(Note: This article originally appeared on EE Times Europe's Automotive site.)
Gone are the days when rear seat entertainment comprised of a DVD player and a radio. Tomorrow’s multiple in-car entertainment options will include almost everything even the most demanding users have in their living rooms. STMicroelectronics’ STi71xx microprocessor family can cope with a wide range of requirements for in-car entertainment platforms.
For years, rear seat entertainment has been thought of as a DVD player for car passengers. Most systems come as a box with DVD drive and a display either attached to the player or separated to be mounted on the passenger seat. These systems have evolved adding wireless head phones using infra red or Bluetooth rather than wires. The codec support increased, adding features like MP3 or DviX decoding. Mainly the data source of these devices is restricted to DVDs and CDs.
The next generation of rear seat entertainment system has to cover a much broader ranger of sources, offer more interactive support and integration into the car infrastructure, which will be appreciated not only for OEM type applications, but also for dealer installed or after market devices.
A key component to reach market acceptance is and will be the product price, which is influenced by the overall bill of materials and the development cost for hardware and mainly software. This article will discuss both how to reach a low bill of materials and how to keep software development efforts low.
A good first impression of a product is important to generate wide acceptance by customers, and this largely depends on the ease of the user interface. Showing slow or interrupted reactions to user commands clearly will eliminate even professional systems. Market leaders have proven that a fluid and fast reacting user interface is key for the success of a product. Adding 3D multi-window support will improve the overall usability of the system; however, this requires additional graphics processing capability.
What features have to be supported in the future by a rear seat entertainment system?
Certainly, DVD-Video will be required for a long time, making sure your kids are kept well entertained and your existing disk collection can be used for a long time. BluRay will be a second disk standard to be supported as it may happen that some movies will be available as Blu-ray only. This may be not only because of its higher image and sound quality, but also due to its improved security, which can even prevent playback of a disk on “hacked” players using black lists stored on the disk. The increased possibilities for interactive content like games on Blu-ray players may also be a positive argument for an increasing market acceptance and a promotional vehicle.
Apart from disk-based entertainment content, movie playback from other storage media like SD cards, USB memory sticks and portable Hard Disk Drives using either USB or e-SATA connectors must be considered. This brings a large number of container formats into the rear seat entertainment applications, which have to be supported. Some of these are DivX, XviD, AVI, RealMedia, 3GP, ASV, MOV, OGM, etc.
Live content like TV broadcasting must also be considered for rear seat entertainment systems. Most important are the terrestrial formats like DVB-T for Europe, ATSC for USA, ISDB-T for Japan, or DTMB for China. Additionally, handheld TV formats have to be covered as well like DVB-H for Europe, ATSC-M/H for USA, T-DMB for Korea, and CMMB for China. New formats will come soon like satellite-based mobile TV broadcasting, DVB-SH, similar to satellite radio systems commonly used in the USA. Or new live TV distribution channels will show up using the existing mobile phone infrastructure.
This said, our young generation will request interactive entertainment as well. Having a data link to the Internet gives access to many services like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other social network applications. At this point, it is obvious that web browsing and support for common plug-ins have to be embraced by the architecture of an entertainment system as well. This is mainly a software issue rather than a question of dedicated hardware support.
Having this implemented, many other services like web radio and web TV can be provided to the user giving the best possible choice of entertainment content. And why not add the ability to access your home media streaming engine to provide remote access to the content recorded and stored at home? This would remove the need to transfer or synchronize the media content at home with the car. These services would certainly require at a minimum EDGE- or HSDPA-like data transmission with provider data flat rates, which are already available today. Once it is used more widely, the exiting infrastructure will need to be improved or replaced by the 4th mobile phone generation, LTE.
As a summary, rear seat entertainment systems are the combination of professional living room entertainment equipment and mobile accessible media sources – a mobile living room requiring well implemented and robust feature support combined with the flexibility of upgradeability to latest features and enhancements.
How to overcome this huge amount of features while keeping system development costs low? One big part of the answer to this question is obviously that there has to be a reuse of existing platform architectures out of the consumer world, providing high end support for media playback combined with a huge variety of interfaces connecting to the outside world. The very strong price pressure forces the manufacturer to provide efficient solutions in time with a well-fitted feature set that is already proven on the market.