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What is infotainment?

May 26, 2015 by

If you’d said ‘bromance’ or ‘cosplay’ to someone 20 years ago, you’d probably have received bemused and perplexed stares (though that’s still likely to be the case today). Creating word mash-ups seems to be a growing 21st century affliction.

Such literary amalgamations have crept into the automotive world, too, with one of the latest to crop up being ‘infotainment’. But what does it mean and what’s it for? Let carwow explain…

The infotainment display on a Mitsubishi ASX

So what is it?

Traditionally, the only electrical device slotted into your car’s dashboard was nothing more than a radio and a CD player – maybe a satellite navigation system, if you’d really splashed out. However, as our desire for in-car gadgets has increased, car manufacturers have been happy to oblige.

As these systems have become more all-encompassing and complex, they have started to provide information to the driver, as well as entertainment. Hence, the term ‘infotainment’ was born.

What does it do?

There are a huge range of functions now controlled by modern infotainment systems, including:

  • Radio (almost always DAB digital radio)
  • Satellite navigation (usually an option)
  • Bluetooth connectivity – some will even read text messages to you
  • Audio player – on disks, MP3, USB or Bluetooth
  • Internet access – enables web browsing for passengers via an in-built Wi-Fi connection, and provides real-time traffic updates for navigation systems
  • TV tuners – for passengers (obviously) or for everyone as long as the car is parked
  • Reversing cameras – previously the preserve of luxury cars, these now find their way into superminis such as the Ford Fiesta. The Range Rover has an array of cameras showing a bird’s-eye view of the car, making manoeuvring in tight spaces even easier
  • Screen mirroring – enabling the user to wirelessly connect their mobile device to the car and ‘mirror’ its user interface on the car’s larger touch screen
The Mercedes S-Class’ dashboard features two 12-inch screens side-by-side

That all sounds complicated…

As you’d imagine, all these functions could potentially make your dashboard so full of buttons it’d be hard to see out the window, so the proliferation of touch screens has come in very handy. Pretty much every infotainment system is now controlled via a touch-sensitive display in the centre of the dash.

If not a touch screen, they use rotary or mouse-like controls to improve the ease of scrolling through menus. Manufacturers are toying with gesture controls, too. These will allow the driver to, say, adjust the audio volume by raising their hand, or making a twisting motion to adjust the interior temperature – just like Minority Report.

Some systems use rotary controllers to operate the infotainment

Some of the most important infotainment functions can be displayed either in the instrument binnacle or via a head-up display to reduce the time a driver diverts their eyes from the road. Many cars feature voice activation to access specific menus for the same reason.

The systems frequently go via different names, but offer access to pretty much all the same functions. BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI and Mercedes’ COMAND are how each of the big three German brands refer to their multimedia systems.

Infotainment overload

If you like the idea of driving something with more computing power than was used on most of the Apollo missions, head over to our car configurator to see how much money carwow could help you save. For more options, take a look at our deals page to see our latest discounts.

There’s also a host of car related apps available on your phone, so why not read all about them?