downloaded, stored and played back from USB flash memory drives, SD Memory Cards, cell phones and a variety of other portable audio players, including the Apple iPod®: and Microsoft Zune.
OEMs are now demanding systems that distinguish their vehicles, not only against competitor vehicles, but also against their own lower-cost car models. As a result, OEM suppliers, the Tier-1 companies, are relying on semiconductor manufacturers to step up and provide devices that help in the development of scalable systems to support the emerging trend of integrating consumer gadgets into vehicles.
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Prominently installed in the most valuable real estate of the vehiclethe center dash console of the cockpitaudio systems are fast becoming entertainment hubs. And those consumers who invest considerable time and money to purchase, edit, organize, and store hundreds, even thousands, of their favorite audio files onto removable storage devices and portable audio players are demanding solutions that will allow them to easily connect and listen to these files on their car audio systems.
A traditional car audio system supports AM/FM/CD playback and typically consists of the major blocks shown above. To increase the value-added proposition and to differentiate from the basic systems, some car models support CD changers and compressed audio playback from a CD-ROM. Higher-end models also boast XM and SIRIUS satellite radio reception and high-definition digital terrestrial radio reception.
Compressed audio playback on a traditional audio system requires the burning of compressed non-Digital Rights Management (DRM) audio files onto a CD-ROM. However, given the vast number of files usually stored on removable storage devices and portable audio players, this method is not a very practical solution, especially for consumers who are continually acquiring new music and updating their collections. Those people simply want seamless connection between their car audio system and their USB/SD Card, iPod, or other portable audio player, including ones equipped with Bluetooth wireless technology.
These new requirements are driving feature sets for the next generation of OEM car audio system solutions. According to a November 2006 report by analyst-firm Strategy Analytics, "The ongoing challenge for the market leaders and their competitors is to develop competitively priced products to meet the increasing demand for automotive consumers for new forms of digital audio entertainment." To address these new trends and connectivity requirements, the audio system architecture must provide a USB slot and SD Memory Card slot. Further, the system must handle DRM decryption, Bluetooth profiles, and compressed audio decoding formatsMP3, WMA and AAC at a minimum.