The Backseat Peacemaker
By Michael V. Copeland

(Business 2.0) – XM Radio solved the technical challenges of bouncing music off satellites and into a moving car. Now, a couple of satellite gear makers have solved the much tougher problem of sending more than 200 channels of TV along the same path. Thanks to their efforts, the backseat of the family car may soon become a much more peaceful place.

Television on the open road is nothing new, to be sure. The RV crowd has been watching DirecTV and Dish Network for several years. However, hauling in those signals required an antenna roughly the size of a 5-gallon bucket--impractical for affixing to anything smaller than a Winnebago.

KVH Industries, a Rhode Island-based maker of satellite gear, has shrunk the bucket to a 5-inch-thick dish not much larger than a pizza box. The assembly bolts to the roof, where a digitally controlled turntable tracks a DirecTV satellite signal through the dips and turns of a car trip. Sold at Best Buy and Tweeter, the antenna and associated receiver cost $3,500 installed.

Delphi Corp., a Troy, Mich., auto parts supplier, has teamed up with chip-design company Motia to make a similar but even less obtrusive antenna, which fits in the space between a car's roof and its headliner. It should sell on the aftermarket in a year or two for about $2,500, and as a $1,000 new-car option in three to five years.

Once TV for passenger cars catches on, antenna makers (and parents) won't be the only beneficiaries. Other obvious winners include the big satellite TV companies, ISPs, and yet-to-be-born providers of backseat amusements ranging from games to streaming cartoons. But the publishers of highway bingo cards? They're doomed. -- M.V.C.