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Touchscreen car monitors: R&D zooms in on display engineering

Anticipating a steady rise in demand, makers strive to deliver improved image quality and functionality.

After a period of decline caused by the economic slowdown and the weakened vehicle industry, China's in-car electronics manufacture is rebounding. Most suppliers have regained their usual production pace, with some factories operating close to capacity.

China's supply of car monitors is composed of headrest, flip-down, in-dash, rearview mirror, sun visor and stand-alone types. They are mainly used for entertainment and navigation.

  
Touchscreen car monitor
  Shenzhen Fuzhen's FZ-888C model is a multifunction headrest monitor with a 7in TFT-LCD screen.
Although the sector faced a 10 to 30 percent decrease in exports at the start of 2009, a few companies are now reporting increasing orders, triggering a shortage in manpower.

The automotive display market, in particular, continues to grow, despite a global slack in vehicle sales. Stronger demand for in-car entertainment and navigation products, including monitors and multimedia players, is said to drive this development.

The market this year has been estimated at 175.3 million units, equivalent to about $1.8 billion, according to DisplaySearch. It is forecast to breach the $2 billion mark by 2015, with about 231.1 million units.

Holding on to these signs of recovery, China's car monitor makers are releasing products with better interfaces, functionality and value-added features to spur sales. Leading product development targets are touchscreen models, digital displays and integrated devices.

More suppliers are providing the touchscreen option because of its space-saving feature and easy operation. For in-dash models, touchscreen technology can be applied to GPS or console displays. Among headrest types, the function is commonly used in entertainment devices.

The majority of touchscreens are based on the resistive panel, which has lower definition and shorter life span, but is more affordable than a capacitive panel of the same size.

Four-wire resistive touchscreens comprise China's mainstream supply, but some makers are also developing 5-wire versions for variety. Industrial-type monitors are also available from major players, including Zhangzhou Lilliput Electronic Technology Co. Ltd and Waysion Technology (Xiamen) Co. Ltd.

Zhangzhou Lilliput launched its first in-car touchscreen monitor two years ago. Most units were headrest and stand-alone types with radios and TV tuners.

Waysion's selection is made up of 4-wire resistive displays and a few 5-wire types that all come with VGA, HDMI, DVI and A/V input ports.

About 40 percent of the world's in-car monitors are expected to have touchscreens before year-end. Interviewed companies predict the share will rise further as the technology improves and material costs go down.

Meanwhile, display improvements are complementing interface enhancements. Many new monitors incorporate digital panels, which have higher resolution than traditional analog screens.

The basic pixel count of a 7in analog panel, for example, is 480x234 with an aspect ratio of 4:3. A digital panel can have up to 800x480 with a 16:9 display mode.

Several manufacturers, including Shenzhen Chuangrisheng Technology Co. Ltd, have introduced digital panels as a standard component in their new designs.

To boost image quality further, China makers are replacing the conventional CCFL backlight with LEDs for the LCDs. Aside from being the more environment-friendly choice as they are mercury-free, LEDs consume 10 to 20 percent less power than CCFLs.

Designwise, LEDs are suitable for the slim device and the compact space of cars. LED-backlit analog anddigital models are available from China suppliers. Even though the latter is currently offered as a high-end product, makers expect its prices to decrease in coming years as LED panel options and cost levels expand.

As a way of adding value to some basic monitors, companies are integrating infotainment functions, including a DVD player, AM/FM radio, analog or digital TV tuner, GPS and rearview camera. A few incorporate two to 10 video games. Shenzhen Fuzhen Technology Co. Ltd, however, considers games as its main selling point and bundles more than 1,000 of these plus a wireless gamepad into the monitor package.

Suppliers are also enhancing compatibility among various in-vehicle electronics by installing functions or technologies to connect them. FM or IR transmitters are being utilized to send sound signals to car speakers or wireless earphones, heightening users' listening and viewing experience.

