Upgrading your car: replacing that old CD Player with a new touchscreen system with Bluetooth and more

AltimaHybridI have a 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid. It is nothing fancy, and isn’t in the best shape. Oh, the body is in good shape, it needs a little TLC, like paint and other cosmetic fixes.  Creature comfort wise, though, it came with a workable CD/Radio, cruise, power seats and…that’s about it.  Well, I also have a 2007 Infiniti with a lot of bells and whistles.  So, I wanted some of that in my Nissan.  I set about to see what I could do.  I found out that there are A LOT of possibilities.  And, they don’t cost an arm and a leg.  So, I swam through a sea of similar head end units and found one for under $40 (US).  The unit has MP3 audio, SD and USB ports, plays a plethora of video formats, FM Radio, backup camera support, 7 inch, HD touch screen, Bluetooth and supports video in and out.  Wow. For forty bucks.  Well, in order to install this, you need an installation kit. So…I got one of them AND the correct wiring harness for the 2007 Altima with digital enviro controls.  The installation kit was twenty five dollars (US) and fits the car perfectly. 

The items arrived, days apart, of course.  I tested the headend and it appeared to be fully functional so I preassembled the installation kit and mounted the head in the kit.  I then soldered the harnesses so they would be ready.  20181023_201024

Installation was relatively easy…except, the head was about 5 mm too wide and, maybe one mm too high for the kit.  I was able to make it work by trimming the bezel and, since the kit is plastic, was able to slightly bend one bracket just enough to where the mounting holes lined up. The bezel that goes on the front had to be trimmed a bit for the knob.

received_328936107898619Installing the whole thing in the car was even easier.  Pop off the vent cover, pull off the bottom cover (just under the enviro controls and remove the two screws at the top and two at the bottom and pull the unit out.  You then have to remove the environ controls. There is one Torx screw on each side. Take them out, then bend the tabs up that hold it in the cage and pull it out. It snaps into the new cage. Screw the Torx screws back in and then connect all of the harnesses and the antenna.  Put the whole unit back in, screw in the four screws and then put the vent cover back.  Start the car and setup the unit.  Simple. It took me about thirty minutes.

Setup

Setup is fairly easy: tap the setup icon, set the language, FM Frequency, Video standard (NTSC or PAL) and set received_529731680832352the Boot logo if you want (enter 1983 on the keypad and look for your car manufacturer.) You can set the time by tapping on the clock and setting the date and time.  Its a bit cumbersome, but easy to do.

Pairing your phone is simple.  On your phone, look for GTB-KIT or something like CARKIT. You can import your phone book and phone log once paired.  It is the easiest pairing in a Bluetooth device I have seen.

The FM radio has three ‘banks’ of presets. You can let the device do it for you by pressing the PS button on the FM screen. You can then add or delete all you want.  NOTE: there is no AM radio on most of these cheap devices. Mine is the MP5-7023B and looks to be a clone of nearly all of the cheap head ends out there. The user interface, while looking OK, is not that easy to understand. Discoverability is not, apparently, a concern for the developers.

20181023_202611The MP3 player, photo viewer and movie player all require a USB stick or SD card, even though that is labelled ‘TF Card’. You need to create three folders: Music, Video and Photos.  Photos ONLY works with JPG files.  PNG and BMP(!) do not appear to work.  Video works with pretty much every codec and container out there. Music plays MP3, OGG, WAV and a few others.  Oh yeah, FLV video is supported.

I didn’t want the default non-Logo to display when the unit starts, I wanted the Nissan logo. Fortunately, in setup, there is a logo feature that allows you to pick one of couple of dozen or so manufacturer logos. Many are European or Asian and unfamiliar to me.  The Nissan logo was there, so I picked it.  To get to the page, go into setup, tap the Logo button and enter 1983. The page will display. Simply select the logo you want by tapping it.  Hit the Home button to save. Boom, done.

What I don’t like

The user interface is really wonky.  It is pleasant enough, with a kind of Windows 8 look for the home screen.  Lots of blue is used.  This is all fine, but, it is REALLY sluggish.  The touch screen is not very sensitive either.  In bright light, it washed out, big time.  The knob serves many purposes, but is mainly confusing. Not only can you turn it, like a real knob, but you can also push it in. It is context aware, but inconsistent.

