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HOWTO: Connect your iPod to a video screen in older cars

Although many newer cars now ship with integrated iPod audio and, sometimes, video playback, retrofitting an older car can also be an easy and not-too-expensive option. Sure you can drive over to Car Toys and pay large sums of money to have a roof-mount video display system installed, or you can put your video system together on the cheap. Here's how I retrofit our minivan for relatively small amounts of money.

Equipment

Screen. The hardest part of this equation involves finding an LCD screen that is large enough to watch comfortably for an affordable price. I ended up buying a clearanced Eddie Bauer 5" LCD screen at Target for about $50, but your mileage will obviously vary. It's important to select a display that comes with a car power adapter an an A/V port that will accept an external video signal. Look for a unit that can be hung from the back of a headrest or that you can mount yourself. Some of the best deals for screens can be found for units intended to work with handheld game systems. Some portable DVD players accept external AV signals.

Power. You can pick up an iPod power adapter for your car for fairly reasonable prices at any number of online retailers. If you don't mind carrying the iPod-to-USB adapter cable with you, USB power adapters are slightly cheaper than iPod-specific ones. You'll want to pick up a two-way power splitter for your car, so you can power both your screen and your iPod off the same cigarette lighter/12V power supply.

Sound. I personally use a $10 cassette adapter to send the sound from my iPod through my car's sound system. Other solutions include FM transmitters and built-in car audio jacks. Select a sound solution that terminates in a 3-connector (Left, Right, and Ground) mini phone plug. Don't settle for your video screen's built-in sound. It cannot compete with your car's stereo system.

Connectors

To send your audio and video signals from the iPod to your LCD screen and your car's audio system, you will need several cables and adapters:

  • One standard standard A/V cable: a 4-connector mini phone plug to a standard 3 plug (Yellow, White, Red) RCA cable. (About $6 shipped on eBay.)
  • One A/V cable that connects your LCD screen to audio and video. Some use a 4-connector mini phone plug to a 3-plug RCA cable. Others use a 3-connector mini plug to a 2-plug RCA cable. Determine what kind your LCD supports.
  • Three female-female RCA adapters. (About $5 at Target or Walmart.)
  • One 2-plug RCA (male)-to-3-connector mini phone jack (female) adapter. Radio Shack.

Putting it Together

Here are the steps you need to take to set this all up in your car.

  1. Power on. Power on your car's electrical system. You do not need to run the engine if you do not want. (Do not run the engine in closed spaces.)
  2. Split the power. Connect a two-way power splitter to a cigarette lighter 12V DC power outlet.
  3. Power the iPod. Connect a power adapter (USB or iPod) to one of the two receptacles and use it to power your iPod.
  4. Power the LCD video screen. Connect your video screen's power adapter to the second receptacle and use it to power your video screen.
  5. Connect the A/V cable to the iPod. Plug the mini phone plug of the standard A/V cable into the iPod jack and attach the three female-female RCA adapters to the ends of the red, yellow and white RCA plugs.
  6. Connect the iPod Audio to the adapter. Connect the male yellow and white RCA plugs from the iPod cable into the red and white (or red and black if that's what your cables use) RCA plugs of the male RCA-to-female mini jack adapter via the female-female adapters. The yellow and white RCA plugs carry the stereo audio from your iPod.
  7. Connect your sound system to the adapter. Connect the mini phone plug from your sound system or sound adapter into the mini phone jack at the other end of the male RCA-to-female mini jack adapter. Your sound is now connected. And you can test this by playing back audio on your iPod.
  8. Connect the screen A/V cable to iPod video. The remaining (red) RCA plug carries the iPod video signal. Connect the yellow RCA plug from your LCD A/V cable to the red RCA plug via the female-female adapter. You are not sending audio to your LCD screen. Let the other one or two (red, white, or both) plugs dangle.
  9. Connect the screen A/V cable to your LCD display. Connect the mini plug from your LCD A/V cable to the A/V jack on your screen. Your video is now connected. To test, play back video from your iPod. (Change the iPod's video settings to export video to a TV--either "yes" or "ask".) The video should display on the LCD and the sound should continue to play through your car's built-in stereo system.


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iPod Family Video How-tos

Although many newer cars now ship with integrated iPod audio and, sometimes, video playback, retrofitting an older car can also be an easy...