Sahr Johnny The concept of home theatre - the combination of cinematic, six-channel surround sound with vivid pictures from laser discs and DVDs has only just started to gain popularity in Hong Kong, but audio-visual product makers are not stopping there - already having set their sights on the car as an entertainment centre. Imagine watching DVD movies with full Dolby Digital surround sound in your car. That is exactly what Panasonic wants you to do with the in-car DVD Video Theater system, recently launched by Hong Kong distributor Securitech (Asia). The premise is that on long, cross-country journeys or, in the case of Hong Kong, nerve-jangling traffic jams, family members can ask dad or mum to crank up the latest DVD blockbuster - turning the family car back seat into a first-class flight on Cathay Pacific. Panasonic's system comprises three major components - the Mobile DVD Player with built-in Mpeg 2 Decoder, a seven inch, thin-film transistor (TFT) Active Matrix colour LCD screen and a dual-decoder Digital Sound Processor. Like many DVD players on the market, Panasonic's Mobile DVD Player also can play video CDs and audio CDs. Having a powerful audio system in a car is nothing new. It is not unusual to see cars drive by blaring music that rattles the windows of nearby shops and buildings. What is unusual about an in-car DVD system is all the high-end audio and video features that come with the DVD format. Take sound, for example. DVD is the first format that allows people viewing movies at home to enjoy the same sound technologies used in the cinema. DVD movies usually have six discreet channels of digital sound delivering an immersive surround effect when used with the right equipment. Panasonic's in-car DVD player, for example, supports Dolby Digital sound (also known as Dolby AC3 5.1) which delivers five separate channels of sound to left, right, centre surround and left and right surround speakers. A sixth channel (the .1 in 5.1) delivers base tones to a sub-woofer. The resulting sound from such a speaker system is on a par with what you hear in the cinema. Watching Jurassic Park becomes a whole new experience. The player also supports a newer audio technology called DTS, which also delivers 5.1 channels of sound, but at an even higher quality. But a huge part of taking advantage of the superior audio on DVDs involves choosing the right speakers and amplifiers. Connecting a DVD player to an ordinary hi-fi or amp will not give you six discreet channels of sound unless it has a built-in Dolby Digital or DTS decoder. This is where the optional Panasonic dual-decoder Digital Sound Processor comes in. Unlike most DVD players and many amplifiers and receivers on the market, it supports both Dolby Digital and DTS, and can switch automatically between the two formats. Movies with DTS audio are still quite rare, so Dolby Digital seems to be the new standard that is slowly replacing an older, two-channel stereo technology called DSP. DSP simulates sound effects from a variety of audio source tapes, CDs and video CDs to deliver a basic surround-sound experience. This is the technology in hi-fi systems and laser-disc players that allows you to choose 'theatre', 'arena', 'concert' and other listening modes. The Panasonic Mobile DVD Video Theatre ships with two front and two surround speaker. For the full 6-channel Car Theatre you need to buy a centre speaker and a subwoofer. Although the technology for watching movies in the car has been around for a while, manufacturers have had to contend with the long arm of the law. The regulatory implications of watching Speed in your car obviously are huge. As Douglas Renwick, business development manager with Securitech (Asia) puts it: 'The police do not look too kindly on drivers watching Hollywood blockbusters while driving.' Even though the law is pretty clear, technology can, to a certain extent, be used to mitigate some of the concerns of regulators. For example, the Panasonic Mobile DVD Player has a fade feature that significantly lowers the sound on the driver side of the car. Also, in-car video systems can be set up to be dependent on the status of the vehicle's hand brake, with the system functioning only when the hand brake is on, and the car stationary. While watching Anaconda on the road is a big no-no for drivers, in-car DVD players also can be used with GPS system with map data stored on a DVD disk. In Japan, the Mobile DVD Player is being used for this purpose. Mr Renwick expects that the launch of a GPS system in Hong Kong in the near future will increase the popularity of in-car DVD players, adding that that owners of multi-person vehicles (MPVs), coaches and recreational vehicles are installing in-car movie systems to keep passengers entertained on long journeys. In Hong Kong, vehicles driving passengers to and from Hong Kong International Airport and luxury cars are the ones more likely to install an in-car DVD system.