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.
For v5 I have decided to move it up a notch and chose a new front end that I have been watching since it started out a few years back in the deepest depths of Mp3car….. Centrafuse 2.x. The very fact that I have spent money on a front end rather than download and as before carry on using a free one should show you the quality of the product and what I believe unlike some other ‘pay for’ Front Ends and should be supported and around for some time.
Centrafuse For Front End & GPS
As I said I bought Centrafuse 2.x this time out which does help minimise the amount of ‘extras’ I need installing as a result due to so many plugins available. Lets look at the application its self first though.
Providing a front end for MP3s and video the graphics are basic animated layers rather than the flash interface of such programmes like FreeICE. This has the added advantage of not over doing the CPU just to provide some eye candy although it is some thing I would like to see improved. The music system accesses the files through a data base of ID3 information ( MP3 file tags ) and also the option of a folder view. This combination does allow quick access to what you need how ever you do need to have the tags sorted out correctly for this to work right. One unique feature of Centrafuse is multiple play lists which means you can have up to 10 loaded at any time meaning when car sharing each person can still keep their own play list on the go with out it been changed.
As well as a fully featured Bluetooth phone ( actually its Phonecontrol which is merged ) there is a radio which is compatible with my Silabs FM stick, a DVD player and OBDII. The OBDII system works with my Elm327 adaptor giving me live and direct access to my cars data as I am driving.
Centrafuse does also include a GPS system based on the Destinator 7 navigation engine which I quite like having been a long time user of Freedrive and as such is very familiar although direct safety camera alerts are not available. I say direct as in on screen and voice indication of a near by camera based on the road your on and not a radius. Currently you can have a POI warning with one sound file set to alert you with in a set radius and to support this there is an import feature for camera locations. The Centrafuse FE also adds a couple of extra features to this such as a one touch navigation button to certain POI types but it also provides the GPS data to the rest of the programme and any other plugins.
I have several plugins currently installed to complete jobs that I normally had other programmes for…. the first one I would suggest should be the only one you install when building a fresh system and its Zorros Plugin Browser. With an Internet connection you can view all the latest plugins available and in most cases even install them just though the Centrafuse interface with out even having to go to Windows. This has the added advantage that if Centrafuse is running as a shell you do not have to mess around to get the plugin installed and configured.
Logodashboard is one of the best I have installed though – this allows me to show loads of key information on the main screen such as my next route manoeuvre or eta or even OBDII data. In fact the only limit is on the information passed around Centrafuse its self.
The second plugin I would advise you to install once you are using Zorros Plugin browser is his Skin Browser because for the same reasons above you can install any of the latest skins that are out to customise your CarPCs look. Other plugins I have ( but not all in use ) is the Bluetooth browser ( does not seem to be compatible with the Microsoft stack ), a automatic volume control based on my current driving speed and POI Warner for some more advanced safety camera warnings.
On the whole I am very happy with the front end its self how ever I do think improvements in the skinning features need to be looked at and in fact that is what the development team have said they will be doing at some point. Finally I am waiting for the UK TMC ( TMC Pro ) system to be supported through Trafficsam though standard TMC is now supported so areas like mainland EU should be able to use over the air traffic information.
To make Centrafuse more in tune with my car I have started working in Visual Designer 2 by Zorro which although currenlty is exclusivly used for Centrafuse skins can in fact be used for just about any thing from Roadrunner to Frodoplayer. Based on the skining system fro Zorros phone control it gives you a WISIWIG eviroment for creating the xml skins by allowing ‘templates’ to be created and then updating each ‘screen’ to be updated based on those settings. I use this with a combination of Photoshop to acheive what I want and although its very daungting at first once you have the hang of it your away. One bit of advice I would give you is to read the howtos in the programe directory which include a special one just for Centrafuse exporting. How ever if you want to spend half an hour and watch a video all about it to get going quickly then surf to http://visualdesigner2.com/Movies/New Features.htm which have been prepared by Zorro his self to show any new user the ropes.
The Skin Screen Shots ( v5 ) ( Vx Day & Vx Night & Vx Absolute )
I built two CF2 skins based on the Vauxhall OEM display. Below you can see some preveiw screen shots and how they compared to the OEM screen built in to my car. I’m awaiting for a Canbus device to become available to allow Centrafuse to change the skin depending on whether my lights are on or not. Currently this can only be done on a time basis although I have requested the feature to be added so it may at least be a manual operation. The reason I did two skins was to first of all using Vx Day and Night to match the current co,our scheme of the OEM sat nav but by the end of it I did not like it. In the end I put my own take on the display and specifically as I have done with with skins designed it to work better at night – eg clear and simple buttons that don’t blind you at night. Once that was done it was a case of reversing this and making it a bit more viewable in the day light and resulted in the second skin Vx Absolute. Another unique feature was the changing of the start up logo on CF so if as I was you where using it in shell mode the who system looked very slick indeed.
