Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sideproject: "Carputer"

There was a time when I really wanted to build a carputer. That is a HTPC-like computer for the car.* I'm glad I didn't. On one hand, the WAF of building this in our primary family-mobile was atomically small, my garage isn't very good for working on a car, and I was never going to take more than a 20 minute drive in the other car. On the other, technology has largely made a car PC obsolete.

The basic idea behind putting a PC in your car is to be able to play music, movies, get directions, play games and maybe watch TV or websurf from your car. Typically, with a touchscreen interface. Hmm, sounds a lot like my iPhone.

In the not so distant future we're going to go on a little car trip. Now, it would be nice if our toddler would calmly enjoy the beautiful scenery we're going to be driving through, but being realistic, we might as well drive through the black gate of Mordor if that kid doesn't get some distraction. And I can only sing "I've been working on the railroad" so many times.

Shanna suggested to me that we get a portable DVD player or something for the ride. While that certainly is a possibility, at this point it's less expensive to go with what we already have, our iPhones. There are two issues, A/V output and content.

In terms of content, I already have all of our DVDs in digital form. The issue is to put them in an iPhone friendly format. Also, we only have 24 GB storage between the 2 of us, and a full resolution DVD is ~6GB, so we'll want to cut them down in size. However, with the size of screen that we'll be using you most likely won't notice any loss in resolution. I'll probably use Handbrake to reencode the movies, it has built in iPhone presets.

For A/V output, the cheapest thing to do would be to just show it on the iPhone screen and use a 3.5mm Stereo Plug cable . I suggested we just use some elastic straps or some velcro and an iPhone case to secure the phone to the back of the headrest. Shanna, bless her heart, thought the screen would be too small. I'm now thinking that I'll get an iPhone composite video adapter** and an inexpensive 7" LCD screen. I'm not sure which one, but I'm thinking about using this.

Composite is just about the worst video connection possible but the video quality is already going to be less than SD, and it's only being viewed on a 7" screen by a two-year-old, so I'm not concerned. Apple makes an iPhone component video adapter, but a HD quality LCD screen costs much more than I want to spend.

*If you're interested in this sort of thing, here is a good website.
** With one of these iPhone adapters, I'll need this to plug the audio into my car stereo Aux port. I'm pretty sure I have 1 or 6 in one of my "cables" drawers.

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