XM and Sirius Satellite Radio??? Upcoming gadgets for your ride
After months of delay, the era of digital radio has finally begun. First, it will come from the sky. XM Satellite Radio has begun broadcasting its satellite-based digital service nationwide. XM's competitor, Sirius Satellite Radio, is expected to be operational soon. Both subscription-based services will provide a CD-quality digital signal, coast-to-coast radio reception, and about 100 channels of programming for about $10 (XM) or $13 (Sirius) per month. Special digital-ready radios (starting at about $250) will be needed to receive either service and are gradually entering the market from both automakers and aftermarket car-audio equipment manufacturers.
Perhaps as early as 2003, conventional free radio stations will be shifting to digital signals, which will carry the same programming as their AM or FM frequencies. Again, special radios will be needed to receive these signals. The extra bandwidth of the digital signal may allow stations to send additional data to the car-such as weather, traffic, news, sports, and, yes, advertising-which could be visually displayed on a monitor integrated into the radio.
The car radio is likely to become more linked to the home computer, as more radio models will be able to play MP3 files, a music format typically downloaded from the Internet. For 2002, many aftermarket CD receivers will offer MP3 playback capabilities, with the automakers' systems not far behind. Depending on the radio, MP3 files will be able to be played from CD-R and CD-RW discs recorded on the computer or from solid-state flash-memory modules, such as those used in digital cameras. (Flash memory comes in a variety of incompatible formats, so when considering an MP3 device, make sure it uses the same storage format as the digital camera you may already own.)
Rear-seat entertainment systems are also becoming more widely available, with both aftermarket and automaker systems moving quickly from video tapes to DVD. Vehicle manufacturers are striving to take advantage of the multichannel capabilities of DVDs to provide more precise audio reproduction. BMW is the first automaker to offer a seven-channel audio system (in contrast to conventional four- or five-channel systems). It's available in the new 7-Series. Expect seven channel systems to become mainstream before mid-decade, bringing the same level of audio performance to vehicles that many people currently enjoy in their home-theater systems.
GPS navigation systems are becoming available in lower-priced models, such as the redesigned 2002 Toyota Camry. The 2002 Infiniti Q45 features an advanced three-dimensional onscreen map display and a voice-activation system, which allows the driver to control major audio, climate control, and navigation functions through verbal commands. Still a work in progress, voice-control systems-intended to help a driver keep his or her hands on the wheel and eyes on the road-will likely continue to evolve, allowing the driver to control more functions. Systems that help cancel outside noise are also being developed to improve speech recognition.