The final and most useful addition you need is speed camera data. Centrafuse has been designed to work with the single file CSV from PocketGPS.co.uk -although the POI Warner plugin also uses this infomation. 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.
These can be downloaded at PocketGPS.co.uk
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/
You can use GpsGate Client to send your GPS position to your GpsGate.com account or any other GpsGate Server. In my case I use it to upload to the GpsGate.com server so I can check on where I have been and if like when I was on holiday I find some thing interesting I have no idea how I found look back at where I have been. With the Google maps integration it is even possible to look at the Satellite view of that area as well.
One ideal feature of this gateway is that it allows the sharing of position data ( live in the case of having a GPRS connection ) with specific people, groups or even on your own web page if you set it up. This has the added advantage that if you share the data live and then place a traffic overlay on the Google map those looking could take account of current conditions to have a better idea of your journey time. The client could be run as a service which is ideal if you run Centrafuse as the shell how ever at this point there is no plugin to control it.
- Connect your GPS to GpsGate.com and other tracking services
- Share one GPS among several applications
- Track Recorder with offline caching ( read more )
- Connect a GPS to Google Earth
- Send GPS data over HTTP
- Use Garmin USB GPS receivers with standard GPS applications
- Use standard GPS receivers with Garmin applications (nRoute)
- Automatically add GPS data in web forms with “GPS in Browser” feature
- Stabilize the GPS connection. In particular to Bluetooth GPS receivers
- Share a GPS over Bluetooth, over ActiveSync, or even over a network
- GPS simulation and logging
- Multiplex and split NMEA streams
- Developer API for application integration
- and more…
More information can be found at http://www.gpsgate.com/
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/
Ashampoo Magic Defrag
- Defragments the hard disk automatically and “invisibly” in the background.
- Pauses defragmentation automatically as soon as other programs require processor capacity or access the hard disk.
- Switching to Pause mode only takes around one second.
- Support for defragmenting compressed files.
- No analysis needed – defragmentation starts immediately! The advanced defragmentation algorithm eliminates the need for a time-consuming analysis phase. This means that the program is genuinely productive whenever it’s running, even if it’s just for a few seconds.
- Install & Forget: Once the program is installed it runs in the background as a service and keeps the hard disk defragmented automatically.
- Statistic functions for monitoring defragmentation.
- Multi-user support: Once the administrator has installed the program it keeps running, even on restricted user accounts without administrator rights.
- Also defragments the hard disk when no user is logged in.
- Can be controlled and monitored via a local network.
More information can be found at http://www.ashampoo.com/
Want to install Explorer, Outlook Express, MSN Explorer, Messenger… or how about not even to install them with Windows ? nLite is a tool for pre-installation Windows configuration and component removal at your choice. Optional bootable image ready for burning on media or testing in virtual machines. With nLite you will be able to have Windows installation which on install does not include, or even contain on media, the unwanted components.
- Service Pack Integration
- Component Removal
- Unattended Setup
- Driver Integration *
- Hotfixes Integration **
- Services Configuration
- Patches ***
I used it my self to speed up the rebuild process and include such support as the drivers for my board, XP SP3, Directx and more. This gave me the added advantage of very minimal overhead in terms of configuring the final setup. This final installable ISO is simply booted up on the PC and installed like any other Windows setup but with out loads of questions, finally the extra cab files including the extras you require are installed. Unfortunately Centrafuse does not have a silent install feature how ever that is not to say an Autoit script could not be written to follow it through.Bootable ISO
More information can be found at http://www.nliteos.com/
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.
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 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 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 )
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..
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.
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
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.
|Name||Web Site||Cost||Skinable||MP3||GPS||GPS Support||DVD / Video||FM Radio||Bluetooth Phone||TV||Ext App||Web||Weather||Overall Score|
|Centrafuse 2.x||a||Purchase||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||9 out of 10|
|Roadrunner||a||Free||a||a||x||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||8 out of 10|
|FreeICE||a||Free||a||a||x||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||9 out of 10|
|Media Engine||a||Free||a||a||x||a||a||a||x||x||a||x||x||8 out of 10 ( Version 2 )|
|Carbox||a||Free||a||a||x||a||a||x||x||x||x||x||x||7 out of 10 ( Version 0.4 )|
|iCT||a||Free||a||a||x||a||a||a||a||a||x||x||7 out 10|
|CNS Maestro||a||Depends||On request||a||a||a||a||a||a||a||x||x||x||7 out 10 ( Version 2 )|
* Images from Schnellit
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.
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.
*Skins shown from MP3car.com
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.
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.
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.
In-Car-Terminal ( ICT )
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.
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.
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 :-
Car Navigation Systems Inc
Frontdesk: +359 2 9768198
Fax: +359 2 9768199