Built-in or portable video systems

There are some choices when it comes to video systems in your car

Published: January 2011

Built-in factory DVD entertainment systems


Most minivans and an increasing number of SUVs and sedans are now available with built-in rear-seat entertainment systems as a factory option. When available separately, they typically cost about $1,000 to $2,000, but they can sometimes be packaged with other equipment that can raise the price by hundreds of dollars. Most new-car systems include a single video screen that flips down from the headliner and is designed to be viewed by passengers in the rear seats. Some systems include multiple screens, and some higher-end models have screens mounted in the back of the front-seat head restraints. One problem with having a centrally mounted screen is that when it's flipped down, it can obstruct the driver's view through the rearview mirror.

Passengers can listen to the audio either through the car's audio system or through headphones, with wireless headphones now common. Most systems can be controlled by either front or rear passengers.

All systems allow rear passengers to listen to a separate audio source than those in front. The system in Chrysler's minivans also allows passengers in the second- and third-row seats to watch different video sources.

Built-in aftermarket entertainment systems


If you'd like to add a video-entertainment system to your current car, there are a variety of aftermarket systems and components that can be professionally installed. With installation, these systems range from $300 to $1,800, though some with multiple screens can cost more than $2,000. While a built-in aftermarket system can easily cost more than an automaker's system, it does give you more flexibility in layout and features. (That said, video units should never be mounted in a location that can distract the driver.)

You can have a car-audio shop install an entire system from scratch or you can buy the individual components yourself and have them installed. For instance, relatively simple systems that can be mounted in the vehicle's headliner and include a DVD player and a single fold-down screen start around $400.

You can also buy a similar system-with DVD player and screen-that is housed in a head restraint. These are commonly sold in pairs and are designed to replace your vehicle's standard front-seat head restraints. They are available in designs and styles to match various car models. Prices start at around $400 for a pair with screen and players, including two sets of headphones.

A component system combines an in-dash DVD player with at least one separate monitor. As with the systems described above, the screens can be mounted in the headliner or head restraint, but some do not include an integrated DVD player.

Replacement head restraints with integrated screens are available for many car models (prices start at less than $400 for a basic universal design), or you can have screens installed in existing head restraints.

The in-dash unit typically doubles as an audio system head unit, with radio and CD functions. Some include an integrated screen and can double as a navigation system. Barebones models start around $150. Higher-end units with a built-in screen and more features start at around $250. Models with a larger, motorized screen that extends out of the dash for viewing are $350 to $700, and can include such extras as Bluetooth, USB ports, and MP3 and iPod compatibility. Systems with an integrated GPS unit can cost as much as $2,000.

Portable video systems


If you don't want to go through the trouble and expense of having a built-in system installed, a portable system might fit your lifestyle better. They are less expensive and can be transferred between vehicles and even taken on vacation for use in rental cars.

Perhaps the most versatile way to go is to buy a tabletop portable DVD player that can be adapted for in-car use. Portable cases are available beginning at less than $25 that allow a portable DVD player to be secured to the back of a car's front seat. Portable DVD players with 8- to 9-inch screens (measured diagonally) typically cost $70 to $300.

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