DETROIT – The analog age is just about over in the auto industry, and that means a new era in onboard entertainment systems is about to begin.

In-car streaming video, live television, high-definition radio and wi-fi connectivity are nearing reality as the digital age takes hold, says Robert W. Schumacher, general director-mobile multimedia and business line executive, wireless business line, Delphi Automotive Systems.

“We’re nearing the end of the analog-to-digital transition,” Schumacher says in a presentation on consumer electronics and the auto industry at the Convergence International Congress on Transportation Electronics. “And that is going to allow greater entertainment content and higher quality.”

Schumacher says conventional wisdom used to be that consumers would not pay for new electronic features in vehicles unless they cost $500 or less. But that notion went out the window when DVD-based video systems began making their way into minivans and SUVs. Now those systems are proliferating, and take rates are as high as 30% in some vehicles, he says.

Satellite radio is another technology that has been booming, Schumacher says. He says there now are 3 million satellite radio subscribers in the U.S., and he predicts that will continue to grow. In addition, broadcast digital and high-definition radio is about to be rolled out in the market, he says.

The next wave in automotive electronics centers on bringing additional content into the vehicle, Schumacher says. Onboard hard disk drives will be used to download music, video games and movies or other live streaming video directly to the car, he says, possibly as early as the 2006 timeframe. (See related story: Removable Hard Drives Could Flood Car Market)

Wi-fi connectivity will allow drivers to pull into wireless “hot spots” and download such content direct from the retailer or while stopped for gas at a roadside service station, Schumacher says. “Oil companies are very interested in wi-fi (connectivity to vehicles), as are hotels and other (travel-related) businesses,” he says.

Beaming live television into vehicles always has been expensive and technically challenging, but those problems are being solved, he says. Delphi is experimenting with a satellite TV antenna that is only 3 ins. (7.5 cm) thick and can be mounted flush into the roof of an SUV. As the vehicle pitches and yaws, the antenna moves and rotates to stay locked in with the broadcasting satellite.

“It’s not ready for prime time in terms of cost yet, but I believe we’ll be able to produce for a mass market in the next couple of years,” he says. “Imagine having 200 channels with you wherever you go.”

dzoia@primediabusiness.com