Note: We will be producing a separate, complete review for the Blackbird PMD-B200.
With the launch of the IVA-W205, Alpine becomes the second aftermarket manufacturer to combine mobile- and in-dash navigation. Unlike the Eclipse AVN2210p, which uses a similar combination of in-dash dock connected to a portable TomTom GPS device, the IVA-W205 can be purchased--and used--independently of its portable Blackbird PMD-B200 component. Without the Blackbird portable, the IVA-W205 becomes a simple--but versatile--multimedia player in the vein of the Alpine IVA-W200.
The standalone in-dash system, which comes with a 6.5-inch touch-screen display, can support a range of media formats including DVD video and compressed digital audio codecs. With the Blackbird PMD-B200 installed, the IVA-205 becomes a useful in-dash navigation system as well as a ready-made Bluetooth hands-free calling device. We like the system's innovative two-piece design and the way in which both components can be used independently, although we do have a few niggles with the some of its usability.
In its physical appearance, the IVA-W205 uses a similar design to that of its predecessor in the Alpine lineup, the IVA-W200. A number of hard buttons across the bottom of the bezel can be used to switch between sources and different screens, as well as for controlling volume and power. Most other controls are available on the system's 6.5-inch LCD touch screen, which, like that of the IVA-W200, features Alpine's "Pulsetouch" tactile feedback--a physical vibration designed to let users know when they have made a selection. In general, we like the size of the touch screen and the large, well-labeled soft buttons, which make it easy to make selections while driving along or when stopped in traffic. The Pulsetouch feature can take a while to get used to: We found that it works fine if you push a button quickly, but, if you hold it down, the screen throbs with a disconcerting machine-gun-like noise.
The unique design aspect of the IVA-W205 is its ability to swallow whole the separate, standalone Blackbird PMD-B200 portable GPS device, which turns it into an in-dash navigation system. With a push of the eject button, the LCD display rolls down revealing a large dock, into which the Blackbird is inserted headfirst. We managed to get the Blackbird in without any difficulty (make sure you push it right up to make the connection), but getting it out using the mechanical eject button was more difficult, and we often had to use a considerable deal of effort to extricate the portable.
For media playback, the IVA-W205 provides a very intuitive selection interface, with a straightforward source-selection menu called up using the hard Source button on the bottom of the faceplate. In each of the three standard media source modes (radio, disc, aux), the screen displays two soft buttons at the top right-hand side: Visual, for changing display between media and navigation, and Setup for audio tweaking. With the Blackbird PMD-B200 inserted, audio selection becomes less straightforward, as pressing the music button on the screen in navigation mode activates music playback from the portable device's SD-card rather than in-dash audio source--this quirky design flaw confused us more than once when trying to toggle between navigation and disc-based audio.
For disc-based audio playback, IVA-W205 supports Red Book CDs, as well as MP3- and WMA-encoded discs, all of which are inserted in the single disc slot behind the motorized drop-down faceplate. For compressed audio format discs, the display shows complete ID3-tag information for track, artist, and album. One of our favorite features of the system's media playback functionality is its Folder List function, which displays folders on a disc five at a time. With a folder selected, the screen then shows a list of tracks within the folder, also five at a time; a one-touch scrolling feature allows drivers to browse their entire music libraries with ease. For those who want to skip songs and folders one at a time, there are also dedicated soft buttons for navigating discs without using the Folder List. The IVA-W205 can also be used to play audio from iPods and USB drives using optional add-on connecting modules.
The IVA-W205 impressed us with it audio customization features. Standard output of 18 watts per channel can be enhanced with separate front-, rear-, and subwoofer 2-volt preouts. Bass and treble can be adjusted according to level and frequency, and a high-pass filter setting for front and rear lets users fine-tune their EQ. A touch-screen graphic for setting fade and balance is also an attractive feature.
For visual media, you can play DVD video and VCDs on the IVA-W205. To operate the video function, drivers need to perform an elaborate procedure, designed to ensure that the unit can't be used to play DVDs when on the move: First depress the foot brake; then activate the parking brake; then, with the foot brake still depressed, release and re-engage the parking brake; finally, let go of the foot brake. Viewers can fine-tune video output using a number of Visual EQ settings including adjustments for tint, brightness, and contrast, as well as settings for between -15 and +15 for image softness and sharpness.