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Auto industry finds partners for backseat video

Posted: 16 Feb 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:in-car entertainment? hardware? software? delphi? comcast?

In-car entertainment gained momentum last month, as hardware manufacturers teamed with software makers and content providers to build a technical foundation for video-on-the-go.

Two partnershipsone between Delphi Corp. and Comcast Corp. and another between microsoft Corp. and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.could eliminate dvds from the world of backseat video entertainment and replace them with systems that use wireless communications and Internet connections.

"Today, automotive entertainment relies on the bricks-and-mortar video business," said Robert Schumacher, director of mobile multimedia for Delphi Automotive Systems. "But we're planning on moving away from bricks and mortar and doing everything over cable, Internet and wireless to the car."

Delphi took the first step toward that business model at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, saying it would work with cable giant Comcast to develop 802.11 and HDD that enabled vehicles to connect to a Comcast network and wirelessly upload entertainment media to the car from the home.

The agreement calls for Delphi to develop and manufacture the electronics, then work with Comcast to define a software interface that would allow users in the vehicle to synchronize the 802.11 module with a home computer or advanced STB.

The electronics would include a PCB to replace the traditional DVD playback board in the vehicle. Its primary functions would be to drive the user interface, control transfer of information to the hard drive and then enable the hard drive to play content back through an LCD screen and audio setup.

Delphi demonstrated the concept at CES on a Chrysler 300C automobile equipped with an 802.11 unit, a portable HDD and control electronics integrated into a center console located between the two front seats.

Company engineers said, however, that it will take between six and 18 months to complete development of the new system for Comcast.

"We've been working for a number of years to develop the Wi-Fi and HDD technologies to bring entertainment media into the vehicle seamlessly, so users don't have to plug plastic DVDs and CDs to their cars," Schumacher said. "But to make the concept work, we realized that we needed to connect our technology to a content provider."

Comcast, which has 40 million cable subscribers and video-on-demand services already in place, will provide the video content that would make such electronics in the vehicle worthwhile to consumers, according to Schumacher.

The Delphi-Comcast news paralleled a similar partnership announcement by Sirius Satellite Radio and Microsoft. Sirius said that it will launch a mobile-video service dedicated to children's programming in the second half of 2006, and will use Microsoft's Windows Media Video 9 to display the programs. Sirius, which broadcasts more than 120 channels of music, news and talk radio, plans to devote two or three channels to the children's video-programming concept.

Industry analysts said recently that the advent of such partnerships is a sign that entertainment may be successfully carving out a niche in automotive electronics, despite the industry's trepidation following much-publicized failures of in-car telematics.

"In-car entertainment has the potential to be bigger than safety and security has ever been," said Phil Magney, founder and principal analyst for the Telematics Research Group Inc. "Video is a natural extension for telematics."

Magney added that the partnerships make good business sense, for automotive companies such as Delphi and content providers like Comcast.

"It's well-known that Comcast wants to extend its reach into the mobile world, and this is a good way to do it," Magney said.

- Charles J. Murray

EE Times

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