In-car video entertainment has made leaps and bounds over the past two decades. I remember watching the original charlotte's web in the back of my parent's suburban on a miniature built-in tube tv stacked on top of a VCR. This was before flip-down monitors. Time has changed!
Today, many of the vehicles on the road come factory with the latest video technology built-in already. Some more sophisticated than others. And for the ones that don't have built-in video entertainment, there are tons of great options to retrofit your vehicle, both aftermarket and OEM retrofit.
Just like in your home, there are a few requirements in order to get mobile video in your car. You'll need a video/audio source, and a screen to view the video on. In most cases, solutions today will combine the three into one or two devices depending on the setup that you'd like in your car. Let's walk through your options for sources, screens and audio to bring video to your car.
A video/audio unit is the first thing you'll need to find to start watching video in your vehicle. It's what powers the system, both audio and video. It'll provide the power to the speakers or headphones and the video signal to the screen. There's a few types of sources on the market that you can choose from, depending on what type of setup you're looking to add to your vehicle:
- Head units – Typically, these are used as the hub for video and audio in a car. They'll typically replace the OEM unit in your dash and come in two sizes: Single Din and Double Din. In most cases, these multimedia head units have built in DVD/Blu-ray along with a screen to watch on it. Some even come with GPS Navigation built-in. They'll also power all of the sound in your vehicle.If you're looking to add additional screens to your car, you'll want to make sure the unit has outputs to synchronize all of the video across all screens.
- DVD/Blu-ray Screen Combos – There are other options if you would rather not change your head unit. Headrest mounted and roof mounted units both can come with DVD/Blu-ray built in and don't require a video source in order to play video. These are best for children in the car and allow for independent video watching. Or, in some cases they also have video inputs to sync up with other video sources and play the same video at the same time.
- External Video & DVD Players – One of the cheaper and more convenient options is an independent video player. A standalone unit, you can bring these in and out of your vehicle at any time without installing them. They may not be designed for vehicles specifically, but they can get the job done and be used to entertain both in your vehicle and out.
The source is where the audio originates. But to hear the audio for your movies or video, you'll need the right equipment. You have a few options for audio:
- Headphones – There are tons of great options for wireless (or wired) headphones. For those who are looking to entertain children in the back seat with a video, while listening to their own music in the front this is the option for you. This limits distraction for the driver and gives the passengers the option to tune into a movie or into your music. Many of the flip-down roof monitors and headrest monitors will even come with them.
- Vehicle's Sound System – If you choose to utilize a head unit or wire a video unit through the head unit, you can use it to project your video's music through the vehicle's speakers. In some cases, you can set up your system to choose between headphones or the vehicle's sound system.
- Unit's Built In Speakers – Many of the flip-down roof monitors and headrest monitors come with speakers built in. This allows you to project the sound without headphones, and without wiring them to your vehicle's sound system. The downside is that if you wanted to listen to music through your vehicle's speakers, or if the driver wanted to listen in on the video it may be difficult to hear. These speakers are typically pretty small and don't emit the quality sound that your car's speakers do.
The final major component to adding video capability to your vehicle is the screen. There's a few different options for a screen, many of which we've already mentioned depending on what you decide on for the source and audio.
- Head Unit – Head units today typically play three roles: the audio source, video source and a stand alone screen. In this case, you can use the head unit to project the video. The typical size of the screen varies depending on the unit between 5.1 inches and 7 inches. The benefit to this is the ease of install. Downside is that passengers in the rear of the vehicle might not be able to see.
- Flip Down Roof Screens – For those who want prime viewing in the back seat, a flip down roof monitor is a great option. These mount to the roof of the car, usually centrally, and fold down when in use. When done, they can be folded back up with ease.
- Headrest Screens – Another great option for rear seat viewing, headrest monitors either mount directly to OEM headrests or replace the headrest altogether with an aftermarket headrest with a screen built in. It's the more expensive approach since you'll need multiple headrest screens to satisfy your passengers but normally these are the preferred experience for viewing.