TV Hits the Highway

KVH says it can bring satellite TV to cars and trucks

A new in-car satellite TV system will give parents a new way to keep kids quiet and drivers in televised car chases a chance to see themselves live on TV without having to wait in prison for a rerun on the next Fox wackiest-car-chase special.

KVH Industries last week unveiled The TracVision A5 system, which the company says will allow reception of DirecTV's satellite TV service in moving vehicles. DirecTV and KVH have not finalized a carriage agreement (and DirecTV also needs to get permission from the networks it carries), but the two companies are working toward a deal.

"While we haven't seen or tested the system, they build quality products, and we believe reception of DirecTV in vehicles is a compelling idea. We look forward to working with KVH on this product," said DirecTV Director of Public Relations Robert Mercer.

According to KVH's Chris Watson, the system—which comprises a flat roof-top satellite antenna, in-car receiver and remote control—is expected to retail for $2,000 to $2,500, on top of a monthly service fee of probably less than $10. Users would also have to pay the regular subscription fees to DirecTV.

Headquartered in Middletown, R.I., KVH Industries is best-known for mobile satellite antennas and fiber-optic technologies for military and marine applications. This system is the company's first for the automotive market.

KVH's TracVision antenna, based on phased-array technology, is housed in a rectangular box only 4.5 inches high by 30 inches across, making it easily mountable on an automobile roof.

"The antenna spins on its axis like a record on a turntable to track the satellite," explained Watson. "Typically, phased-array antennas have been very expensive, but we have a new design that allows us to keep the cost down."

Watson concedes that the system isn't perfect. The satellite signal will fade when the car passes under an overpass or through a tunnel or is in other situations when line-of-sight is compromised.

More than 1 million backseat entertainment systems were sold in 2002, and, according to J.D. Power & Associates, almost 50% of full-size SUV owners plan to buy video systems for their vehicles. "People who have those video systems want something to watch on them besides DVDs, videos and games," Watson said. "In reality, most prefer broadcast television because, when at home, they mostly watch broadcast TV. We think that will be true in the car as well."

The TracVision system will initially be available through high-end automotive dealers, but Watson said the ideal situation would be for a vehicle manufacturer to offer it as an option. "For now, we're looking to build appeal, and then we'll take it from there."