Products & prices
Industry composition
Taiwan: Multifunction systems lead supply

  
Touchscreen car monitor
  The VT-808 from Waysion features an 8in TFT-LCD touchscreen with 1600x1200-pixel resolution.
Products & prices

Headrest and flip-down models are popular in car DVD players and TVs because of their relatively larger screens. Most have 7 or 8in displays, but some can have 9 or 10in.

Flip-down versions come with 19in panels for buses and trains. Upcoming releases from JVJ Guangzhou Electronics Co. Ltd feature up to 21in screens.

In-dash monitors are usually integrated into the DVD mechanism or car PC and often function as display control consoles. Because of space limitations, 7in monitors have standard 1 or 2-DIN sizes.

The rearview mirror and sun-visor types normally work with rearview cameras and GPS devices. Although 5.8 and 7in displays are mainstream, suppliers such as Shenzhen Chelong Electronics Technology Co. Ltd are developing 10in versions that support 2-channel video input from rearview cameras.

Stand-alone models are installed in front with a mount.

Meanwhile, monitors with smaller screen sizes of at least 2.5in are for GPS, rearview systems and in-car TVs.

Prices of car monitors differ mainly according to panel size and type. The LCD screen, which is the major component, can account for nearly 70 percent of the product's total cost in a single-function device. Models with digital panels are $30 to $40 higher than analog-based units. Add-ons may also affect quotes significantly. Built-in DVD or other media players can bring up prices by $10 to $20, while analog or digital TV tuners may cost $2 to $5 more.

Makers source LCD and touchscreen panels from providers in Taiwan and South Korea, including AUO, CMO, Hannstar, Prime View, Innolux, LG and Samsung. Since March this year, panel costs have increased by up to 10 percent, exerting new pressure on finished products, makers said. Still, most companies are exercising caution in adjusting prices and are willing to keep them in the same level initially so as not to disrupt the industry's growth trend.

  
Touchscreen car monitor
  The CL-920ISDB model from Shenzhen Chelong has a 9in screen and 16:9 aspect ratio.
Industry composition

Mainland China has more than 300 manufacturers and exporters of car monitors with above-5in screens. These include suppliers of stand-alone types and makers of car DVD players or other related electronics that integrate monitors into their products. Although specializing in monitors, most companies are capable of bundling these with other devices on request.

Private Hong Kong- or Taiwan-invested enterprises represent the bulk of makers. Running small and midsize operations, they produce 5,000 to 50,000 car monitors per month. The export ratio generally exceeds 80 percent of output, with aftermarket OEM and ODM contracts contributing substantially to revenue.

Only large makers such as Foryou General, Shenzhen Hangsheng and Coagent cater to car assemblers.

Guangdong province is the main production hub of car monitors. Its mature supply chain and industry clusters are the primary advantages of the area.

Taiwan: Multifunction systems lead supply

Taiwan manufacturers of car monitors are focusing on multifunction products and moving away from the low-end segment to survive the intense price war in vehicle electronics. Instead of offering stand-alone devices, suppliers prefer to ship complete systems with monitor and DVD player.

The supply consists of flip-down, in-dash, headrest, stand-alone, rearview mirror, sun visor and head-up-display or HUD types. The first three lead in shipment volume. Mainstream units in these segments have 7in screens.

Makers have also released flip-down and in-dash models with 8, 10.2 and 10.4in displays. Large-sized units are becoming a key R&D target.

While popular rearview mirror monitors have 2.5 and 3in screens, new releases already adopt 4, 4.3 and 7in displays. These and dual-display versions for 2-channel camera input are growing in popularity.

Models with embedded DVD, digital TV reception, touchscreen panels and GPS belong to the high-end. Also in this category are HUDs, which are available with GPS trackers or microcontroller units.

The major export destinations are the US, Europe and Japan.

This article "Touchscreen car monitors: R&D zooms in on display engineering" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: 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.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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