I saw StreetDeck at CES a week and a half ago, and I was impressed. Since then, I’ve been able to get my hands on a copy from Robert Wray and Chuck Holbrook of StreetDeck.com. I’ve been running it for almost a week now in my carPC.

Installation was a snap. I simply downloaded the application onto my flash drive, popped the drive into my USB port in my dash, opened it up, and ran the professionally made installer. Once installed, I set up my media paths to point to the directory in which I already have all my music.

StreetDeck has a pretty cool looking automatic sync feature that will copy files from a network drive, down to your machine. It also has another related feature which allows you to copy new music files onto one directory on your computer, and it’ll index them, and move them to a different location. So far I haven’t played with either of those features, because I no longer have my PC set up to stay on after the car turns off. This feature, though, may make me re-think that change in my system…

Once my music was all set up, I ran the application. The first thing I was really impressed with was all the special car and attention that was made to the UI. Things like professionally made graphics, animations, and lots of details, make the application simply stunning to look at. It’s so beautiful, it makes me think my music sounds better now. :-)

In actuality, my music really does sound better, but I think that’s more likely because StreetDeck is using the Windows Media Player as a backend. My previous player was using its own proprietary systems for decoding my MP3s. Now I can switch back to WMAs and go for lossless ripping. Excellent!! I suspect it’ll also play all the protected content. That’ll be fun to start subscribing to MTV’s new Urge Music Service. Then I’ll be able to play any media I want in my car!

Another innovative feature StreetDeck has is its integration of mouse gesturing. For example, to skip to the next track, I can simply place my finger on the screen, and drag my finger across the screen towards the right to make a left to right line on the screen. StreetDeck then interprets that gesture as a line from left to right, and automatically maps that to Next Track. If I want to use a different gesture for Next Track, or I want to use the left to right gesture for something else, StreetDeck has a very well thought out built-in configuration UI for just that task.

There are a lot of gestures built in, and they have some very advanced gestures that you can use. For example, they have a graffiti like set of gestures that are used for input into the system. For example, if I’m at the search music screen, I can draw the letters E A G L E and S, and then tap the search button. Up comes all my music by The Eagles. I can also draw the letter M to go to the Music screen, or N to go to the Navigation screen. Once on the Navigation screen, one more tap, and then I can enter a destination address with the graffiti like gestures.

The navigation system is built on top of Microsoft Map Point. The UI is novel, in that it takes the 2D rendering from the map point control, and tilts it down for a 3D perspective. The system has all the standard stuff you’ve grown to like about NAV UI. It also has turn by turn instructions.

StreetDeck also has built in speech recognition capabilities. It comes pre-configured for a handful of commands, and it also has an external application you can use to configure the system and map more speech phrases to built-in StreetDeck commands. This is a good start for SR enabling the application, but it doesn’t let you reference the songs, artists, or albums by name (which I’m fixing in my installation right now … There will be an SDK for StreetDeck soon, and in that SDK you’ll be able to tell StreetDeck to play a particular song, artist, or album. I’m working on doing that integration right now.)

It also supports XM radio, including recording songs from XM. I’ve not gotten the XM part to work, though, so I haven’t really been able to run that part of the system thru a proper test yet (I’m having a hardware problem with the way I’ve hooked up my audio). StreetDeck does look like it’ll be great for controlling XM, though. There are presets you can configure, you can filter stations, and they even have station art.

My hardware problem is this: I have the digital audio output from the computer hooked up to the digital audio input on my Alpine audio processor in my car. Normally, on computers, when you have a analog line out and you have something  hooked up to the analog line input, you can adjust the mixer settings to allow the sound to automatically travel from the line input to the line output. This all happens at the hardware level, and it’s simply configured via the driver. However, because I’m using digital audio output, and the there’s no additional code running in my particular driver, the sound just doesn’t flow from the analog line input (hooked up to the XM radio) to the digital line out. No worries, though. I can solve this pretty easily with software. I just need to write a quick application that will read from the analog line input, and output it on the digital line output. Since StreetDeck controls the starting and stopping of the XM radio, this should work just fine, even when I’m not really listening to XM. We’ll see …

I am having a couple problems with the software. Mostly just little nits here and there. Not even worth mentioning in a review. In fact, there are fewer problems than I typically see in beta software (and even fewer than in some production software!).

The biggest problem I’m having at the moment is that the system isn’t hibernating properly. Because StreetDeck has that cool feature of automatically syncing music when you shutdown your PC, it needs to override the default behavior of shutdown from the OS. So, it gets involved in the shutdown logic. I think this may be the source of my problem. I think this is what’s happening: My OPUS power supply tells the mother board to shutdown, the OS notifies applications of this event, and StreetDeck, says, no thanks, I’ll take care of this myself. StreetDeck then notices that there are no shutdown tasks to perform, it also notices that I’ve got StreetDeck set up to hibernate, and then it tries to hibernate the system. Then, somehow, instead of hibernating my PC reboots. All is not lost, becuase I have the OPUS configured to automatically cut power at 30 seconds right now, so it does turn off and doesn’t drain my battery dead. However, this does mean I have to wait for a whole XP boot cycle, and I have to wait while StreetDeck starts up before I can listen to anything… It’d be nice if I could ensure that StreetDeck just wasn’t involved in the shutdown process at all. Maybe there will be some sort of option for that in the future.

I don’t have the hardware to check out some of the other cool features:

  • FM Radio
  • DVD playback
  • ODBII integration

Although, because they’ve done such a good job with the application, I’ll be investing in a few more goodies for my car so I can check out the whole experience.

All-in-all, StreetDeck is the nicest in car software running on XP that I’ve seen so far. I’ve looked at a lot, and I like StreetDeck the most.

Now I just need to finish my speech recognition software to control the songs/artists/albums by voice via StreetDeck. “Play the album that has Rich Girl on it” as well as the more obvious “Play [artist] The Black Eyed Peas,” “Play [track] Hotel California,” or “Play [genre] Jazz”.