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CarPC Software V4 – Information About The Software Used, Past, Present and Future

CarPC Software V4 Details

 

Windows – Well its good enough for running MS Word or playing games on but its not ideal for using in a mobile entertainment environment. One way or another the Explorer interface had to go. I then joined up a bulletin board on the MP3car.com site and found the The Open Source Car Computer Project ( Or Media Engine ). It did everything I wanted, MP3, GPS ( with an external app ), video and more as well as being touch screen compatible and customisable. Now I have progressed on the latest kid on the block Roadrunner. Gunio the writer has been very committed and since the beginning of 2005 has developed and all singing and all dancing application. You can find out about it and more of the applications on this page of you you want even more detail why not visit Cartft.com and have a look at my comprehensive reviews on the Dockingstation.

CarPC Front End Software – A Quick Glance At Some Of The Best From Around The World

 

Name Web Site Cost Skinable MP3 GPS DVD / Video FM Radio Bluetooth Phone TV  Ext App Web Weather Overall Score
Roadrunner a Free a a a a a a a a a a 9.5 out of 10
Frodoplayer a Free a a a a a a a a r r 8 out of 10
Media Car a Free a a a a a r r a r r 9.5 out of 10 ( Version 1.83 )
Media Engine a Free a a a a a r r a r r 8 out of 10 ( Version 2 )
Carbox a Free a a a a r r r r r r 7 out of 10 ( Version 0.4 )
iCT a Purchase a a a a a a   a     7 out 10
Centrafuse a Purchase a a a a a a a a a a Untested
Street Deck a Purchase a a a a XM a a a a a Untested
CNS Maestro a Depends On request a a a a a a r r r 9.5 out 10 ( Version 2 )

 

Centrafuse

  • Media Player                                                                                        
  • MP3 Player Support
  • Media Manager
  • USB Devices
  • Multiple Screens
  • Satellite Radio ( XM In the USA Only )
  • FM Radio
  • TV Tuner
  • Audio Mixer
  • Bluetooth Phone Integration
  • GPS Navigation
  • Multi Language
  • Web Browser
  • Free Weather Plugin
  • Rear Camera
  • DVD Player
  • OBD-II: Engine Diagnostics
  • Custom Interfaces
  • And more through a Plugin system

http://www.fluxmedia.net/

* Images from Schnellit

Roadrunner

  • Audio Engine ( MP3s )
  • Video
  • DVD
  • Mixer
  • External GPS (Map Monkey, FreeDrive etc)
  • Launch Applications
  • SDK Support
  • Girder Control
  • ID3 Support
  • TV/Camera support
  • Radio (Radiator, WinTV, Cinergy)
  • MapPoint
  • Phone Control
  • XM Radio Support
  • SIRIUS Radio Support
  • Weather Support
  • Picture Viewer
  • External LCD
  • iPod Support
  • Internet Browsing
  • 16:9 support

A truly impressive application that came from the demise of MediaCar. It does just about every thing in the book and with Guino listing to the community its constantly been updated and added to – he’s even made the source code available.

This is my chosen app and since I first used and reviewed it Roadrunner has defintly become number one. Further more some extra tool sets have been created by other users and include an automatic updater in a simular format to the Windows Update function and a couple of skinning apps to make the job easier.

 

http://guino.home.insightbb.com/roadrunner.html or http://www.mp3car.com/vbulletin/forumdisplay.php?f=72 or http://www.rrdownloads.net/

  • Audio Engine ( MP3s )
  • Video
  • DVD
  • External GPS (Map Monkey, FreeDrive etc)
  • Launch Applications
  • TV/Camera support ( Via Frodocam )
  • FM Radio ( Dlink )
  • Phone Control
  • XM Radio Support
  • Picture Viewer
  • 16:9 support

A very nice app with loads of skins* to support it. The skin function allows you to place any button for any function any where which means you can be very creative. Checkout Frodo’s site as he has many other supporting applications such as Frodocom and Frodocam.

