MHL Blog

MHL – Start Your Engines!

By Judy Chen, PhD, President of MHL, LLC

April 14, 2013

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got a major smartphone addiction. These tiny devices carry our lives, from our favorite music and TV shows, to the pictures we capture and share, not to mention our email, Instagram feed and Facebook and Twitter pages. Our smartphones have become extensions of ourselves, reflecting our distinct tastes.

Next to my mobile phone, I can’t think of another thing I own that’s as closely tied to my identity except for my car. But cars are evolving. Increasingly, in the commercials I see, and in my conversations with other car owners, the infotainment system (a catchall term for the music and navigation system that keeps you entertained and informed while on the road), is becoming the centerpiece of the car. There’s just one problem. Cars are far behind smartphones.

Why can’t we design automotive infotainment systems to work with new apps and keep up with emerging technology? Or more simply stated, why can’t your car keep up with your smartphone?  The simple answer is that the product design cycles of embedded solutions in the car are much longer than smartphone design cycles. Due to the vastly disparate life cycle and development times of smartphone (nine months development with a less than 18 month life cycle) and car infotainment systems (more than three year development, with a more than 10 year life cycle), the infotainment system constantly faces the risk of being obsolete by the time it reaches the market.

MHL technology changes this equation by enabling the connection of the smartphone to the car. Now drivers can access their smartphone applications on their automotive infotainment systems while charging their smartphones and not having to worry about a drained phone battery at the end of the trip.  Utilize map services and GPS technologies already in most smartphones, stream music stored on your smartphone from Pandora or Google Music, even watch Netflix or locally stored movies in on the rear seat displays, (at up to 1080p), and more!

When you think about it, the smartphone connected car is a low-cost alternative for automotive manufacturers to offer in-dash apps, GPS, music, and video streaming services, without having to commit to yesterday’s technologies. In the past 18 months, MHL technology has become the de facto standard for transmitting A/V from mobile devices, with an installed base of more than 220 million products. That makes MHL a compelling solution for the connection between the mobile phone and the car. 

Of course, connecting the phone to the car isn’t anything new; in fact the industry has coined a term for it – the “Connected Car.” What makes MHL technology unique is that it offers a solution that enables the application processing and rendering of video and audio to be done on the phone.  Baseband high-definition audio (7.1 surround sound) and video (up to 1080p60) signals are then sent to the infotainment system, while a bi-directional communication channel enables control and security. By keeping the processing and rendering on the phone, without the need for any additional processing in the head unit, MHL technology is able to address the fundamental issue of connecting two ecosystems with such different development lifecycles as the smartphone and the head unit. The simple architecture of a MHL connected car enables consumers to access smartphone applications directly from the car’s head unit while also reducing time-to-market and implementation risks for the manufacturer

If you’re attending the SAE 2013 World Congress & Exhibition in Detroit, I invite you to join me on Tuesday, April 16 in Room No. D0-04AB at 9:30 a.m. for Session AE307: Multi-Media Systems. I will discuss how MHL creates a compelling solution for integrating the phone into the infotainment experience, highlighting the benefits of its market leadership, longevity, and ease of implementation.

The organizers of the session include Thomas Hermann, Ford Motor Company; Robert Klacza, Chrysler Group LLC; and Richard S. Stroud, Stroud Audio Inc.  Hope to see you there!

Learn more at:

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