Enjoying the bells and whistles of the latest in entertainment technology in our homes is a national pastime. This same technology can also be enjoyed on the road. To enhance their services, motorcoach operators are offering vehicles that feature the latest in audio/visual entertainment systems. Radio Engineering Industries (REI) is one such company outfitting the industry with these new high-tech products.

The company’s Elite Entertainment System is comprised of many components, including a DVD player, CD player, scenic view camera system and LCD monitors. Its wide-screen LCD monitors are REI’s most popular. They are available in 10.2-, 15.4-, 19.1-, and 23-inch models, with an aspect ratio of 16:9. Its fixed-mount 15.4-inch widescreen LCD is the company’s best-selling model. Monitors provide a crisp image, offering up to 500 NIT of brightness. REI has also recently upgraded the voltage converters inside its monitors by using better filtration to produce a cleaner signal and clearer picture.

“LCD and flat-screen monitors have been around for a while, but they’ve gained a lot of popularity in the bus industry over the last two or three years,” says REI’s International Sales Director Chris Sweeden. “The traditional CRT (cathode ray tube) screen is really a thing of the past.”

LCD flat-screen monitors have become an industry standard for their space-saving capabilities. “The widescreen monitor is really tailor-made for the bus environment because it’s wider than it is tall. So, you actually gain headroom when you add screen size,” says Sweeden.

Flip-down monitors
In addition to widescreen LCD monitors, REI’s next most progressive and advanced technology is its motorized flip-down monitor, introduced in 2008. The space-saving capability of this model is greatly increased as these monitors close completely into compartments when no video or presentation is being played. Development of the flip-down monitor has mostly been due to consumer demand in North and South American markets, perhaps for their sleek aesthetics, but also in large part due to the even greater visibility during scenic tours.

So far, the most popular of REI’s motorized flip-down monitors is its 15.4-inch size. Other monitors including 10.2- and 19.1-inch versions are in final development and will likely hit the market this year.

In addition to LCD monitors, the Elite System also has many other components, including its Controller, which the company calls the brains of the system. “The Elite System is built primarily around the Elite Controller,” Sweeden says. With easy-to-use buttons, intuitive menus and a large programmable display, the controller allows a bus driver to have control over nine channels of audio and video at their fingertips. “What makes the Elite system unique is its ability to control all aspects of the entertainment system,” he adds.

REI’s DVD player, which features high-fidelity stereo sound, is fully functional without a remote control and has a built-in audio pre-amplifier with a filter that eliminates transient noise issues usually found in motorcoaches and buses. Another feature of the Elite System is the AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio with 30 station presets (18 FM and 12 AM) and a seek/scan function. An iPod or other similar personal MP3 player may also be connected to its auxiliary input.

Tour operators will also benefit from the Scenic View Camera System option that affords passengers the same view as the driver. A high-resolution camera is mounted behind the front windshield and its images are displayed on monitors throughout the bus. The Wireless Microphone System is also a plus for operators, as it allows a tour guide to speak from anywhere on the bus without being tethered to one specific spot.

Other system features include Computer/Video Camera Inputs that allow passengers to show images, video, PowerPoint presentations, and slideshows from their cameras and computers onto the bus monitors. There is also a Digital Video Player with full automatic GPS control that allows video information stored on a memory card to be played back at pre-determined locations. This feature becomes particularly useful on city tours when traffic is congested, so that images are not displayed until they are geographically relevant. This feature also allows operators to advertise at specific locations.

In the future, REI hopes to also provide Wi-Fi Internet access as an option for its Elite System. The company is currently experimenting with its Wi-Fi technology on a few motorcoaches in Brazil. “The technology is not in its infancy, but the technology in a mobile environment is,” Sweeden says. “And, we’re weighing all the options on whether or not that’s going to be a viable product for the market.”

Another product option REI is excited about featuring in the future is a digital media player that operates via a USB flash drive.

“We can load video content, such as safety video presentations before a tour coach departs its locale and heads to its destination,” Sweeden says. “A lot of customers and operators show a safety video just like an airplane. This permits them to load that content onto a USB flash drive and play it for customers without having to fumble with DVDs.”

 [PAGEBREAK] System Installation
One business that is particularly familiar with REI’s Elite Entertainment System is ABC Companies, based in Faribault, Minn., which installs REI systems on most of the motorcoaches it sells, totaling almost 400 systems a year. The company sells new and pre-owned vehicles, parts and after sales services, and offers a wide range of financial solutions.

The system is typically installed on ABC’s C2045 coach, which is a 45-foot tour coach used for everything from commuting to multi-day tours and charters, and from shuttling employees from outlying communities into town to school activities. The company normally installs the system into a motorcoach during pre-delivery inspection based on the operator’s preferences for optional features.

“We can offer anything from a very basic video system that is comprised of four monitors, a DVD player, CD player, and AM/FM radio to the only multiple large screen installation in the industry,” says ABC Companies Director of Engineering Andrew Fung. “We have one system by REI that incorporates four, 23-inch monitors, whereas the normal might be a 10.4-inch monitor.”

Customers can also choose to add other features like XM radio and a multi-channel CD changer. Like most companies, ABC has not yet installed many flip-downs. They do, however, use the Scenic View Camera System, which allows up to 61 passengers to have the same view as the driver. REI also works closely with companies like ABC to provide customized features. Fung says ABC has been able to work closely with REI to offer large screen displays on contoured parcel racks.

“A couple of years ago, ABC unveiled contoured parcel racks to the public,” Fung says. “On most coaches the monitors are installed underneath the parcel racks hanging below the profile. These parcel racks are scalloped or sculpted so that the top of the monitor is at roof line instead of below the parcel rack and the parcel rack is contoured in such a way that there are no bad seats in the bus, as far as watching video on a big screen is concerned.”

Enhances Service
Purchasing vehicles equipped with the latest in entertainment technology, or upgrading existing vehicles, has enhanced various services offered by motorcoach companies. Bloom’s Bus Lines of Taunton, Mass., a family-owned bus company that offers daily commuter and charter services, is one such company. Most of their coaches come equipped with REI DVD players, monitors, PA systems, radio and CD players.

“It’s funny because the owner of our company, who has long since passed, was quoted so many times as saying we are in the transportation business and not in the entertainment business,” says Jim Maragnano, director of maintenance for Bloom’s Bus Lines. “But, as time has evolved, people want to be entertained on the buses, and we started installing REI systems exclusively. I think that in today’s market, it is expected that you have that type of equipment.”

Bloom’s Bus Lines has also been able to satisfy requests for iPod audio or laptop/computer input jacks on their stereo systems. Some customers have chosen to play audio or video presentations using these jacks. In addition, the operation has also found that the REI integrated controller has provided a convenient method of operating the many features of the Elite system. Maragnano says they greatly appreciate the ease with which the Elite System allows customers to locate the DVD player in the overhead luggage compartment rather than in the dash where the controller has been located in the past for other entertainment systems and can only be operated by a bus driver.

Mears Transportation in Orlando, Fla., was able to meet the demands of its clients with REI’s GPS-activated video and stop announcements. The company’s buses shuttle passengers between cruise terminals, theme parks, resorts and airports. Greeting and farewell videos play according to geographical location, says Chip Springer, vice president of motorcoach operations.