What Should Your Next Car Stereo Connect To?
I spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon wandering through the exhibits at the Washington Auto Show and looking for one thing in particular: car stereos built for digital music.
(Actually, the previous sentence is not quite accurate: I devoted more time to gawking at Corvettes than my stated research goal required.)
I'm used to seeing all sorts of bizarre electronic items crammed into cars at the Consumer Electronics Show. There, almost an entire hall of the convention center is taken up by exhibits from companies selling such high-end, aftermarket hardware as "mechless" stereos that don't include any sort of traditional playback mechanism (DVD, CD, tape, 8-track) in favor of including a memory-card slot and a USB port.
But in D.C.'s convention center -- where the floor space is pretty much limited to exhibits by vehicle manufacturers -- I could assess the state of the mass market in car stereos.
I expected upfront that every car I saw would include a simple auxiliary line-in input. That's by far the simplest, cheapest and most compatible way to allow a driver or passenger to connect a digital-music player; I don't think you can buy an aftermarket stereo without one these days.
Car makers, however, still haven't caught up to this trend. I saw numerous cars from manufacturers that ought to know better -- for example, Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes Benz -- that either left out "aux" inputs or reserved them for add-on option packages. (I suppose that some may have tucked this into some dark corner of the glove compartment or center console; if so, that itself is a major usability problem.)
On the other hand, I was surprised to see how many vehicles -- as cheap as Scions and Fords and as expensive as BMWs and Cadillacs -- included USB ports, which allow you to plug in some music players and also flash drives and hard drives. A subset of these offered direct iPod connectivity.
Only two of the vendors I checked out included memory-card slots: Mercedes, which tucked an SD Card slot into its dashboards, and Nissan, which somehow felt compelled to include a slot for the now-obsolete CompactFlash format in a 350Z on exhibit.
I only spotted one make, Acura, that featured Bluetooth stereo connectivity, which you can use to play music from a smartphone equipped with this wireless technology.
Finally, the humble CD player can itself serve as an MP3 player of sorts: Many stereo units advertised the ability to play MP3 and, in some cases, Windows Media Audio files off data CDs. (I've yet to see a car stereo anywhere that supports the AAC format used in Apple's iTunes and iPods, among other software and hardware; that seems like a major missed opportunity for the industry.)
Here's my question to you all: Which of the following do you want to see come standard in your next car stereo?
* Auxiliary input
* USB port
* iPod dock
* Memory-card slot
* Data-CD compatibility (please indicate which music formats it should support)
* Bluetooth stereo input
* All of the above
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