How to Buy the Right in-Car Entertainment System

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How to Buy the Right in-Car Entertainment System

Long gone are the days when siblings endured family road trips by playing countless rounds of "I Spy". Today, car entertainment systems make hours spent travelling more fun and exciting for passengers. From DVD players to large audio systems, consumers have many choices of in-car entertainment systems. Families with young children enjoy portable DVD players, while others prefer a complex audio system.

Before buying any in-car entertainment system, buyers should pay attention to the various options that are available to consumers. When considering DVD players, for instance, buyers should learn about the different installation methods and mounts, to choose one that best fits the family car. When looking at audio systems, buyers should check out a variety of types and brands, to determine which ones best meet their needs. When ready to purchase, buyers can find in-car entertainment systems in department stores, car audio shops, and at online marketplaces like eBay.

DVD Players

More compact than in-home DVD players, those designed for the car typically include only a disc tray, basic controls, and a set of headphones. Additional accessories are also sometimes available. DVD players let passengers watch movies or play video games while in the car. Installing a DVD player is possible at several locations within a car.

Overhead DVD Player

Overhead DVD players are mounted into the ceiling of a car, and offer either flip-down or swivel screens. Flip-down screens tilt at different angles, for optimal viewing from the backseat. On the other hand, swivel screens rotate from side to side, which is helpful if passengers on only one side of the car want to watch the screen. Both types of screens fold into the base when not in use. Overhead DVD players are commonly found on larger vehicles, such as SUVs and minivans.

Headrest Monitor DVD Player

As the name suggests, headrest monitor DVD players fit into the back of the headrests, and are adjustable. These allow multiple passengers the flexibility to perform different activities at the same time. For example, one passenger can watch a movie, while another plays a video game. Headrest monitor DVD players can also match the car's interior colours and upholstery, for a clean, pulled-together appearance.

In-Dash Monitor DVD Player

In-dash monitor DVD players mount directly into the car's dash, and the screen faces upward for viewing. Controlled from the front only, these DVD players are designed for the front seat passenger's use while the car is in motion. Although some models can be installed to allow the screen to rotate, most in-dash DVD players offer a limited number of viewing angles, since they lay flat. When the DVD player is not in use, the screen can display audio, GPS information, or back-up camera features.

Portable DVD Player

Like the headrest monitor DVD player, portable DVD players also consist of a screen and disk tray. However, these are portable, and easily fold for transport, storage, or out-of-car use. Because portable DVD players are stand-alone, they can be held by anyone in the car at any time. However, many choose to simply hang them from the back of a headrest, and most models come with the hardware to do this.

Audio Systems

The audio system is another important in-car entertainment component. The main purpose of the audio system is to play sounds from the radio, CD player, DVD player, iPod, or MP3 player. Cars come with a variety of sound systems, from basic to complex. Before adding to a car's existing audio system, buyers should understand how a sound system works, so they can make an informed buying decision.

The basic components of a car audio system include the speakers, subwoofers, and amplifiers. These are each discussed in some detail in the following sections.


Cars usually come with a standard set of speakers mounted at the front and rear of the car. Some speakers also appear in the side panels of doors. Quite simply, the purpose of a speaker is to convert an electrical signal to sound. Speakers are able to reproduce high frequency sounds, but they need the help of subwoofers and amplifiers to reproduce bass sounds.


A subwoofer is a loudspeaker that generates an intense, deep pulse that is out of range for other types of speakers. This deep pulse is referred to as the bass, which includes all low-pitched audio frequencies. In music, the bass provides harmonic and rhythmic support, while stressing the strong beats. Anyone who has ever stood next to a car that seems to be thumping with music is familiar with a subwoofer bass sound.

Passive vs. Powered Subwoofers

Subwoofers come in two basic types, passive and powered, or active. Each of these are discussed further in the table below.



Needs external amplifier to power it

Built in amplifier

Does not have own power supply

Has own power connection

Only has connections for speaker wires

No need for special wiring configurations

Often used in car audio systems as a big speakers or group of speakers contained in a box

Popular in home theaters, movie theatres, surround sound systems, and large car audio systems

Passive subwoofers are purchased piece by piece, allowing for the ultimate customisation. In contrast, powered subwoofers come pre-packaged and ready to install.

Features to Look For in a Subwoofer

When searching for a subwoofer, it is a good idea to peruse ratings and reviews before purchasing. Learning from others is a great way to keep informed. The following sections provide several additional tips buyers should keep in mind.

Driver Size

The most common speaker drivers are the woofer, midrange, tweeter, and the subwoofer. The larger the driver is, the deeper the bass. However, the smaller the driver, the quicker the response time. If the driver is too large, it cannot produce enough rapid sounds to keep up with the rhythms. What driver sizes one chooses is a matter of personal preference. Although a standard car's eight-inch subwoofer is an economical choice that does not take up much room, it does not deliver heart-thumping bass. The most common driver size for a car is a ten or twelve inch subwoofer because this size accurately reproduces the lowest sounds with sufficient volume. However, if an earth-shattering bass rather than sound quality is the goal, a fifteen inch subwoofer is ideal.

Frequency Response

The human ear can hear sounds as low as 20 Hz. Subwoofers that reproduce frequencies close to this are typically very expensive, although they are excellent quality. However, a good subwoofer that is more affordable should be able to hit 35 Hz.

Type of Enclosure

A subwoofer’s enclosure is the box that holds the speaker. In a car, these are often found in the boot, although some subwoofers are placed under seats or in side panels. The design of the box impacts the subwoofer’s performance. Typically, the most popular configurations reflect bass reflex and acoustic suspension. The bass reflex extends the bass response by increasing the efficiency of the system at low frequencies. The acoustic suspension reduces bass distortion.


If convenience is important, buyers should choose a subwoofer that can be adjusted via wireless remote. A wireless remote makes changing settings possible from anywhere in the car.


An amplifier is a piece of electronic equipment that increases, or amplifies, the sound signal that comes through a speaker. When looking at amplifiers for a car, be sure to consider the bandwidth, efficiency, and gain. Some amplifier considerations are discussed in the following sections.


Bandwidth measures the range of frequency the amplifier produces. The higher the bandwidth, the better the sound.


Efficiency refers to the amount of power that is applied to the output. Look for Class AB amplifiers, because they are the best-suited for car audio systems.


Measured in decibels, gain refers to the ratio between output and input signals. The best amplifiers are those that feature constant gain for an even sound.


On long road trips, parents no longer have to endure bored children whining and asking, "Are we there yet?" With in-car entertainment systems, there is something to please every passenger. DVD players that show favourite movies or allow for video game playing can be installed into any type of car. And, there are several kinds of DVD players available, including overhead, headrest, in-dash, and portable. Consumers need only to choose the one that best meets their needs and budgets.

In addition to DVD players, audio systems are another popular form of in-car entertainment to consider. Though basic speakers may be enough for some car owners, others may prefer more complex audio systems that include subwoofers and amplifiers. To achieve the perfect car audio sound, consumers have to piece together these various components and consider the features each offers.

When ready to purchase any type of in-car entertainment system, buyers can refer to eBay for a large selection of DVD players and audio system parts. Buying from one of the many sellers on eBay affords shoppers with a convenient and enjoyable experience.

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