The day the in-car DVD player was invented, parents around the world jumped for joy, celebrating in the knowledge that the car trip would no longer be an arduous battle of wits with their children in the back seat. But in the age of the iPad, is the in-car entertainment system obsolete?

During a recent trip to Thredbo testing out the latest Toyota LandCruiser, I was struck by this very question. The review car in question was loaded with the latest in-car entertainment system, which could be loaded with multiple DVDs, streamed to a drop down screen for the kids in the back and paired with wireless headphones, so the kids could listen to the movie in the back while we listened to music in the front.

On the way down, we popped in the Toy Story trilogy for my son. As Buzz Lightyear enjoyed his adventures on the car’s small screen, my wife and I listened to a playlist of music to help our drive go by faster.

The system worked well, even if we did initially have some trouble working out exactly how to get the music streaming to the headphones without pumping through the car’s speakers. We had to turn on each film ourselves – the remote was a little bit too complicated for our not-quite three year old – but that in itself wasn’t enough to be unimpressed by the system.

But on the way back, our son wanted to watch something different. He wanted to watch Dora the Explorer, which we only had available on my iPad. Handing him the tablet, he proceeded to entertain himself for a good chunk of the trip home. When he got bored of Dora, he occasionally ducked into the kids folder and played a little bit of a simple memory game we’d downloaded for him.

The versatility of the system was handy. As was the fact that he could plug in my headphones and enjoy quietly, without any issues. Sure, when my daughter is old enough to have her car seat face forwards, having a single iPad may not be as elegant a solution as a drop down screen in the middle of the car roof, but with something like the Wallee car adapter, it can still work. There’s also the battery life issue, although the car’s convenient 240V AC adapter in the boot proved handy in that regard.

The other obvious benefit of the iPad is that it can be taken with you. In a hotel room on holiday, it can provide some much needed entertainment on a rainy day. Or it can be used to entertain one child at home while another child uses the main TV. That’s obviously not something a dedicated car entertainment system can do.

When you consider the price of each option, the iPad is even more attractive. While the Electro Multi-vision screen in the LandCruiser I tested came as standard, an aftermarket system that offers the same level of versatility can cost over $1000 plus installation costs. Admittedly there are significantly cheaper options, but even those an cost as much as a single iPad 2.

It’s surprising that car manufacturers haven’t yet added the ability to offer iPad mounting and charging options for the rear seats of cars. Because that seems like the perfect solution.

What do you think? Is the iPad a better option for in-car entertainment than a dedicated DVD entertainment system? Or is embedded system a safer option?