A few short years ago, getting a CD player or better yet, a multidisc changer in your car was an upgrade. Now, the little silver disc has taken up residence with cassettes as cast-off technology. Even with the cheap digital to analog converters that are in car stereos, CDs have a sound advantage over lossy data codecs like MPEG, but only us geeks seem to care that hi-hats sound like someone whisking an egg. Besides, portability and flexibility easily trumps esoteric sound quality. Truth be told, even though the original CDs sound better, my mp3 player is so much more convenient that I'll be adding an auxiliary input to my factory stereo – no small feat on some cars.

Ward's Automotive Interior show, currently underway at the Cobo center, is allowing automakers to show their wares to the masses over the next few days, with the realization that future vehicles are bound to dispatch that awkward center control unit for something more intuitive and user-programmable. Several automakers have already realized that people have all sorts of portable devices, and as such, new car interiors bristle with input jacks and 12-volt power sockets.

[Source: Detroit News]

Aftermarket solutions for iPod connectivity, hard drive storage and device integration are abound, and automakers are also jumping on the bandwagon. Ford is rolling out Sync, its joint effort with Microsoft that will doubtless do many more wondrous things in the future as the system matures. Chrysler vehicles can be equipped with the Harman MyGig system that uses a 20GB hard drive as media storage, and other automakers are hard at work with their OEMs, integrating digital media systems. With car-wide data systems like CAN, entertainment gear can be less centralized, that 20GB hard drive doesn't have to go in the dash, it can be tucked away safely with just a small panel of rotary encoders in the dash, talking to the various pieces of the audio system. It really is a brave new world, and as the CD player frees up room in dashboards, we hope to see controls and style come first, and big honkin' LCD screens held at bay. Otherwise, it'd be trading one big real-estate consumer for another that's worse, as multifunction displays become more cluttered and confusing.

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