We love reviewing the latest and greatest automotive technology. But when the factory toys don't evolve fast enough, we turn to the aftermarket. A new 2014 Mazda5 will serve as our platform for testing third-party technology moving forward.
Factory-installed rear-seat entertainment systems are expensive options that typically range from $500 to $3000 with limited file compatibility. Fortunately, you can pick up first- and second-gen iPads on the cheap if you don't have one collecting dust already. Though they might seem too slow for modern mobile gaming, they're still great for video playback. Sure, you sacrifice the high-res displays available on newer models. But 1024x768 is still better than the 800x480 you often get from integrated LCDs.
The iPad works perfectly with video from Apple's iTunes story. However, content backed-up from Blu-ray and DVD media can be problematic unless you save it specifically for iOS consumption. That's when jail-breaking the iPad becomes necessary, freeing you up to install XBMC so the iPad can play back almost any video file and manage the device's movie library. There's even a touch-friendly user interface that works well for backseat entertainment.
Securing the iPad is your challenge. Some third parties sell universal mounts that attach to the front seat's headrest posts. However, they rely on friction to keep the tablet in place, and aren't very secure. A first-gen tablet weighs more than a pound and its screen is glass. While a friction mount should be sufficient for normal driving conditions, I'm not as confident about what would happen in an accident. We wouldn't want a pound and a half of electronics turning into a projectile with a child back there.
Fortunately, there's a crash-tested solution available from Scosche. The IPD2HM3 backSTAGE pro II is pricey, selling for $150 on Amazon. But it adds safety-oriented functionality that justifies extra expense. Notably, the backSTAGE pro II supports cheap wireless IR headphones, a USB port, it includes a cigarette lighter charger, and it's built from aluminum. The mount tilts and has a quick-detach mechanism for when you need to conceal the tablet.
We installed the mount in our Mazda5 without any issues. It secures to headrest posts using hex screws, and Scosche includes an Allen wrench for the installation. Unfortunately, the power source relies on a proprietary connector, so you’re stuck using the bulky bundled cigarette lighter adapter. Since we’re still uncertain if this is a permanent addition to our project car, we ran the cable through back of the seat and plugged it into the 12 V accessory outlet for now.
As it sits, the backSTAGE pro II houses an old iPad 2 jail-broken with XBMC. I'm relying on movies from the iTunes Music Store that were acquired through Blu-ray purchases. The next step for this rear-seat entertainment system is the addition of a hard-wired Adata AE800 Wi-Fi-enabled disk that automatically starts with the car. I'll have the iPad connect to it and stream movies from its more generous capacity.