 

http://www.frodoplayer.com/ or http://www.mp3car.com/vbulletin/forumdisplay.php?f=47

 

*Skins shown from MP3car.com

MediaCar

  • Support for Winamp
  • GPS Using Mappoint 2002
  • Support for Destinator 2.0 (for GPS Navigation) – Full Support To Come
  • Fully Customisable Startup e.g. last used, GPS, Mp3’s etc
  • Fully skinnable
  • Scalable skins, so you can view them at any screen resolution including real 16:9 support
  • Day / Night Mode
  • Skin switch on the fly
  • Visualisation screen
  • Integrated clock
  • Fully active equaliser
  • FM Radio
  • DVD & DIVX Support
  • External Application Launch Support

This is defiantly the best carpc app out at the moment – and its the new kid on the block. Only recently released and it causing a massive storm on the mp3car forum due to not only the functions it can offer but also its good looks. This is defiantly the one to watch as more is added.

 

http://www.mediacar.org/ or http://www.media-car.fr.st/

MediaEngine 2.0

  • Mp3 Player
  • DVD & Movie Support
  • Play List Data Base System
  • FM Radio Support
  • External Applications
  • Skinnable
  • Windows Media Player 9 Support

MediaEngine 2.0 is a program that creates user-friendly environment to play different kinds of multimedia on your PC while driving. This application can play MP3s, DVDs, MPEGs and almost any other file based media, database your music collection and allow searching, launch external applications, display on screen Visualizations, and even shut down your computer. MediaEngine 2.0 can also be used as a manager for all of the media in your home stereo system. By interfacing with a touch screen and remote control, it allows the user to perform complex tasks normally requiring a couple of programs and much mouse movement very easily. By the way if you get a strange message ‘First Time Use : Select Display Properties.’ Just go to the MP3 Player and select any track. It will be fine after that.


http://www.mediaengine.org/

CarBox

  • Support for Windows Media Player 9.0 (for Music and Video)
  • Support for Destinator 2.0 (for GPS Navigation)
  • Fully resumes play after hibernate/restart (Windows must be configured)
  • Select a directory subtree to replace, or add to current play list. Allows for queuing up as much music as you need for your journey!
  • Search facility, to find individual songs/movies, or full albums
  • Fully skinnable
  • Scalable skins, so you can view them at any screen resolution
  • Run-time switchable skins, for example day/night skins
  • Option to embed GPS application in Visualisation screen. Small, but handy
  • Option to start-up GPS application when CarBox starts
  • Integrated clock

Very small and very quick. One of the first carpc apps to fully support the Destinator GPS software. The playlist selection is a little complicated how ever once you have got through that is very good at its job. The skining option is so flexible its hard to decide what to do but the newly released skinning app will help you with that. Currently at a ‘pre-release’ version it still has some rouge edges how ever given time I defiantly think this is going to be one of the major players in the carpc world.


http://www.stuffandting.com/carbox/

In-Car-Terminal ( ICT )

  • Search feature for media files 
  • Mobile phone support via PhoneControl.NET (Download) 
  • FM radio support via Radiator (e.g. Hauppauge USB TV/FM RDS)
  • CarPC Desktop optimized for Touchscreen-Usage
  • Multilingual
  • Skinable (Free Skin-Editor available
  • Day/Night Mode (manual or automatic)
  • Navigation software like Travelbook, NaviPC, Navigon,… can be attached to the Touchscreen Desktop (2 different quickbars possible)
  • Integrated On Screen-Keyboard
  • Image Viewer with slideshow-functionality
  • Auto-Resume for Music
  • Easy to control playlist functions 
  • Integrated DVD-Player Interface

From the familiar home of Cartft.com this stable bit of kit is home grown. For the price you get a simple value for money front end which is also supported so you know if you do have problems there is always help on hand. There is a full skinning app available with some skins already in the community area and best of all it supports Phonecontrol.net very nicely too. Try the free trial which is downloadable to see what you think.

