These days when everyone is so fixated on smartphones, netbooks or a sleek iPad, it almost seems anachronistic to be excited about TV in the car. Who needs TV in the car, I can hear people exclaim. Well, think about that the next time you’re driving on the highway, passing through some wasteland and your kids start getting restless—and they’re done watching DVDs.
Of course, there is no more analog TV, so I’m not talking about the old broadcast content. We’re talking basically cable TV on the go. The idea was overdue and I’m glad as a consumer to have this option. Unfortunately it’s not all the stations you get at home, but it is a substantial lineup of varied content.
Let It FLO
For the review we received FLO TV service via the Audiovox VOD10PS2. We did the evaluation around southern California and during a drive to and back from Phoenix, Arizona. I have to say that the most difficult part of all this was trying to get some backseat time so I could watch Comedy Central, ESPN and CNBC, among other channels (see the full list below). I finally convinced the wife to be my chauffeur and I was pretty pleased when I turned on some cable news. Cable in the car is pretty cool!
The image quality isn’t what you might hope for, however. It’s not exactly like watching bad videos on YouTube, but, let’s just say, the picture isn’t sharp. Here are the specs: FLO TV broadcasts at QVGA (320 x 240) resolution and upscales in the black box using what they call bicubic upscaling algorithms to VGA (640 x 480) resolution. On the relatively large 10.2" LCD screen on the Audiovox VOD10PS2, the image was passable. But as they, content is king! And frankly that’s what I cared about. If I want high resolution then I’ll watch a Blu-Ray movie on my flat panel at home.
Audiovox did say that the placement of the antenna can effect the signal strength. You can check your signal strength on the information screen so, if feasible, you might want to experiement with antenna location. We had it installed on the back part of the roof of our Honda SUV.
If you are planning to travel and want to know which areas of the country are covered by the service you can go to the FLO TV website and check the coverage map at www.flotv.com/maps. From Phoenix I was able to watch several episodes of Jersey Shore (yeah, yeah, yeah, keep your comments to yourself), even long after we’d left the city. Finally when we were in the boonies the signal was sporadically disrupted. Three times the signal restored itself until finally we lost the signal altogether. It was time for some PS2 at that point. But more on that later.
Speaking of the signal. Here is a quick comparison of the signals strengths of FLO TV and Satellite TV:
FLO TV has a spectrum from 716-722 MHz frequency. In discussing this with Jonathan Frank, Director of Mobile Business Strategy at Audiovox, he noted that picture quality is not a function of spectrum, but certain spectrum is more or less valuable because of how well it propogates; that is, as he says, "FLO TV’s spectrum at 716-722MHz propogates at much longer distances and through buildings, tunnels better than higher frequencies."
For audio, I used the FM Mod option. After several days of this I couldn’t take it anymore. Connect the audio directly; you’ll be much happier. As for the headphones: they sounded great and were comfortable. In terms of the equipment, the only issue I had was with the FLO TV remote control. It wasn’t that responsive and I had to repeatedly hit certain buttons to access the channel menu and specific channels.
As I said, the channel list isn’t that extensive, but that’s only relative to what you have at home. You still get over 30 channels, including nickelodeon and the Disney Channel (for you parents). For you sports fans that are always conflicted when planning family trips during important parts of the sports seasons, you have ESPN, ESPNEWS, ESPN 2 and FOX Sports. You don’t have to tape or DVR a program and watch it days after the event.
I’ve had a few different flipdown video screens or DVD players and none have lasted. Some didn’t even last a few months before they went defective. I could tell from the beginning some of those products wouldn’t last. Open and close the monitor, inspect the shell and it’s almost obvious. As obvious: the high quality of the VOD10PS2. It is a solid product (something Audiovox has a reputation for in their overhead mobile video products) with a very secure locking mechanism for the monitor. It has to be well made given that it also contains a mini PlayStation 2. Open the monitor and the PS2 flips down from underneath when you unlock it.
I’m sure some of you are scoffing at the idea of having the ol’ PS2 as your car’s game console. Frankly, I don’t want a PS3 in the car. It may sound funny to say that that’s excessive when we’re talking about having cable TV in your ride; but it is. And Audiovox doesn’t make it with PS3. If you want to do a custom install—well, that’s a different story. Moreover, my favorite titles are NOT available on PS3. That is to say, GT5, I’m convinced will never be released and who cares about Prologue! And my WRC game was discontinued. I played that on the VOD10PS2 and I think it’s still one of the best driving games ever! But I digress.
The PlayStation also serves as your DVD player of course. There is a remote control for the DVD and the overhead functions. The system is also accompanied by two game controllers. And you also get two games included: a Ratchet & Clank title and Hot Shots Golf 2. (Note: The PlayStation will accept your regular PS2 memory card.) There are two fold-flat RF wireless headphones as well. In terms of a package, it is more than complete. The headphones, as mentioned, are comfortable and my preferred method for listening to the sound for TV, and audio from the DVD and video games.
The screen offers a great picture for DVDs and GT4 (my game of choice for this evaluation). Put together, the FLO TV, DVD and PS2 combine to form the perfect in-car entertainment system! And now that summer’s here and you’re planning some family road trips, you would be remiss not to look at this combo to keep you and your family entertained while traveling from point A to B.
FLO TV service costs about $9 a month and the Audiovox VOD10PS2 lists for $949, but shop around, you’ll find some great deals. At full pop it’s still worth it; at 30% off or more it’s a no-brainer. This is the ceiling-mount video unit you want in your vehicle.
While there’s been talk about more stations available by the end of the year, there’s been no official confirmation. I was told that this is highly confidential information and something FLO TV does not discuss until the final stages of signing a contract. (Note: Channels vary from product to product due to the licensing/content agreements FLO has with different service providers.)
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