Should you buy an in-car entertainment system? Road Trip Tech Corner

In-car rear seat entertainment centers for the kiddos has been a popular feature in minivans for decades.  Back in the day they had tube TVs and VCRs if you could imagine that!  Of course now you can pretty much opt for a factory installed entertainment system in just about any car with rear seats.

in car dvd system van stock photo

The question is, should you?

Before I tell you my thoughts, I’ll point out that at least one family car has been equipped with such a factory system since before we had kids.   Don’t ask, my wife is weird.

That being said, I’m pretty firmly in the “no” camp on this one.

Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few advantages to having one of these systems built right into the car.  For the non techies, it’s already there. You don’t have to hook anything up, just toss a DVD in the slot, hand the remote to one of the kids and hope they can negotiate an uneasy peace to determine who gets to control the thing.

Factory rear seat entertainment systems are clean. By definition, they look like they came straight from the factory and are perfectly integrated with the car’s interior. They also generally come with nifty wireless headsets to ensure peace and quiet.

Unfortunately, there’s also a fair share of drawbacks to these systems. First of all is price.  Sure you might not notice it so much if you’re financing your car, it’s only going to be a couple bucks extra per month. But, these systems can run up to two grand. Add in the interest you’re paying on that, and it’s not a great proposition.

When you break it down, there’s not a whole lot to these factory entertainment systems: an LCD screen, a DVD player, and a little IR thingy to transmit sound to the special headphones.  It’s maybe a couple hundred bucks in parts.  In fact, you can pickup a ready to go system that fits in the headrest of most cars on Amazon.

Some of those systems may be a viable option, though some more complex systems may require professional installation which might drive costs up.

Another shortcoming of the dvd-only systems is that it’s sort of an aging technology now. With in-car systems you can’t exactly upgrade the features like you can in your house.  You’re sort of stuck with whatever you have until you get rid of the car.

On top of that, car makers tend to be a little slow when it comes to innovation in consumer electronics. It has to do mostly with their long design cycles between car models.

Finally, this one varies by families, but most systems can only play one DVD that all back seat passengers have to watch. My kids are more like representatives of two warring factions than darling angels when it comes to sharing entertainment options. It generally takes a little creativity to get them on the same page for entertainment.

Fortunately, we live in the future. There are a number of solutions to all of these problems, and most of them are much less expensive than what car companies get for technology straight out of the 90’s.

I will be exploring these options in the next few upcoming installments of the Road Trip Tech Corner, so stay tuned and check back often.

For now, I’d love to hear about your solutions to keeping the peace in the back seat. Let the commenting begin!


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