Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Driving Ourselves Mad

So, you have three small children and a five hour drive planned. You can just load up and go, but that is a form of family torture. Kids can be lovely most of the time, but cooped up in a small space, unable to move about, they quickly become cranky and bored. There are car games, and those are good things, but they only fill up some time. They are GameBoys, but small children will even get bored of those, plus the batteries won’t last five hours.

There there is telly. This was once a pipe dream, our modern opiate in cars? Not possible. Until now. Modern flat screens and slim line DVD’s have opened up a whole new world of in car “entertainment”. We’ve had some real travel nightmares in our time, and I am determined this coming holiday will be smooth, calm and as joyful as possible. So I determined to go out and see what the market had to solve this new possibility.

The options are endless. Ranging from very tiny screens to frankly pretty massive ones, nearly every manufacturer has an “in car” option these days. They range from simple handhelds, to pretty complex systems that would do well at home. Thing is, you have to think about how all this is going to work.

With three children in the back seat one screen is not enough, especially if its small. So that means a two screen system, one behind each front seat. OK, there’s lots of options there, but most have one screen slaved to the one which has the DVD drive. What happens to families like ours where a little girl wants to watch things quite different from her older brothers?

Well, you can get two DVD players, but then sometimes they will want to watch the same thing. Then there is headphones. Three sets of wires around three heads starts to sound like a safety hazard if you’re in an accident. There are now wireless headphones, but how do you deal with having different DVDs playing on the two screens? Finally, there is parental control. To stop arguments, and minise time expensive stops at motorway service stations you need to be able to control things, and more importantly change DVD’s from the front. Most handheld players are clamshell designs that are complicated to open. Not something you can easily do bent at awkward angles from the front seat.

Nextbase has thought all this through, and seems to be the only manufacturer that has. I settled on the SDV-185S series, which is a tablet design with 8 ½ inch screens. Bigger than average, but not so big it won’t hang off the seat. As a tablet, DVD’s load through a slot in the side, something you can manage from the front seat, or the children can even manage themselves. They come with remote controls, so you can do other things from the front seat as well.

The clever bit is each tablet has its own DVD drive, but you can also run a cable between the two and slave one to the other. That means two DVD’s showing on each screen or the same one on both. There is also a two channel wireless headset option. Now you can have each headset running off either screen. The kids can choose which one they are listening to.

Battery life is tested at 3-4 hours, but they also provide an adapter to run of 12v car power. Limitless viewing is now possible! Amazingly every option seems catered for. Plus, they come with a simple headrest mount, but also can operate as hand helds. You can actually take them out of the car, and use them where ever you go. Extremely useful when you’re going to granny and grandad’s who have a TV, but not a DVD. They arrive tomorrow! I shall update on the success of the choice when we return!


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