 

http://www.cartft.com/

Street Deck

  • Touch Screen Control
  • Navigation & Mapping
  • Bluetooth Phone Integration
  • Satellite Radio
  • Vehicle Diagnostics
  • Rear-view Camera Support
  • CD player/MP3 Extraction
  • MP3 Player
  • FM Radio
  • DVD/Video Player
  • Picture Viewer
  • WiFi Sync Support
  • Partners which such companies like Intel

I’ve not tested this app as its not made it way over to Europe yet how ever this is a massively stable application and is MP3cars first commercial venture. Its not cheap and can be bought stand-a-lone instead of with their specific hardware for which it was designed how ever the fact that its supposed to be an ‘off the shelf’ solution for the masses means support and stability must be there…. heck even Intel to name but one company are really pushing Street Desk too. This is the first commercial CarPC solution ( hardware / software ) that is really available and has the experience behind it.

 

http://www.streetdeck.com/

 

 

Carrera EX – The Opel / Vauxhall OEM ( Factory Fitted ) CarPC / Carputer – Yep It Exists

Car Navigation Systems Inc  www.carnavsys.com

Currently they have a contract with the major Opel market player in Bulgaria. They are negotiating with  Opel’s headquarter in Germany to approve and include this technology not just on local and EE level, but worldwide as well. Their goal is to provide people on the go with computing functions and Internet access identical to being in the office or home. With this they can save a lot of time and money and be much more productive and really mobile. Of course they’d like to entertain the people during trips as well which is why they have developed a flexible and full-featured multimedia part of their own software.

What have they done so far? They have developed a system, called Carrera EX. Basically it consist from 3 parts – specially developed anti-shock Pentium 4 PC w/ DVD, usually mounted in the vehicle’s trunk, dash-mounted Touch Screen LCD (at least one) and entirely developed by Carnavsys in-car software for usage during drive time. Of course thet offer installation and maintenance to their customers and partners as well. Currently they are working on a 24×7 support centre and help desk, so they might stay more close to the audience and they hope to announce it later this month ( Sept 2003 ). In fact here there are lots of “hidden” to the normal eye details like special audio and power supply filters, vehicle safe and security features, special microcontroller integration board (that connects the consumer electronics of the car with the pc. For instance – there is a connection between the front lights and the pc. With that the customer gets an automatic switch between day and night mode of the software. All he needs to do is just to turn on the vehicle’s lights…)etc

Concerning the new models of Opel – they are starting to install CarreraEX in the new Vectra, Signum, Zafira and Combo. In fact these models have great LCD place – what they need to do is just to deinstall the audio equipment that comes with your Vectra.

Below you can see some screenshots from their in-car software called Maestro that was made especially for Opel, Opel fans and dealers worldwide.

If you decide to use their in-car software solution, you’ll need the above mentioned integration board in order to get all the features working fine (such as intelligent power management, day and night auto switch, vehicle’s integrated audio intelligent control etc)

For more information please contact :-

Alexander Ivanov

Commercial Director

Car Navigation Systems Inc

Sofia, 1784

Bulgaria

Frontdesk: +359 2 9768198

Fax: +359 2 9768199

Visit us on www.cns.bg / www.carnavsys.com

My Own Software Setup For v4

Freedrive and MapMonkey For GPS

Freedrive and MapMonkey are based around Destinator so you will need to have bought a copy both for licence reasons and for the maps them selves ( be careful you get the right version ), also you may require a copy of the Dest_DLL.DLL file which is available though the Destinator SDK at extra cost.

