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Adrienne Owens

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Back seat bliss

You can now take your living-room entertainment in your car, writes Mike Wilcox. Ever since the late 1940s, once the first Holden rolled off the production line, the car was a valued source of amusement - from families escaping on summer road trips, to passionate car enthusiasts who transform them inside and outside in to works of art.

In-car entertainment makers have embraced the electronic era en masse, offering products which provide an experience not far removed in the well-kitted-out living room full of audio-visual essentials. Whether you need somewhere to plug in an iPod or USB thumb drive full of DivX films, or something that allows you enjoy your favorite DVDs on long road trips, there's a boot full of options to fit your needs. The centrepiece of all car audio systems is that the headset, located at the dashboard, which performs a variety of functions depending on the product.

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FM radio and audio CD support comes as standard in most new automobiles, but those are typically just basic models, therefore with this factory-fitted head unit replaced ought to be the first task after accepting ownership of any new or used vehicle. WIRED FOR SOUND Entry-level head units begin at about $200 for the same basic purposes like factory-installed models. Pay a little extra and you can expect additional features, including the ability to play recordable CDs full of MP3, WMA and AAC digital audio files, plus ID3Tag support for displaying the titles of music and musicians around the front LCD panel. Many models, like Sony's CDXGT470U, which retails for $299, also have a USB jack for plugging in a flash drive, along with an auxiliary audio input to join an optional music player.

With its colour LCD and familiar selections, this head unit gives complete access to a connected iPod through its front desk, down into displaying album art. Just like all the Sony model, playing digital music files in the USB drive can be feasible, while adding Alpine's optional Bluetooth kit provides the iDA-X100 the ability to make and get hands-free calls from a compatible mobile phone. ONLY IN THE MOVIES The next level in road-trip amusement includes the option to view films, play games along with alternative screen-based actions, also depending on budgets and available room on a car's dashboard, there are numerous approaches to enjoy them. Conventional 1-DIN head units typically feature a flip-out screen, whereas the larger 2-DIN head components have subjected displays.

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Investing $1000, you can expect something like JVC's KD-AV7100 (abandoned), which has a motorised, retractable 17.5cm color touch-screen. All supported videos may be played from disc, USB drive or SD memory card. Audio and video in iPods can also be played by means of this method, and there's an AV input for hooking up a games console, GPS navigation, converting camera or other video source. One grab with dash-mounted video systems is that they're just designed to work when the car is stationary, for security reasons.

To provide the passengers in the back something to pass the time, one option is an overhead video system like Clarion's OHM107VD (directly), which retails for about $ 1499. This all round solution includes an adjustable widescreen color screen with built-in DVD player and two pairs of wireless headphones, ensuring peace from the back seat.

This program also takes AV inputs from external video devices. SURROUNDED BY SOUND A car's factory-installed headset is just one of the first elements to think about updating, and following on the list ought to be the speakers, because no matter how great the headset, an automobile's sound system finally lives or dies by the quality and sound of the speakers. Among the most cost-effective actions would be to update to two-way or three-way speakers using the same dimensions as the mill product, which considerably simplifies installation.

As the titles indicate, these integrated products contain all round speakers that could handle a variety of frequencies. If you are prepared to get extra holes made in a car's interior to get a customised sound, the next option is a component system with separate speakers which channel specific frequencies. Boston Acoustics' Pro60 part system in $950 includes two high-powered copolymer woofers and 2 anodised alloy dome tweeters, along with

Four adjustable crossovers for satisfying the sound of each speaker.

Perhaps the most dynamic improvement you can make to a car's sound system is set up a subwoofer above the back chairs, or perhaps a few from the boot - depending on your preference in music, naturally. Physically bigger than ordinary speakers, a subwoofer's sole job is to correctly reproduce low bass frequencies, which rounds out an aural experience and may add a feeling of visceral excitement. Because of the extra power needed to get the absolute most out of those speakers, a separate amplifier is usually recommended.

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The perfect in-car entertainment program does not need to be the flashiest, loudest or most expensive. It should only fulfil your own entertainment needs. Therefore make a list, do a little research, go shopping - and - then prepare to be entertained on your next road trip such as never before.