Rear Entertainment Systems Trump Tablets for Larger Families

By Courtney Messenbaugh  on May 14, 2013

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Many have said the age of the in-car rear entertainment system is over. It's all about tablets such as the iPad or Kindle Fire in the car these days.

I disagree. I have three kids and one tablet, and unless I buy two more tablets, which are pricey, the kids have to share. That won't go well. Let's say I do buy a couple of tablets. Sometimes I forget things. Sometimes my children forget things. What happens when only two out of three of the kids remember their tablet? Or only one out of three? There's a lot of whining. There are tears. No good.

For my family, for now, a factory-installed rear entertainment system is our best choice. I'm not alone. GM spokesman Fred Ligouri says demand for the Buick Enclave's rear entertainment system has remained around 25% since the three-row crossover's introduction in model-year 2008. The iPad debuted in 2010.

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At Infiniti, about 40% of the seven-passenger 2013 JX35 crossovers and 90% of the QX56 have rear entertainment systems, spokesman Kyle Bazemore says.

There are a few things I'd like all automakers to take note of to ensure that those of us who opt for rear entertainment systems remain happy with our choices:

  • The system must be operable both from the driver's seat as well as with a remote. When a system can only be used with a remote — like many I've run across recently — it creates a frustrating experience for those of us with little ones, who often can't use a remote. To get these remote-based systems to work, I have to pull over and do a back bend from the driver's seat to start a movie. 
  • When it comes to remotes, take a cue from the new Cadillac SRX and make it a gaming-like remote (first photo). While younger kids can't use remotes, their older siblings will have an easier time with these easy-to-operate ones. 
  • Add a USB connection option for entertainment systems. Gone are the VHS tapes; soon the DVDs may go as well. It's all about digital content, and we'd love to easily upload the shows and movies we have in digital form. 
  • Larger screens. The Toyota Sienna's 16.4-inch dual-view drop-down screen (second photo) is at its best when used as a single screen, and it's about twice as big as the screen in my 2005 Sienna. It's great and since I'm feeling greedy, I'd love to see bigger all around — even those on the backs of the front-row head restraints. 
  • Speaking of head-restraint screens, give us a third-row option for them. My third-row-sitting son always complains that he can't see the second row's screen that well. A third-row option would be nice.

If automakers take my suggestions, the rear entertainment system could lead to real conversation and group fun from everyone watching a movie together, rather than staring down at their tablets.

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