The future of in-car entertainment: Music, cinema and gaming

Today's car buyers are less interested in horsepower and more in entertainment systems. Manufacturers are responding with increasingly complex and luxurious systems for in-car video and audio. John Lennon's "Imagine" has never sounded so good behind the wheel. — Photo: Mercedes-Benz AG/dpa

MUNICH: Dozens of speakers, subwoofers, and amplifiers while sound transducers convert music signals into vibrations in the seat: modern entertainment systems in luxury-class cars are increasingly becoming a selling point.

The song "Boom" by DJ Tiësto blasts through the interior, burrowing into every fibre of the body during a demonstration by Mercedes of its in-car audio system.

"Music thrives on space, it needs air to move," says Frank Schweickhardt, the head of sound development at the German car maker.

The system uses Apple Music Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, which was previously only available in movie theatres or very high-end home systems.

The technology creates a virtual 3D surround sound effect in which you feel like you're in the middle of the music, just like in a concert hall.

But it's not just new songs that can be streamed in Dolby Atmos. Sound engineers are revamping older songs, like John Lennon's “Imagine.”

"To do that, the songs have to be rearranged so listeners can spatially associate them," says Derek Ali, mixing artist for stars like Kendrick Lamar.

"It's the sound of tomorrow, a leap like going from mono to stereo. The song takes on a personality of its own that every listener recognises right away."

The downside: Sound systems this good aren’t cheap. For now, the Burmester 4D sound system described above is only available in luxury models and costs more than €6,000/US$6,500 (RM28,726) for the Mercedes S-Class.

Movies in the car

And it’s not just in-car audio that has improved vastly. BMW recently introduced its Operating System 8, which offers a cinema for the rear seats in 7 Series cars.

Movies can be viewed on a 31-inch panoramic display in 32:9 format with a resolution of up to 8K, says BMW developer Katharina Mödl.

In recent years, the quality of entertainment systems has improved in all vehicle classes. Even so, music fans buying a new car should go for the more expensive systems, advises hi-fi specialist Sven Hansen.

"More speakers usually mean a better, richer sound. Additional speakers can only be integrated into the vehicle afterwards at great expense," Hansen says.

If you can test the sound system when buying a car, he says, you should try it with your own music. Then you’ll find out whether the sound system suits your music and your ears.

Hansen advises using mirror technologies such as Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which are now offered in all vehicle classes. "Almost all drivers own a smartphone and use music, addresses, phone and voice control via it." This also includes the navigation features available from Google and Apple Maps, which means that drivers don’t need a navigation system built into the car’s entertainment system.

Those who want smooth streaming in the car without a connected smartphone should order a system with a data package. However, these options are usually more expensive than the monthly data packages for a smartphone.

Upgrading your current system

Michael Zeitler, a car hi-fi specialist in Germany, recommends three things when retrofitting a new entertainment system: A hands-free car kit and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

For a new radio, he advises devices with a receiver module for the DAB+ digital radio standard. Depending on the age of the car, the antenna may need to be replaced.

Professional installation is vital: "A new entertainment system must be installed and connected correctly, as must the microphone for the hands-free system and the antenna," says Zeitler.

"Otherwise, the reception performance and sound will not satisfy the motorist. In addition, the car's electronics are sensitive to incorrect connections and can be damaged.” For the future of entertainment in the car, Sven Hansen sees not only larger displays but also a wider range of video streaming services as vehicles become more automated and drivers get time for things other than driving.

Then there’s gaming. BMW is offering a built-in gaming platform while graphics card giant NVIDIA wants to stream its cloud gaming service Geforce Now into cars. – dpa

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