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How to Install a Mobile Video System: General Tips

Automotive video system components vary by manufacturer, but there are a few general rules you can follow when installing a car video system. In general, you'll need the following equipment for a basic system:

  • a DVD receiver
  • monitor(s)

DVD receiver

A DVD receiver provides almost everything you need to get started with a mobile video system. The receiver will play your videos on the built-in screen (when the car is parked), and also let you send the video output to external monitors in the back when you're driving. Most models feature dual-zone capabilities, so the driver can listen to one source, while the backseat passengers watch a DVD.

Monitors

There are many different options for monitors that can be used in a vehicle. An in-dash monitor/receiver package can be as simple to install as a typical CD player, while a custom-mounted monitor can require fabrication of panels in order to be integrated with the vehicle's interior. Several manufacturers now make generic enclosures that allow you to install a monitor in an overhead console, in the backs of a seat's headrest, or in the rear of the center console.

No matter what method is used to install the monitors, any monitor installed in the front includes a wire that must be attached either to the emergency brake or to the gear selector sensor — an in-dash monitor will not operate unless the vehicle is stopped and the emergency brake is applied. Furthermore, in most states it's illegal to have a video monitor operating in plain sight of the driver while the vehicle is in motion (unless the monitor is being used to supplement the rear-view mirror or is used for navigation).

Monitor Installation Options

For installation of roof, headrest, or console monitors, some disassembly of the mounting location will be required.

  1. To install a monitor in a housing attached to the roof panel, you'll have to drop the vehicle's headliner (at least partially), and cut a hole through it (which will be hidden by the enclosure) in order to route your wiring.

  2. For headrest monitors, you've got two options: you can install a monitor in your existing headrest, or you can go with a replacement headrest with a built-in monitor. To install a monitor in your existing headrest, you must remove the headrest from the seat, cut into the headrest (depending upon how the kit is made), and install a frame (included with the monitor mounting kit). Once the frame is in, wrap the headrest material around the frame, and snap the monitor into the frame — this should hold the entire assembly together. You can often route the video wiring through the headrest bars into the seat, and through the inside of the seat to the floor. Or, you can purchase a replacement headrest with a built-in monitor. These headrests are designed to match your factory headrest color and fabric, for easy integration, and all the cables run through the tubular chrome posts.
  3. For console monitors, you'll have to either remove the console and replace a piece of it, or replace the entire console, depending upon the kit and/or the car. In all cases, disassembly of other parts of the vehicle will be necessary in order to route your video cables.

Multichannel sound in the car

If you are planning on using a DVD player as your video source, do you want to take full advantage of the DVD's multichannel soundtrack (5.1 Dolby® Digital and/or DTS)? If so, you will need to consider the following issues:

  • The Source: Does your DVD receiver or DVD player have a built-in multi-channel decoder/processor or will you need to purchase an external device? If the decoder is not built in, be sure your receiver or player has a digital output so it can send the digital audio signal to an external processor.
  • The Sound: To enjoy the full effect of a 5.1 Dolby Digital and/or DTS soundtrack, you will need six separate channels of amplification for the front left and right speakers, the rear left and right speakers, a center channel speaker, and at least one subwoofer.
  • The Sub: The addition of a subwoofer is as easy as buying (or building) a subwoofer/enclosure combination that will fit in your vehicle, and supplying amplification of the low-frequency signal (your amp must have either a built-in low-pass filter or an outboard unit).
  • The Speaker: It can be a bit more difficult to integrate a center speaker into your vehicle's interior. Most vehicles will either need custom fabrication to install a center channel. If you don't want to go to this trouble, make sure your receiver, player, or processor has a "phantom" center channel setting — it replicates the sound of a center channel using the front speakers.

Other Options

Satellite television and video systems are starting to make inroads into mobile video. These will require special tuners, antennas, and subscriptions, but offer the potential of a wide range of programming, from sports to kid's shows.

Back Seat System

Another option is dedicating an audio/video system for your back seat passengers — monitor, source, and sound all installed behind the front seats. The convenience and safety of this option — passengers quietly entertaining themselves in the backseats while the driver concentrates on the road — makes it a popular choice in family vehicles.

All In One Systems

Keep in mind that we're describing the installation of some pretty sophisticated equipment here. But if you'd like to keep it simple, it's also possible to get "all-in-one" systems — totally portable audio/video setups that use your cigarette lighter (or "Power Port") as the only connection made to the vehicle itself. These systems range from portable DVD players with built-in LCD screens all the way up to a monitor/DVD package in a backpack-style bag that can be strapped onto the back of a front seat.

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