The equalizer function works for all music playback, but is only available on screen if you are in the FM Radio app. 20181023_211917 Otherwise, you must press the knob, several times, to get to the very small icon for the EQ, then you turn the knob for one of four or so presets.  You cannot create your own sound, though.

The remote woks great, but, the buttons are difficult to press and you must be in line of sight with the IR receiver. And, why the remote? I would rather have had a steering wheel control.  However, the remote does make navigating the touch screen much easier.

Bluetooth works fine, but the music playback from your phone is not complete. All you get is Previous, Next, 20181023_201049Pause and Play. You get no info about what is playing or the album art. 

What I like

For the price, everything. This thing was forty bucks.  Yes, it is far from perfect and, likely, won’t last.  I am OK with that, as long as I can get six months or more.  I plan to get a nicer one with DVD and GPS, but, this will work in the interim.  Speaking of GPS, I am working on a DIY GPS that will utilize a Raspberry Pi and GPS module I got from Radio Shack, years ago, for my Arduino stuff. The MP5 has an external video input that I will use for the GPS.  I also have a backup camera I am going to install in the car. The unit supports this as well.

If you have an older vehicle that could use an upgrade like this, you can certainly do it on the cheap.  The thing to keep in mind, though, is the installation kit. More common cars, like the Altima, will probably have the kits readily available. Otherwise, you might have to get creative.   All in all, it is a worthy upgrade and didn’t break the bank or take hours to do.

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XBOX 360 Fall Dashboard Update

Since the Zune HD was released, it’s user interface has been praised. Microsoft liked it so much that they modeled the user interface for the redesigned Windows Phone operating system and, they gave it a name: Metro.

Metro has a nice, clean style that is fresh and, so far, unique to Microsoft.  It’s main features are its font and the live tiles.  Using an oversize but clean font and not worrying about screen real estate, Microsoft was able to incorporate features that other operating systems could not or, rather, could not do so easily enough.

XBOX Update (photo from Engadget)The live tiles not only represent applications or functions, but they are also ‘living’ in that they can present information from the application or the feature they represent.  Windows 8 will feature Metro and so will the XBOX 360.

Microsoft announced at the E3 conference earlier this year that XBOX would get a makeover and, now, they have delivered.

The refresh means that the XBOX has now gone Metro as well. 

Aside from the look and feel, perhaps the most notable change is the addition of the ‘app store’.  Not like the Apple App Store, but an app store nonetheless.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much there yet and the ‘biggie’ apps like the XFinity and YouTube apps won’t be out until early 2012. But, the promise and capability are there and I cannot wait for the actuality of those apps.

So, for what is there, how did they do?  I think they did well.  The system feels more stable and less hodgepodge than it did.  The clean design and pleasing black background as well as the replacement of the ‘busy’ cursor make the XBOX more like a family computer or media hub than a video game console.

Zune integration is even better and, contrary to early published reports, the Zune brand is just as prevalent, if not more so, than it was before. 

The tiles, while some were still blank, are a welcome addition and I can think of a lot of uses for them. Game achievements, friends online, etc. are a few things that come to mind.

Using the new interface took about a minute to get used to. It is responsive, very nice looking and easy to navigate. I think they did a better job with the controller interaction than they did with the mouse and keyboard interaction in the Windows 8 developer preview.

I think the real advance for the dashboard is the Kinect integration. Unfortunately, I do not have Kinect yet, so I cannot report on that, but the demo I saw was very impressive.

Installing the update took about 20 minutes and three restarts of the console, but it was trouble free-as has been my experience with XBOX on the whole. 

XBOX has been transformed into a powerful but easy to use home media hub. It not only has online access to Netflix, Zune and other media outlets, but it is also able to access your own media on your Windows or Mac  computers, a feature that is vital to making XBOX a media hub. My one complaint is that it cannot handle as many codecs that the PS3 can, but XBOX still beats PS3 in every category.

In a future post, I will discuss XBOX as a media hub. Stay tuned for that.

Overall, the new update is pleasing and a welcome change to an already superb product.

(You can read more about the changes here.)

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