- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It was fitting perhaps that Winston Guillory, president of Dallas-based RaySat Broadcasting Corp., dropped by just before the recent holiday weekend to demonstrate the AT&T; CruiseCast service.

Mr. Guillory wants to sell you television service for your car that offers 22 channels plus a score of radio options for $28 a month — after he sells you a slightly-less-than $1,300 receiver package. You’re a prospect if you have, or want to install, a rear-seat or overhead video system in your vehicle — and especially if you have children.

Mr. Guillory says 10 million vehicles on the road today are equipped with such video systems, and they’ll all work with the CruiseCast equipment.

Yes, Billy Mays may be gone, but you still can watch infomercials while driving to Grandma’s, not to mention ESPN programming and reruns of “NCIS” or “House” on USA Cable. Local stations and, thus, shows from ABC, CBS and NBC aren’t available yet, and that might be a good thing: Who wants to wipe out on the highway while “Wipeout” is playing in the background?

The heart of the CruiseCast system is a small antenna housed in a plastic dome, presumably to protect the technology from the elements. The antenna will pitch and yaw in all sorts of angles, staying in “sight” of the satellite signal. The signal, in turn, passes through a wire to an under-the-seat receiver, which then connects to your in-car entertainment system. The system has only one tuner, so both rear-seat screens are tuned to the same channel. Mr. Guillory said that might change in the future, however.

Big deal, you say; I’ve got much the same at home with my satellite TV system. Yes, but your home isn’t negotiating turns, moving under an overpass or traveling to Disney World. One hopes a house stays in one place, and the satellite antenna is oriented to best receive a signal.

By contrast, our cars are all over the place. Thus, the CruiseCast system has to compensate for that, and it does so with a two-minute “buffer” of the satellite signal: The receiver stores a portion of the incoming programming so that when you go under the aforementioned overpass, you’re still watching the action. A “drop out” of satellite signal on Sirius XM Satellite Radio’s audio signal can mean missing a second or two of a song; with a TV program, you might miss Tiger Woods’ most crucial putt.

The demonstration of the CruiseCast system Mr. Guillory and his associates provided lasted about 20 minutes, and it seemed to deliver what was promised. Signal and picture quality were good — we were viewing the programming on headrest-mounted screens that were about 7 inches, measured diagonally. You might not want to view “Dances With Wolves” this way, but it’s good enough to catch CNN, Fox News Channel or Nickelodeon for the children.

Children are where a good chunk of the CruiseCast programming lineup is aimed. Seven of the 22 channels are child-specific: Disney Channel, Disney XD, Discovery Kids, Cartoon Network Mobile, Nickelodeon Mobile, Noggin, and Nikelodeon’s teen channel, the N. Toss in Animal Planet and the regular Discovery Channel, and you’ve got more than enough to keep the tykes happy while heading off on vacation.

A colleague who has a similar system from Sirius XM in her van expressed great interest, for her Chrysler-installed package, bought back when such purchases weren’t a federal matter, has just three cartoon channels. Getting more programming would be of definite interest, she told me.

The monthly fee doesn’t seem onerous — it’s less than for many cable packages — and would appear to be worth it if you want to keep harmony in the car or perhaps view Lifetime’s programming on your lunch hour. The equipment cost of $1,299.99 (I told you it was just less than $1,300) is double what I spent on my Pioneer head unit, which “only” delivers satellite and HD radio and a Bluetooth connection for my cell phone. That’s not cheap, but, again, what about the children?

I did ask Mr. Guillory about the children: Are we creating an expectation they’ll find SpongeBob, literally, at every turn?

He said he’s a parent himself and although his family ride has one of these systems, it’s not always on. Good judgment is required, he asserted.

Whether it’s good judgment for you to get the AT&T; CruiseCast will depend on your budget and your needs. The technology is fascinating and an interesting portent of what the future may hold. Details are online at www.cruise cast.com.

• E-mail Mark Kellner at [email protected] com.

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