So what advantages do these new front ends to Destinator give us ? LOTS ! Ok so we are still limited by the same map views but the extras you get are obvious straight away – a better looking interface. ( Software houses take note ) This is achieved by making the applications fully skinable and in the case of Freedrive this can even be done using Macromedia Flash – oh the possibilities… In fact CDRSkull who writes Freedrive has created not just one but several front ends which are Flash based and intergrate very well.

Safety camera alerts are available in both applications although Freedrive in my opinion presents this better to the driver.

Freedrive is currently been re-written to work with Destinatior PN how ever there is a question as to whether this will ever get to the public as there are some legal issues that CDRSkull is trying to sort – this includes getting Powerlock who own Destinator to help find a way that the SDK and maps can be available to non corporate users after they with-drew support after v3.

In the mean time you can use Destinator PN maps with Freedrive v1 as long as you cut the maps to less than 95Mb.

The final and most useful addition you need is speed camera data. Freedrive has been designed to work with the single file CSV from PocketGPS.co.uk – you have to delete the three lines of text from the top of the file before you import it which is a very painless procedure. In the UK this function is legal because it is GPS based but I believe you should not use this for speeding. In fact the reason I use it is because so many of these cameras are hidden and so many roads are badly marked up its easy to be caught out – the best course of action is don’t speed. Freedrive does have a feature to capture new cameras if you do come across any how ever it does not currently offer the feature for you to submit this to PocketGPS.co.uk where if you do find a new one and its confirmed you get free life time updates from them in return.

These can be downloaded at http://www.freedrive.co.uk/ & http://www.mapmonkey.net/ & PocketGPS.co.uk

Garo’s Extra POI Plugin For Mapmonky

I use this software to display the POIs that are downloaded by POI edit. It works as a plugin to Mapmonkey how ever Garo tells me that he is looking at other options so other programs can use it. That been said this is on hold for the moment while he creates Garonav. You can get more info at http://www.riccardogarofano.com/.

POI Edit

POI Edit is mainly used with PDAs how ever has the ability to save the POI files locally. You first set up what you want to download and then you can either set it to automatically update or what I recommend manually. This way you can do it at home via WIFI rather than GPRS so it will cost you less. The POIs that are actually available are wide and varied and include POIs from McDonalds to Safety Cameras so hope over to there web site and have a look for what you need.

You can find it it at http://www.poiedit.com/

My Web Traffic Interface For Travel Info Via GPRS & More

I have a web site that I have built which matches my in car skin. Using the a web browser on the move allows me to access it and as I have also created buttons to work it the system is totally integrated with the car. On this site I have direct and controllable access to many traffic or general information sites so I can access free information when ever I need to. The best part is that I have free internet with my current contract and that I can add / remove or modify any services I want with out having to do a new install on the car its self.

More information can be found at http://www.letscommunicate.co.uk/carpc/traffic/ 

Steveig.org Mobileweb For Travel Info Via GPRS

Stevieg created this after I came up with the concept. It came from the continuing quest for live traffic information which at the time ( and still is ) new web based services where starting up and pushing very hard to be used. This is great for a static user or some one who wanted to check on conditions before they left but not much good on route. Thus Mobileweb was born to allow a touch screen interface set up to quickly access predetermined web pages, of course you do need an Internet connection still but that’s another story. As long as you have the right plug-in’s ( i.e. Macromedia Flash ) and MS Internet Explorer this will work for you – and its skinnable. Steveig has further enhanced its functions buy allowing it to work with Map Monkey and Phonecontrol.net to deliver more localised information and integration and because it is a separate program it will work with any front end that supports external applications.To access the information Mobileweb connects the relevant web site such as Trafficmaster or Getmethere via the GPRS card I have installed. There is no special set up required other than to have the web sites pre set up in the ini file and to make sure that Internet Explorer will automatically dial the right modem connection. In the UK we only get charged for what we use so this means that the connection can be left open all the time and with the updates only been a few b big not expect a great big bill at the end of the month.

