All-in-one car devices and larger storage capacity lead China car MP4 player companies’ R&D agenda.
China manufacturers of stand-alone car MP4 players are looking to upgrade their selections to rejuvenate the declining segment and survive intense competition. To be on a par with other all-in-one in-vehicle electronics, many companies plan to develop integrated products that support more than the basic video playback function.
Some are also working on improving storage capacity. Although the 8 or 16GB SD card has the appropriate access speed and memory for regular files, larger videos may require additional space. A number of suppliers are considering internal HDDs for the purpose but will limit it to customized models because of the price increment. Most offer this now as an option, with 40 to 160GB capacity common.
These strategies are in line with China makers’ thrust toward the upscale market to keep the otherwise sluggish sector vibrant. The industry’s survival is threatened by the popularity of electronic devices that are either much less expensive or deliver video among other things.
FM transmitter-based car MP3 players and stand-alone FM transmitters, for example, are quoted lower than similarly designed car MP4 players because of their lack of LCD screens. The first two products therefore dominate the entry-level segment.
The MP4 player is likewise losing its video playback advantage to smartphones and portable media players. These devices include video as a basic function, and require only an additional FM transmitter kit with multiple connectors for car use. There are currently models belonging to the last that are compatible with the iPhone.
Moreover, an increasing number of portable MP4 players are now equipped with built-in FM transmitters to work with a car radio system. This helps makers in this category to sway a significant share of the market from the in-vehicle entertainment sector, and consequently from the car MP4 player line.
Further, the improved functionality of in-dash multimedia devices is pushing stand-alone car MP4 players with the same configuration to the low end. Most varieties of the first now provide various playback options.
The built-in decoder chip can support A/V formats such as MP3, WMA, APE, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, WAV, AVI, RMVB, RM, 3GP, MPEG-1/2/4, FLV and DAT. They also come with enhanced displays for better video performance.
FM transmitters & in-dash car MP4 players abound
Thinning car MP4 player manufacturing base
Taiwan: Video capability, value added highlighted
China suppliers offer two types of car MP4 players, the FM transmitter and the in-dash versions. Mainstream models of the first are usually powered by the vehicle’s cigarette lighter. They come with 1.5, 1.8 or 2in screens and a built-in A/V decoder that can play A/V files directly from an SD card or a USB drive.
These read common formats such as MP3 and WMA audio, and WMV, AMV and ASF video. Some also play AVI or DivX. The devices transmit signals through the entire FM channel range, 87.7 to 107.9MHz.
Enhanced units have larger displays of 2 to 3in and 1 to 8GB internal flash memory, and support Bluetooth advanced audio distribution profile.
The in-dash car MP4 player, meanwhile, adopts a 1-DIN structure with a 2 or 3in screen on the front panel. Mainstream models in this category incorporate MP3 playback or FM/AM radio function, and a built-in USB drive or memory card reader. Some variants have CD mechanisms or Bluetooth capability.
Upgraded units are patterned after the car multimedia player, which boasts rich functions constituting a DVD mechanism, GPS navigation, analog/digital TV, Bluetooth and rearview monitoring.
The 1-DIN models with motorized screens or 2-DIN versions with 6 to 7in TFT LCDs are common in this segment. A number of products also adopt touch panels for a more user-friendly interface. These play MP3, WMA, APE, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC and WAV audio, and AVI, RMVB, RM, 3GP, MPEG-1/2/4, FLV and DAT video files.
The IC console is the key component in car MP4 player manufacture. Audio quality and transmission largely depend on it, making this the main price and performance differentiator.
China suppliers source solutions from local providers such as Fuzhou Rockchip, Actions and Chinachip. High-end devices, particularly HD models, use imported ones from Telechip, Sigma Designs or TI.
Other ICs include the FM transmitter chip, which is purchased from Rohm, Quintic, Accel or KT Micro, and the Bluetooth IC, usually from CSR or Broadcom.
Besides the chip, functions influence the price of car MP4 players. Entry-level products in the FM transmitter segment range from $10 to $15. Enhanced versions with Bluetooth are between $15 and $20. Connectivity to iPod requires an additional $3 to $5.
Low-end 1-DIN variants start at $30. Units with CD/DVD mechanism or Bluetooth are quoted at $40 to $60.
Generally regarded as a basic product in China, the FOB prices of car MP4 players are sensitive to cost and currency movements.
LCDs, for instance, account for 30 to 50 percent of total outlay. Spending on 1.8 or 2in screens slid between 5 and 10 percent in 2H10, prompting makers to lower quotes in the fourth quarter.
The yuan appreciated by 2.48 percent against the dollar during the period June to October last year. Many companies therefore adjusted prices cautiously. Some retained current levels.
China suppliers of car MP4 players are generally in-vehicle electronics or portable digital product manufacturers. Most are taking advantage of the low technological threshold in the line to boost margins.
Tightening competition from similar devices and the secondary business status of the category, however, are shrinking the maker population, which currently numbers at about 100 companies.
Tier 1 suppliers, or those with large capacity, can mass-produce more than 100,000 units monthly using in-house facilities. Small enterprises generally conduct only final assembly and source solutions from local providers. These companies subcontract major processes such as mold making and PCB assembly.
Such businesses and midsize operations make up the bulk of manufacturers in the car MP4 industry. Few have the financial and production tools to offset losses caused by thinning profit margins and the yuan appreciation. They are therefore looking at raising prices or targeting the upscale market.
Guangdong province, in particular Shenzhen and Dongguan, remains the major sourcing center for this line in China. Aside from the mature supply chain, the area hosts the main solution providers such as Actions in Zhuhai and Chinachip in Shenzhen.
The car MP4 player line is not a well-defined segment in Taiwan. Some companies position their in-vehicle MP3 players with MP4 video playback as car MP3 players. Others offer MPEG-4 support only as an added function to in-vehicle DVD or multimedia players, sun visor mirror or in-dash monitors with built-in DVD. Regardless of product types, video capability is highlighted.
A few suppliers design portable media and MP4 players to work both at home and in the car by providing infrared remote controllers that can operate in the two setups. Moreover, an increasing number of portable navigation devices are incorporating multimedia features that deliver MPEG-4 and MP3.
Taiwan’s selection includes models with 1.8, 2, 3.6, 6.5, 7, 8, 8.5 and 10.2in display sizes. The basic products have TFT or CSTN LCD screens. These connect to cigarette lighters for power, and have memory card slots and USB ports to enable data expansion and external file access. Most use SD and microSD. Bluetooth, digital TV reception and GPS navigation are available as add-ons.
Devices equipped with HDDs and DVD drives belong to the upscale category. The first can be used at home and inside vehicles via a car A/V adapter. Some variants in this segment support iPod connectivity for direct playback. They also adopt higher-quality TFT-LCD screens.
Note:This article was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.
All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.
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