NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet Powered In-Car Infotainment System DIY Project Guide

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Introducing The SHIELD Tablet Project Car

Buying a shiny new car is an easy way to get the latest in-car technologies, but it’s not the most economical. I've had my fair share of new car purchases in the last decade – a 2008 Chevy HHR SS, 2011 Volkswagen Routan SE, 2014 Mazda 5 Sport and a 2015 Nissan Leaf – and driven hundreds of press cars featuring the latest technologies and infotainment systems.

Despite new cars being technically superior on paper, the average age of vehicles on the road in 2016 was 11.6 years old, according to IHS Markit. We’ve seen substantial upgrades to the car stereo and infotainment systems in the last decade, including the elimination of the cassette and CD players, integrated navigation systems, improved voice recognition, 3D maps, and advanced smartphone connectivity.

Jeep Project Front

These new tech features are nice, but I’m nostalgic for ‘90s-era cars because that’s what was affordable when I first got my license. As a '90s kid that grew up building computers, modifying beige cases, and overclocking AMD Durons, I started tinkering with car audio the minute I got my first car at the age of 16.

I've had my share of blunders when it comes to car audio modifications, including rigging a Logitech Z-560 subwoofer and a touchscreen car PC powered by a Via EPIA motherboard in my first car, but that was half a lifetime ago and I’ve grown wiser through the years -- or at least I like to think so.

Join me on my latest journey to embrace my inner-geek and upgrade an old car with new technology using a trio of NVIDIA Shield Tablets and some new Clarion audio gear.

Jeep Project rear

The Car

I acquired my dad's '97 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4x4 V8 last year. It's been in my family for the last decade as a daily driver and boat hauler. I had my eyes on it since my father brought it home to replace my mom’s 1993 Dodge Grand Caravan, but she didn’t want it. So, it was finally mine – completely stock, with 194,000 miles on the odometer, and plenty of life left.

I immediately replaced the wheels and tires with wider 15x8 wheels from a Jeep Wrangler and mounted 30-inch Yokohama Geolandar A/T-S tires on it, because the original tires were a decade old and cracking. Tires are one of the most important things on a car since they're the only contact points keeping it on the road. Tires are not an area to skimp on.

Lift-spacers were added for a 2-inch suspension lift as well. The Jeep sits around 4-inches higher than stock, but could use new shocks and springs.

Jeep Project interior rear

The car came with a CD player and premium Infinity Gold sound system, which is ancient by today's standards. It also doesn't help that Chrysler and GM vehicles throughout the '80s and '90s relied on a 1.5-DIN opening that's bigger than a standard aftermarket stereo, but too small to accommodate a newfangled double-DIN with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support.

I’ve always toyed with the idea of replacing a car stereo with an Android tablet since the first-generation Nexus 7 came out. My cars at the time had steering wheel audio controls that I didn’t want to lose, however, so I never pursued the project. I had a spare NVIDIA Shield Tablet LTE that wasn't seeing much use though, which made it the perfect candidate for in car use.

I began my journey of replacing my car stereo with the NVIDIA Shield Tablet in June 2016, after nearly a year of constant changes, and actually getting NVIDIA to implement features specifically for car use. It was worth the effort though, as I finally have the system working like a regular infotainment system with a few minor hiccups.

The NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet

The NVIDIA Shield Tablet launched in 2014, but it's still no slouch when it comes to performance. NVIDIA's Tegra K1 chip delivers plenty of power to run navigation, music and messaging apps. Standard GPS / GLONASS hardware on even the Wi-Fi only Shield Tablet K1 makes it much more appealing for in-car use, especially since you don't have to deal with external GPS dongles for navigation functions.

However, the software is the best part of the NVIDIA Shield Tablet K1. I'm not a fan of manufacturer "optimizations," like TouchWiz, SenseUI, etc. NVIDIA doesn't stray too far from pure Android and has an excellent track record for updates.

shield tablet

It originally launched with Android 4.4 KitKat and received the latest 7.0 Nougat release last February. The NVIDIA Shield Tablet saw three official major Android releases in its lifetime, which rivals Google's Nexus 7 for software support.

The $199 price tag of the NVIDIA Shield Tablet K1 is very appealing as well. There is a downside though, finding one to buy is tough nowadays because stock is sporadic and sells out quickly. The 32GB Shield Tablet LTE is discontinued as well.

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