These can be downloaded at http://www.stevieg.org/carpc/downloads/

Phonecontrol.net

Phonecontrol.net is at the moment a very unique application at this moment in time in that it allows you to control your mobile phone ( subject to compatibility ) and even use your CarPC as a mobile phone car kit ( with a microphone etc ). Not only does it do this but it is a skinnable application but it currently is directly supported by a number of major front end applications including Road Runner, Mobile Media Centre, InCar Terminal and even Meedio. It allows you to access your phone book and dial out using an on screen touch interface and even access your SMS message functions.

The best part is that when some one calls you on your phone you can set it up to show either the money and or a picture of those calling you. Although possible I dont use it as a Carkit as I have a Parrot CK3000 installed so I purley just use the USB cable to control the phone its self. I have just ordered my new phone a Imate Kjam – this is Windows Mobile 2005 based and currently not supported by Phonecontrol therefore I have volenteered to be a Beta tester for his new Windows Mobile version… I’ll update here when I know more – in the mean time more information can be found at http://zoran-horvat.de/private/CarPC/.

Girder

Girder originally started life as a freeware application doing what no other application did. Then because of its success Promixis integrated it in to their portfolio and further started charging for it. This is no bad thing though because Girder now has corporate support it should not be going any where for a long time as well as getting further developed. So what can it do ? It basically allows control from any input device to any output but because it uses scripts to do this it is not limited to one key press but can perform a whole series of commands. I have constricted my own Girder file to control Roadrunners main features when in view but also to control Phonecontol. This means I can have a passenger make and answer calls as well as select their own music – and been RF there are are no problems where in the car that person is.

 More information can be found at http://www.promixis.com/

The Skin Screen Shots ( v3 )

Currently I am using CDRSkull’s MC2 ( Media Centre ) skin which is flash based. It looks good and work even better but that’s hard to show here. You may recognise it if you have an Xbox ( XBMC ) or other modified consol as its based on the Project mayhem skin. Its got some great functions including a flash speedo that works when you have Freedrive up and running. Many MC2 users including my self have also contributed as well for extra functions as and when Roadrunner has included them.

Above a screen shot of CDRSkull’s MC2 skin which is flash based and I use. There are some more images in the Gallery area showing the full skin in use.

The CarPC / Carputer Build – How I Did It And What Problems I Had

 

The OS or Operating System

First of all you need to format your PC’s drive. To the right you will see a diagram of how I did it how ever you can change it how ever you want. My advice though is that this is the best configuration you can have. Partition 1 is the system drive and if done right should not change much so its easy to restore should it ever need to…. I’ll come to that bit at the end. Partition 2 is for all your music and videos’. I have separated this because it the main area that changes a lot, this area can become very ‘fragmented’ so keeping it separate has two advantages. The first been that the main system ( Partition 1 ) works the quickest it can because of the lack of fragmentation. The second ( again I will cover this at the end of the article ) is that you can restore just the data if need or just the system disk ( Partition 1 ). Eventually I chose the OS Windows XP. The reason for is that it is a modern OS with some great features and media support how ever it is a little slow, lastly its very compatible with Media Engine which I will be basing most of my system around. I did in the process complete a Windows 98 build which is filed away just in case I want to change.

 

Drivers

Next was to install all the drivers I required for the Mother Board and other devices. The mother board under Windows XP required only some support drivers how ever Windows 98 needed drivers for the Video car, the LAN card and the sound car as well. Next was the drivers for the GPS, touch screen and DRU100. The best way of installing drivers is to get the latest you can of the web site for your own particular device and operating system.

 

Service Packs

Service packs for the OS were next. I installed the drivers first so they could be updated if need by these, and in-fact Microsoft recommend any changes that are applied no matter how small the SP should be applied. Note that I have not upgraded MS Internet Explore as its not needed by my self.

