Picture of Ultimate Road Trip Media Setup
The Problem
Have you ever gone on a road trip with a carload of kids? How about a carload of tech-kids that all have their own iPods, iPhones, iPads, or similar hand-held devices? Trips like these are what made car entertainment systems a smash hit in many vehicles these days. Fact of the matter is, parents want to help kids pass the time and frankly, stay out of their hair while trying to navigate uncharted territory.

We have one of the in-car stock entertainment systems in our van. These are great if you have kids of all the same age range and tastes. When you have three or four kids with significant gaps in age it becomes impossible to get them to agree on an age appropriate movie that everyone can watch.

The Solution
For this problem I have configured the ultimate mobile entertainment system. This simple setup allows each person in the vehicle to watch movies independently on their own device, all streaming “live” from a centralized laptop.

The benefits of this solution are:
  • You don't need to spend countless hours converting videos to a specific format that will work on iOS devices
  • You are not relying on the limited storage available on your iOS devices (admit it, most of your storage is being used up by apps anyway!)
  • Everyone can pick their own movie to watch. They can even watch the same movie but with the ability to pause, rewind and play the movie independently of each other.
  • Storage is very cheap these days. For around $90 you can get a 1TB drive such as this one!  With this you can load up an entire library of videos for everyone to choose from!
  • The same solution could be used at home, in hotels, etc.

This works amazingly well! The kids won't be able to tell the movies are not local on their own device.

Interested? Read on...
JeffK1520 days ago
To put it simple I bought a power inverter placed the computer cpu behind passenger seat used to crank straps to secure screen to fold down seat and ran a hotspot device in the car my daughter didn't even care she was on the road for 12 hrs yea it was ghetto rigged however all I had to do was purchase power inverter it was cheaper than going out n getting one for head rest especially since it was for one trip
MichaelD432 months ago

I use a macbook pro, an airport express hosting its own network with a self assigned IP that the devices can join and then Plex server host up the media over a local connection. Its perfect.

siliconghost (author)  MichaelD432 months ago
I have a much more portable solution now. Will update this instructable soon with details.
MichaelD432 months ago
nancyjohns4 months ago

How is the router getting access to the internet? Is it getting wireless connection through the something like cell towers? I would personally want to use an app on a mobile device that has access to the internet on the go.

I'm just used to routers having connection though a wire that goes in the ground.

dcramirez1 year ago
the router is actually not necessary since the MBP can create it's own wireless network. also PLEX is a great media server that works great on all platforms
siliconghost (author)  dcramirez1 year ago
Good point, but the Instructable was written to be more generic for both PC and Mac users. I also need to update this because there is some much better technology out now that allows me to do away with the airvideo server all together such as this.

 Thanks for the feedback!
andygreene2 years ago
Great Instructable! I want to set this up just for the challenge of it. If your wifi router runs on 12 volt DC, you can get a cheap cig lighter adapter plug that will go directly into your router. That way you aren't going DC to AC to DC. It's not that much more efficient, but it's one less wall wart to heat up your car.

You could also run your laptop using the right voltage dc- dc transformer...

Unless there is some electricity property (sine waves? hertz? that I'm not considering... Any electrical engineers out there?
He doesn't mention the version # of the WRT54G but early versions (1-3?) have a pretty wide 12v range they can run on. I've used one from 10 - 15V. I didn't believe it either. Works awesome. A great router for the great outdoors.
maxmunzel3 years ago
Hi, your project is awesome, but I suggest you to have a look at this instructable:
If you use html5 and php you'll be able to stream to almost every mobile device.
Have you tried to make the hotspot with your Laptop or thought about a cheap embedded PC running Linux? If your devices have an dlna client "there's an app for everything" you should check out mediatomb. I'm using it with my PS3 and it workes great. (My server specs: 1,6 ghz intel atom, 1tb hdd, 1 gb ram, Ubuntu desktop)
siliconghost (author)  maxmunzel3 years ago

Thanks for the tip! I was only showing one way to do this. It just happened to be a way that works for me because I own many iOS devices. I'm definitely going to look into this option! I appreciate the feedback.

- John
kyleslab3 years ago
I do not have a "problem". There is nothing wrong with the Instructable and I really think it's a pretty good idea. I guess I did over do it a bit.                

P.S I know what PC means and generally Macs are excluded from that... but if you get "technical" with it PC might be the correct term. Also, "for a ad-hoc" it would be "for an ad-hoc.
kyleslab3 years ago
Was the beginning like a slam to people with 16 megabyte Ipads? And obviously you don't know much about how the operating system works because most apps take up barely any room at all! Also if you didn't use a PC (YUCK!) you wouldn't have to convert videos to be used on (awesome) IOS 5.0.1.
siliconghost (author)  kyleslab3 years ago
The beginning is not a slam to anyone. I've developed my own apps so I think it's fair to say I know how the OS works. I've had an iPod Touch since the first generation came out. Over the years you accumulate quite a few apps (100's). If you use the same iTunes account on all your iOS devices (and sync the apps to all of them), they add up FAST and usually end up taking most of your space. My iPods, iPads, and iPhones are consumed primarily by apps and many times I've found myself having to delete apps to make room for movies or music if I want them local.

All that said, even on a bare-bones 16GB iPhone or iPad with minimal apps installed, you can only load about 19 or 20 movies providing each movie takes up no more than 735MB (which is pushing it). Why spend time picking out 19 or 20 movies when you can have hundreds to choose from on an external storage device?

On a Mac you have to convert some video types before you can even add them to iTunes or before they will play on iOS. Converting takes significant time (often hours) for a single movie. I have several windows PCs and a couple Macs at home and have experienced this first hand on BOTH types of systems.

Finally, iOS 5.0.1 (which just came out yesterday) does nothing to improve on video conversion.

Going forward, I would take a tip from one of your own Instructables and "only post comments that are nice". We're not here to start flame wars amongst fellow builders.
Hmmm... Well you kind of brought that one on yourself.
i dont understand your problem kyleslab, yes apps can take up little space but people including me download hundreds of apps.

I believe this is a great idea, an addition to this could be that a cheaper laptop is used just incase people are worried about the price of this solution, and myself having both windows and mac computers (pc's are the generic term for "Personal Computers") it dosent depend on the operating system it all depends on the physical hardware, i am also glad that siliconghost explains for both systems.

A note to siliconghost would setting up the laptop for a ad-hoc network be a better choice, though i am not sure if the software can use the ad-hoc network interface