Hardware Spotlight -- Audiobahn/Unwired Technology
Audiobahn/Unwired Mobile DVD ENTERTAINMENT System
by Grant Clauser
While mobile DVD are becoming popular as factory-installed equipment, it's the aftermarket that's driving this sector of the business. I wanted to see and hear if this trend in high-tech travel is all it's cracked up to be, so I checked out a rear-seat entertainment system by Audiobahn and Unwired Technology.
For this job, the vehicle was a humble family truckster, a 2003 Mazda MPV minivan, and I recruited Bill Weidemoyer and Joe Henning of Poor Boyz Customs to do the installation work. With a garage in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, Poor Boyz' mobile electronics installations have won competitions all over the country. The goal was to create a system that would be easy to use, that would entertain the kids but not disturb the adults in the front seat, all without making the car look like it was attacked with a hammer and screwdriver.
Installed equipment included an Audiobahn AVDVD1 in-dash DVD player ($399); an Audiobahn AVM270Q overhead flip-down 7-inch widescreen LCD monitor ($599); and an Unwired Technology R2T-402 two-channel wireless headphone system with two headphones ($219). Also installed was a Jensen RF modulator, to allow audio from the DVD player to be heard through the car's existing head unit and speakers, if desired.
Because of the non-standard design of the Mazda's CD player/radio, the new DVD player couldn't be installed anywhere on the dash, so Poor Boyz opted for Plan B: Install the unit under the front passenger seat. The unit remained out of the way of feet, but still within easy reach. Control of the DVD player was made via a handheld remote. A small, infrared receiver was discreetly installed under the rearview mirror. In addition, a small Radio Shack toggle switch with a red LED was placed on the dash for switching the RF modulator on/off.
The monitor was securely bolted to the ceiling of the minivan — far-forward enough for rear-seat passengers to enjoy the video, but not so far as to distract the people in the front seat or obstruct the rearview mirror. Also installed in the ceiling was the hockey puck-sized transmitter for the Unwired wireless headphones. When not in use, the LCD monitor folds up into the ceiling, out of the way of passengers entering and exiting the vehicle.
The picture provided by the Audiobahn monitor was fantastic. The 16:9 aspect ratio of the screen perfectly fit the widescreen movie. The 1,440x234-pixel resolution looked great on the 7-inch monitor. The picture was bright enough for viewing even in the middle of the day, and the viewing angle allowed anyone in the second or third row a great picture. Strangely, the monitor's logo and controls were all upside down, a common quirk with overhead monitors, but the picture was oriented properly.
The headphones were also a hit. With no wires, there's no tangling, stretching or twisting. The sound quality is very good, and since they were connected to a low-level fixed audio output, each headphone had independent volume control via a dial on the side. Because the headphones receive the audio signal through infrared signals, there was none of the noise or static commonly associated with wireless headphones. Each has a single power button for turning the headphones on and off, and a red LED lights up to tell you when they're powered on. The phones power off automatically when there's no incoming signal, thus saving you from wasting AAA batteries.
Flipping the toggle switch in the dash turned on the RF modulator, which routed the DVD player's audio through the radio at station preset 88.1, which in my area is an unused frequency. This is most handy for MP3 playback on the unit (since the factory-installed CD player on the Mazda is not MP3-compatible), or if there are additional people in the third seat who don't have headphones.
As an MP3 player, the Audiobahn DVD excels in ease of navigation, all-owing you to surf through folders and tracks effortlessly. Of course, a front-seat passenger has to twist around to view the menus on screen. The sound quality was excellent through both the headphones and the car's speakers (via the Jensen modulator).
While mobile video still has its quirks as a technology, there's no doubting that it's a killer app for many customers. Getting them over the hump in terms of understanding how the new gear will interact with the existing mobile audio system is a matter of good customer education — nobody wants to be fumbling for a function while they're driving. In practice, the installation went extremely smoothly, and the components delivered the solution that they promised they would. Will the trips with the kids be a different experience? Maybe I'll ask them, when they take their headphones off.
AT A GLANCE:
Audiobahn AVDVD1 DVD/CD/MP3 Player
AVM270Q Flip-Down Monitor
Unwired R2T-402 Wireless Headphone System
Installation by Poor Boyz