 

Media Engine

Media Engine was next, installing the software, ‘Contrast Skin‘ and the latest patch. I then installed TweakUI and changed the home directories for music and movies to the D: drive ( Partion 2 ). Once that was done I then went in to Media Engine and set my preferences up such data locations, keys etc. Lastly I went in the radio.ini with in the install directory and changed the station and frequencies. I placed an icon in the start-up folder called ‘bMedia Engine’ The b was so it would start after TVtool ( more later )

 

Applications

Next I installed Microsoft Autoroute and my newly acquired copy of Destinator two, both had to be tweaked. First of all I did Autoroute, I applied the GPS timing fix to improve the GPS tracking response then I installed my own Autostart patches ( see text file here ) for it to get it working with Media Engine. As it turns out these don’t work with ME nor does Destinator as the app simply starts the application in question and comes back to a black screen. At the time of writing this ( 25/06/03 ) it has been reported as a bug by a number of people so should be resolved on the next available release. Destinator was installed OK and had a slight hic up with GPS unit, I was never able to nail this down how ever on the XP build it seems to be OK now…. strange. It did though need a small hack to get the On screen keyboard working. This is obviously an over site of the install and I will report it soon as a bug. The fix how ever in the mean time can be found here – thanks to Henk for that one.

 

TVTool And Wide Screen

Once up and running I found that because I was using a VGA screen it did not fill it to the sides completely. I did expect that so I had already invested in a Riva TNT card with 3D capabilities and TV out…. its only 16mb how ever ideal for running some 3D games when waiting for some one and it works very well with a utility called TVTool. TVTool effectively works with certain chip sets and some how ( I have no idea how ) allows you to stretch the image on the screen, it will also allow you to do true wide screen how ever I have not got that far yet. NB TVtool only works on certain chips sets so if unsure drop them an email and ask – if needs be look at Power Strip, another similar application. I found that TVTool worked better under XP with the in built drivers unlike the Windows 98 build where I needed the Detonator driver pack. See what works best. The settings I used were 800×600 NTSC non interlaced. I also moved the screen to where I was happy with it and set it to minimise on start-up. I also placed an icon called ‘aTVtool’ in the start-up folder so it would start first. I could have had Media Engine started by TVTool how ever ever time ME was terminated so was the TVtool Utill…. not ideal. I also out the parameter /TV on the settings so it would automatically start the TV mode.

 

Scan Disking, Defraging And Imaging The ‘Build’

So we have our ‘Build’. I now want to back this up for a number of reasons ( apart from knowing what can happen ) so to make sure this is working at its optimum I ran scan disk twice then the defrag tool three times. This may sound over the top but it the disk is too fragmented it will slow the start-up of your system. Here comes the cleaver bit. I have took an image using ‘Drive Image 5‘ ( how ever that are others such as Ghost about ) and saved this to the back up area on my disk along with all the drivers I may ever need. The idea behind this if I ever change the build and don’t like it or it becomes corrupt, with one CD I can do a restore even when away from home of an optimised system. I also recommend that you restore your image and time you want to make any major changes to the system partition ( such as a new GPS app etc ) then re take an image after a defrag etc. This way you are always working with a good fast system. Always keep this one safe some where on CD etc – that way you can always go back. I won’t going to imaging and builds too much as its such a complicated topic but there are plenty of places with information about best practices etc on the net including the software houses them selves..

 

The Data

lastly to test I put a couple of small music videos and mp3’s on to the data drive….. the results were worth the effort. I am currently converting all my LP/CD music to MP3 which is taking some time but looking at the amount of space I am using up to this point its going to take a while to fill – and I say this as a former DJ.

 

Future Plans

Include the software to support the Inferred remote and some software to control the screen brightness from the command line… more on this when I have it working

 

Conclusion

It takes time but do the build once or twice for using it as an image – this way you know exactly which options you want with which drivers etc plus you have already tested it so your system works to the optimum. Make sure you have a backup and if needs be ( like my self ) document the process and keep and files needed so it can easily be repeated should the worst happen.