The Clarion MAX675VD is one of the most feature-packed and user-friendly in-car entertainment systems we have reviewed. The touch screen unit combines advanced audio playback functionality for disc-based media with a sophisticated iPod interface and crisp video rendering.
The faceplate of the Clarion MAX675VD is remarkable for its simplicity. Two strips of hard buttons along the bottom and down the right-hand side of the brushed-aluminum-effect bezel do not begin to hint at the system's breadth of features, most of which are controlled with "soft" touch screen buttons. Among the few hard buttons, we are particularly impressed with the straightforward labeling and functionality of the controls: unlike many multimedia in-car systems, most of the MAX675VD buttons have only one function each. The dedicated iPod button is also a nice touch. One niggle we have with the positioning of the controls is that some of the buttons for major controls including On/Off and Open are situated on the side of the unit farthest from the driver--perhaps a legacy of this unit's Japanese origins.
For disc-based media, the faceplate of the MAX675VD rolls down with a push of the relevant hard button. Unlike other units we have seen, which spit the current disc out as soon as the faceplate is deployed, the Clarion unit has a separate Eject button behind the screen. This is of limited value, as the only reason a user would be opening the faceplate is to insert a new disc or to remove the existing one. Other than that, we found the MAX675VD an easy-to-use system. Its bright 7-inch QVGA wide-screen display is easy to see at a glance, and its media menu architecture is among the best we have seen.
We have come to expect lots of features from multimedia audiovisual in-car systems, and the MAX675VD does not disappoint. In addition to the standard audio functions of AM/FM radio and Red Book CD playback, the system will handle a range of digital audio formats that include MP3, WMA, and DVD audio discs, as well as satellite radio via an add-on module. (Curiously, the MAX675VD's standard source menu lists only Tuner and DVD player, the latter being a misnamed catchall for all disc-based media, including audio sources.) The MAX675VD offers a number of advanced features for searching for and labeling audio tracks. With standard CDDA discs playing, the screen displays a Title Edit option, which enables drivers to add tags to individual albums using an onscreen keypad.
Another useful feature for selecting tracks on a disc is the List function, which enables users to select a track from a list using the touch screen. For MP3 and WMA discs, the MAX675VD is even more useful. Not only does the system give complete ID3 tag information for folder, track, artist, album, and title, but this information is instantly indexed to allow the driver to select tracks from a list within each folder. For folders with dozens of tracks, a one-touch scroll bar on the left-hand side of the screen provides a straightforward means of navigating the list. A ubiquitous Back button in the top left of the screen is a function that we would like to see on all in-car entertainment systems.
The star feature of the Clarion MAX675VD is its iPod compatibility. Like many other units (including the Dual XDVD8182 and the Pioneer Avic D3), the system makes use of a virtual version of the iPod wheel interface when a player is connected. However, unlike many of the other systems we have seen, the Clarion unit's iPod control interface is nearly as easy to use as an iPod itself.
Using a main dashboard, drivers can select tracks according to the usual iPod categories (podcast, artist, album, playlists, genres), and can search within those categories using the same one-touch scrolling that we saw in the navigation of MP3 discs.
Disc-based video formats supported by the MAX675VD include DVD and VCD. Touching the screen during video playback brings up a list of menus for selecting and configuring video. Movies can be played in one of four aspect ratios: full wide-screen display (our favorite); wide; cinema; and normal. We like the system's bright, crisp video reproduction. One gripe we have with the customization of video is that any attempt to change the subtitle settings or the angle of the screen during playback (by pressing Option>Setup) resulted in the DVD restarting.
The MAX675VD features a digital-to-analog converter, and a built-in MOS-FET amp producing 50W Ãâ 4 channel output. An optional 5.1 channel surround decoder is available for even crisper sound reproduction. The system is compatible with other audiovisual sources via its 2-channel auxiliary input, and 2-channel RCA output enables it to be hooked up to a secondary in-car display through Clarion's 2-Zone feature. The MAX675VD can be turned into a GPS navigation system through connection of Clarion's NAX970HD hard disk drive nav system.
For those considering an in-car multimedia system, the Clarion MAX675VD is a compelling option. With most of the advanced digital media playback features currently available--including a great iPod interface--plus some unique customization options and large selection of add-on devices, the MAX675VD is a user-friendly all-in-one system.