If the 2002 International Consumer Electronics Show is any indication, motorhomers can look forward to a variety of new gadgets that will make their travels more enjoyable in the future.
By Jim Brightly
Las Vegas is a show town, and I am not referring to floor shows, but rather trade shows. Each year, beginning in November, Glitter Gulch opens its tremendous convention center — and a number of other venues spread around town — to the three biggest expositions west of the Rocky Mountains. The first to take place is the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show. Next comes COMDEX, the biggest of the three — the largest computer trade show in the world. Then, two months later, just after the new year starts, is the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
The number of exhibitors and attendees at the CES falls somewhere between those at SEMA and COMDEX, but CES is enormous in entertainment appeal. It gives industry professionals a look at the world of new electronics for home, office, RV, and car. Many products that are now household items have debuted at CES, such as VCRs in 1970, camcorders and CD players in 1981, digital satellite systems in 1994, DVDs in 1996, and the Microsoft Xbox video game system in 2001.
The first CES took place in New York City in June 1967 with 200 exhibitors and 17,500 attendees. In the intervening years, it has grown more than sevenfold. In 2001 more than 2,000 exhibitors filled 1.2 million square feet of space, displaying their latest products and services to 126,730 attendees.
The 2002 event drew fewer attendees — approximately 100,000 — but it still featured 1.2 million square feet of exhibit space and more products than I could ever describe in this article. I can say that this year’s CES reflected a contrast of minimization and maximization, from miniaturized digital cameras that can be concealed in one’s hand to 8-foot-wide plasma TV screens with so much clarity and depth that I wanted to stick my hand into them to make sure they were real.
If you’re planning a major refit of your motorhome, or even a minor upgrade, you’ll want to read about the following products before you finalize your plans.
Television Goes Higher Tech
Fujitsu’s new Plasmavision SlimScreen high-definition television (HDTV) sets were so clear I felt as though I could step inside them, even while standing beside them. As we saw at the 2001 Recreation Vehicle Industry Association trade show in Louisville, Kentucky, many top-of-the-line motorhomes now include plasma monitors that are mounted in the ceiling and fold down as needed. Fujitsu, (973) 575-0380; www.plasmavision.com
Daewoo’s 60-inch rear-projection liquid crystal display (LCD) television has a 16:9-aspect wide screen, an HDTV monitor, and Dolby Surround Pro Logic sound. Viewers who are sitting or standing alongside the screen get only a barely diminished view — a real plus in smaller spaces such as motorhomes. Unlike yesterday’s projection televisions, today’s screens offer a much wider range of viewing. Daewoo Electronics Corp. of America, (800) 323-9668; www.dwe.co.kr
Do you worry about the foul language used in some televised movies or programs, especially while young children are in attendance? ProtecTV, a small black box that you connect to your TV in conjunction with a cable box, VCR, satellite, or DVD player, filters out more than 400 offensive words or phrases automatically. The product is available from Global Cable Inc. ProtecTV works behind the scenes by checking the words that come through the captioning signals against its database. It then mutes the audio for these words and phrases and blocks them out on the on-screen closed captioning. ProtecTV, (706) 398-2100; www.protectv.com
Attention, musicians. You can add a piano to your motorhome that functions as a desk when you’re not playing. The Panasonic SX-NP10 Digital PianoDesk weighs approximately 130 pounds and has a full 88-key keyboard that can be adjusted for touch sensitivity. It offers four piano sounds and four other instrument sounds, including a pipe organ and a harpsichord. A built-in USB port enables users to hook up the PianoDesk to a PC and, with appropriate software, record MIDI and WAV files and store them electronically.
The keyboard of this piano slides in and out like a desk drawer, and the top of the unit is flat, so it can function as a desk for your computer or other items. You can use the headphone attachment for those late-night jam sessions when you don’t want to disturb your spouse or campground neighbors. Panasonic, (800) 211-7262; www.Panasonic.com
Navigation And Entertainment Meet
Clarion, which makes a variety of audio and video entertainment systems and related devices, is offering the Joyride, a multimedia device that combines audio and video entertainment with an optional global positioning system (GPS). The system uses the Microsoft CE for automotive operating system and is said to be the first automotive computer to provide 5.1-channel Dolby Digital/DTS Surround Sound. An Intel Pentium MMX-enabled processor controls all systems.
The Joyride is an in-dash unit that includes an AM-FM radio, a CD changer, a DVD player, and MP3 audio that can play across two entertainment zones simultaneously. Folks in the front can listen to CDs or MP3 audio while those in back can enjoy a movie.
The optional GPS satellite navigation system supports both small and large screen displays, so those among us with older eyes (and we know who we are) won’t need our reading glasses to check the route. Joynavi, as it’s called, includes traffic integration and can read navigation data from either a CD changer or a DVD drive. It offers real-time information integrated with navigation; 2-D and 3-D map display mode; a freeway guidance display to show upcoming exits; GPS, speed pulse, and gyro support in navigation; auto-zoom functionality; and proximity searches for nearby points of interest. It also has voice recognition, voice memo, and wireless messaging features.
With your region’s CD inserted (or the DVD that includes the entire United States), you can line up directions, streets, and businesses in a large, easy-to-read format, with custom preferences for finding the service you want no matter where you are. Clarion Corporation of America, (310) 327-9100; www.clarion.com, www.clarioncanada.com
Some FMCA members keep in touch with each other at rallies or other destinations by using family radio service (FRS) two-way radios. Well, Kenwood has gone one step further and introduced some new models that also include FM stereo reception and headphones. The new FreeTalk FM FRS radios automatically switch from FM radio to communications mode when users receive or send messages, conveniently integrating its entertainment and communications functions.
