Orange County Auto Show: What gadgets do your $$$ buy today?

Anaheim (CA) - Not too long ago, car navigation systems and LCD screens turned heads, but today car electronics are quite common and no longer attract much attention. Many of the new 2007 model year cars on display at Orange County Auto Show in had some type of gizmo installed. Join us for a visit on the showfloor to see how car interiors of $30,000 to $100,000 cars look today.

We do realize that many of our readers aren't just interested in tech for their desktop and office, but also enjoy gadgets in their free time and in their cars. And so it is a no-brainer for us to visit a car show here and there to see what is developing in the car industry. Lately we have been noticing several announcements of car manufacturers to integrate hard drive-based multimedia systems into their vehicles. Infiniti was first to present such a device for the upcoming 2007 G35 series, followed by Lexus and the future LS 600h hybrid and, most recently, Chryslers latest Jeeps and Aspen sport utility.

Interestingly, there were few such systems on display at the just completed Orange County Auto Show and it very much appeared that car manufacturers haven't starting their marketing of these new systems to the public. However, it was very apparent how deeply integrated computer electronics are in today's cars. And if you haven't been shopping around for a new car within the past four, five years, you will be truly surprised how much the dash has changed.

While many of the cars showed off some type of navigation system, almost all of the systems were turned off. Car company officials told us that most of the systems and batteries were disconnected for the show and that prevents anyone from driving off or accidentally "hurting" themselves.

BMW, which somewhat started the multimedia revolution in the car with its highly complex iDrive system, showcased the technology in several cars, including the 5-, 6-, and 7-series. The iDrive uses one push-button knob to control features navigation and music playback and is often criticized for its lack of usability, but BMW sticks to ist idea and the system does not appear to be going away anytime soon. You can purchase the system with models such as the 2007 BMW 650i with a starting price of about $82,000 on the higher-end of the portfolio of the Bavarian automaker or as an option for the more affordable 328i sedan, which starts at around $34,000.

The other Bavarian auto manufacturer, Audi, has adopted the idea to merge the features of doezens of buttons into a joystick-like control as well, but is credited to have developed a more intuitive control. The Multi Media Interface (MMI) is optional on many models, but is standard on higher-end cars such as Audio S8, which is powered by a Lamborghini-derived 5.2 liter V10 with 450 horsepower - yours for just $92,000. The MMI hooks together navigation, calling and music playback into one console. The Jaguar XKR is another luxury vehicle with a standard navigation system. It comes with a 7" touchscreen LCD and prices start at $92,500.

While many companies are switching towards navigation systems as standard equipment, Bluetooth calling is still an expensive option on many cars. In many cases adding Bluetooth costs an extra $500 to $700. For mobile phone addicts, the cost may be worth it as the driver can flip through the directory and call with buttons on the steering wheel or on the dash. Some cars even have voice activated calling.

Since many of the car companies charging upwards of $2000 to install a navigation system, some enthusiasts are looking into alternative systems like the StreetDeck software demonstrated at the Fall Intel Developer's forum. StreetDeck gives GPS navigation, web browsing, music and video playback. The software is installed on a computer which then feeds information to a touchscreen LCD display.

Related articles:
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Streetdeck Car Computer makes you want to be stuck in traffic
2007 Infiniti G35 first to offer hard drive