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Harman Brings Next-Gen Car Audio to CES

Harman, a company well known for home entertainment and in-car audio systems, is stepping up its game in the “connected car” category with major announcements today at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Harman’s innovations include improved playback of compressed audio files, easier integration of aftermarket audio products with factory installed systems and integration of Harman with the coming Google Glass product.

Harman is just one of a number of CES vendors rolling out technology this year to create a “connected car” with systems for audio, navigation, safety and other capabilities. Companies such as Visteon and AT&T are also making connected car news at the show.

Harman says its Signal Doctor software clears up the distortion that occurs when music is played from compressed audio files. Compressed audio makes it possible for hundreds of songs to be stored on your Apple iPod or other MP3 player, or for music to be streamed online. But portability comes at the expense of sound quality.

“With compressed digitized files, listeners are often deprived of the full auditory satisfaction and enjoyment that music is meant to bring,” said Michael Mauser, executive vice president and president of the Lifestyle Division at Harman International.

Signal Doctor improves digitized audio file quality in a number of ways, the company says: “It removes unwanted added effects like echo and distortion; it restores crisp detail and clarity of high frequency sounds like cymbals that can be muddied in compressed sources; it sharpens dynamic sounds like percussion instruments that can be smeared or dulled by compression.” Signal Doctor also improves the quality of vocals.

Signal Doctor can be integrated into any Harman in-car audio system via the amplifier or head unit. The head unit is the computer built into the dashboard of most new cars today that powers in-car audio systems, navigation services, cell phone integration and other conveniences.

Also at CES, Harman is introducing a series of vehicle-specific audio aftermarket upgrade packages that are designed to more easily integrate with a car’s factory-installed audio system, including the wiring harness behind the dashboard and tuned for things like vehicle acoustics, including the location of speakers inside the passenger cabin.

Because Harman is a global company, its first vehicle-specific aftermarket upgrade will be available in a Hyundai IX35 sold in Russia. Other vehicles will include a Suzuki Swift sold in India, the version of the Chevrolet Cruze sold in Russia and Brazil and the Jeep Wrangler sold in the United States.

At the company’s “One Harman experience showcase” at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, it will demonstrate the integration of Google Glass with Harman’s “advanced driver assistance services (ADAS) engine.” Using a system of cameras installed in the vehicle, ADAS can identify hazards such a potential collision or the vehicle veering off the road into a ditch. Now with Google Glass, ADAS warnings will appear on the Glass display so the driver can see and react to the warnings while keeping their eyes on the road.

Automotive products supplier Visteon will also be at CES, introducing a number of new products including the Visteon HMeye cockpit concept featuring a unique user interface controlled by eye gaze and head direction data. Also, the Visteon Horizon Cockpit system adds a new application using gesture recognition to operate various vehicle controls. “An advanced camera system tracks and mirrors the driver's gestures by mapping movement through a full kinematic spatial hand which, in turn, replicates the motion as a virtual hand on the cockpit's display,” Visteon says in a news release.

Lastly, Visteon's OASIS concept – an acronym for optimized, adaptable, secure, intelligent and seamless connectivity – protects the vehicle communication network by providing a secure method to connect the vehicle to the user and to cloud computing. Yes, as in-car technology gets more sophisticated, they can be susceptible to hacking just like your personal computer or smartphone.

The telecommunications giant AT&T will also be showcasing connected car technology at CES and Google is rumored to have something connected car up its sleeve, too.

“The opportunity with the connected car and the smartphone is wrapped around an exciting area called Big Data,” said AT&T Mobility’s chief marketing officer David Christopher in an interview with Forbes. “Consider how the amount of information in a car, coupled with a smartphone, can affect shopping behaviors. Integrating the two as you’re traveling makes the purchase experience even richer.”

CES continues through January 10th at various venues throughout Las Vegas.

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