Offering contemporary, ergonomic styling, the FreeTalk FM also features a large liquid crystal display (LCD) that allows users to note channel settings and the status of all radio indicators; a scan function that finds free, clear communications channels; and a channel lock feature that prevents unintended switching of either FM or FRS settings. The device uses four AAA alkaline batteries, which can provide up to 35 hours of operation. Kenwood also makes a variety of premium audio and entertainment systems, and its products can be found in electronics stores. Kenwood Communications, (800) 950-5005; www.kenwood.net
The Donnelly TowChek allows drivers to see where the hitch is as they back up their coach to the towed car, making this a one-person job. It takes the guesswork out of hitching up a towed vehicle and also allows the driver to monitor the vehicle while traveling. TowChek uses a CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) video camera with a field of view that lets the driver see the hitch ball mount. The camera interfaces with an adjustable 2.5-inch LCD monitor and allows the driver to watch what’s going on in back of the coach. It can be mounted anywhere on the windshield, and the display also can accommodate an additional camera for interior or exterior use. By changing the angle of the camera, motorhome owners can use this system as a backup monitor. Donnelly Corporation, (616) 786-7000; www.donnelly.com
With a Panasonic digital Palmcorder MultiCam camcorder, you can create and edit high-quality home movies on a DVD. Palmcorder-brand camcorders capture incredibly sharp and vivid pictures and allow the user to transfer footage to a computer for viewing, editing, and e-mailing. Panasonic offers three different ways to transfer images onto a computer. One is Card Link, which uses a secure digital (SD) memory card or multimedia card and can be erased and reused. Plus, you can create your own images on the computer and transfer them back to the multimedia card or SD memory card to use in the camcorder. You can also use PhotoVu Link, which allows you to transfer still images captured on the Mini DV tape to your computer (using the included cable) and then include them in e-mail messages or printed documents. The third method is i.LINK, which enables you to connect your camcorder to a compatible PC for advanced editing and viewing of video or digital images.
Palmcorders also offer several different levels of zoom lens capabilities. For example, the PV-DV202 model’s levels range from a 10:1 optical lens zoom to an amazing 700:1 digital zoom. Take some moving memories home from your RVing trips and relive the adventures over and over again. Panasonic, (800) 211-7262, (201) 348-7000; www.panasonic.com
Waterproof PC Accessories
Not that you would ever sit out in the rain or snow and surf the Internet, e-mail a friend, or write the next Pulitzer Prize-winning novel — but you could. Man & Machine markets flexible and waterproof PC accessories, including keyboards that appear to be made of rubber. When you’re finished with the computer for the day, you can roll up the keyboard and store it away. Couple the flexible keyboard with a laptop and a drop-down monitor mounted beneath your motorhome’s kitchen cabinet, and the chef du jour can access a complete recipe file without fear of ruining an expensive computer with an accidental spill. Man & Machine Inc., (301) 341-4900; www.manmachine.com
Cell Phone Safety
Some jurisdictions throughout the United States are enacting laws against the use of cell phones while driving. In some of the busier traffic areas, it’s almost as dangerous as drinking and driving. Plantronics, located in Santa Cruz, California, has developed a complete line of headsets and microphones — both cordless and with cords — for the busy and safety-conscious conversationalist. These headsets have an adapter that plugs into the headset jack of most existing cellular phones. They let you stay in touch with loved ones and business associates while keeping your hands free. www.PlantronicsInc., (800) 544-4660; www.plantronics.com
Home And RV Security
Ever get that sinking feeling that something has gone awry at your stationary home while you’re basking in the sun thousands of miles away? Maybe your sixth sense kicked in and you just know things are floating around in that pool in the basement, and you don’t have a pool in the basement. If you carry a computer with you in your motorhome and you have access to the Internet, BeAtHome has the answer. You can gain access to your home, vacation home, business, or industrial site via your own private and secure Web site. The BeAtHome system is designed around a software architecture that captures data from various wireless devices and displays it on your private MyBeAtHome Web site. You can then gain access to and interact with the devices (cameras, sensors, etc.) on your property through an Internet connection from anywhere in the world, and receive phone, e-mail, and page notifications, as well as technical support, all for a monthly fee. BeAtHome, (888) 547-9381; www.beathome.com
A product called AutoTrak, which provides security for motorhomes or towed vehicles, also caught my eye. Fortunately, most of us have never suffered through the experience of having a vehicle stolen, but the risk always exists. InterTrak, maker of AutoTrak, is a GPS tracking company that offers a call-in stolen vehicle recovery service with no monthly fee. Using the latest in micro-miniature Telematics, AutoTrak consists of a 12-channel GPS receiver, a 3-watt cellular modem, a dual-band antenna, and support electronics. All of this is squeezed into a case no larger than a disposable camera. It enables your vehicle to be found with the help of InterTrak’s automated wireless, Web, and phone service.
In addition, monthly subscription plans that provide varying levels of enhanced services are available. Among the features made possible by these subscription plans are automatic notification by either phone or e-mail if your stored coach’s batteries begin to lose their charge, and the ability to start the engine remotely from almost anywhere and recharge the batteries. InterTrak, (866) 346-3631; www.trackmenow.com