What was expected to be a coming-out party for the '05 Mustang demo vehicles turned out to be a nonevent, as the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas picked up where November's SEMA Show left off. The show floor was crowded with Chrysler 300Cs, Dodge Magnums, and a variety of wild show trucks, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Clearly, the Best of Show install was Alpine's center-steering BMW X5 sport truck, which features just two doors that are motorized, extending out from each side of the vehicle.
On the product front, the battle remained between the two national satellite radio providers, Sirius and XM, with each promoting its respective services and trying to differentiate itself from the other. Sirius is making its best effort with Howard Stern coming on board next January, while NPR veteran Bob Edwards now holds court to a more mature audience on XM.
If there was a hot-button topic at this year's CES, in addition to satellite radio, it was the proliferation of interface devices for Apple's iPod digital music player. Some companies, such as Alpine, opted for a brand-specific approach, while a number of accessory suppliers worked to develop adapters that will allow the iPod to connect directly to most factory-installed and aftermarket receivers with CD changer inputs, allowing track information to be displayed on the existing head unit's front panel display. Taking a different approach, Clarion showed a head unit with a retractable touch screen that, when connected to an iPod, emulates its controls, making the iPod even easier to use while driving.
As better factory-installed products continue to be offered by the vehicle manufacturers, thus relegating the aftermarket to the sideline, the response has been a number of interface devices that will allow you to keep your factory head unit (especially important if you paid for an integrated navigation system with a LCD display) while upgrading the amplifiers, speakers, and subwoofers. The most versatile device in this category was JL Audio's CleanSweep signal processor, a device that will equalize and level-match the output of almost any factory-installed head unit or premium amplifier, converting it to an input that's friendly to most aftermarket amplifiers.
While there was little that was revolutionary on the amplifier, speaker, and subwoofer fronts, most manufacturers showed new or updated products that promise better performance at lower prices. Several manufacturers, Boston Acoustics among them, showed high-performance subwoofers with user/field replaceable elements, such as cones or voice coils, that will prove valuable if you find yourself a charter member of the Subwoofer of the Month club as a result of trying to play your system so loud that it can be heard a block away.
On the navigation front, while the full-line manufacturers continue to fully integrate systems sporting improved graphics into their head units, stand-alone units (several are now available for less than $1,000 from suppliers such as Lowrance) are making an impact in the marketplace. In addition, Eclipse displayed a head unit that features a Memory Stick slot, which enables owners to download specific itineraries from the company's Web site, giving customers navigation capability only when they need it and eliminating most of the cost of a dedicated navigation system. Look for your mobile phone provider to offer a similar service in the next 18 months.
Video continues to be an important category, and this year was no exception. Almost every manufacturer, it seems, is now offering factory-style headrests with LCD monitors installed. This year, though, several are offering integrated side- or top-loading DVD players as well. Drive Mobile Entertainment showed an overhead video system that sported two screens - one for each rear-seat passenger. RaySat showed an in-vehicle satellite TV and broadband Internet system employing dual low-profile rooftop antennas, which seems to be only months away from a practical aftermarket system of real-time in-vehicle e-mail. The system even employs in-vehicle WiFi so you can use your laptop in your vehicle once the antenna has acquired and locked in on a satellite broadband signal. We tried it, bidding on a Chevy Silverado on eBay while driving down Las Vegas Boulevard. It was very cool indeed.
With all the innovative products on display at CES, it's difficult to single out the 15 most important introductions, but as we've done in years past, we'll do our best to point you in the direction of 2005's Top 15 products. We're smart enough, though, to know that we haven't seen them all and that we're just scratching the surface. In the months to come, we'll unearth more great components, so keep your eyes on the New Products section of Sport Truck, as you can be sure that we'll be first in bringing you all the goodies.