The simple, blank faceplate of the JVC El Kameleon KD-AVX44 belies a plethora of features, including in-dash DVD/DivX playback, Bluetooth connectivity, and USB digital audio playback, and that's just the beginning of this receiver's abilities.
When powered off, the El Kameleon presents the user with a blank face of black glossy plastic. Four unlabeled, almost indiscernible buttons sit at its corners. When powered on, the faceplate comes alive with a full-color LCD display dominating the right two-thirds of the unit. Placing your hand near the display causes a proximity-activated touch-sensitive display to illuminate in the remaining left third. When you remove your hand, the interface goes blank again after a few seconds. The proximity sensor can be set to leave everything always on, to control the touch interface only, or to deactivate the entire display for what we like to call stealth mode.
The interface itself is styled to resemble a compass, with most commands input by tapping primary directions (north, south, etc.) or secondary (such as northeast). Tapping east and west skips songs, while holding north or south puts the unit into browsing mode, where media can be selected. Volume is controlled by spinning your finger around the perimeter of the interface to simulate turning a dial. We're sure it's no coincidence that the aesthetic resembles the venerable iPod click wheel, as iPod integration is one of the unit's major selling points.
With the proximity sensor tripped, the four buttons at the corners have illuminated labels for changing the source, ejecting a disc, power, and removing the detachable faceplate. Hitting the eject button causes the motorized faceplate to rotate down, revealing the disc slot.
Our only real complaint is that the unit is, at times, sluggish to accept commands. Also, the lack of any sort of touch feedback means you'll have to look at the unit to know for certain that you're skipping a track or even touching the right part of the faceplate. We like the sleek aesthetic of the touch-pad interface and how it's decidedly not gaudy. We also understand that you can't always have your cake and eat it too, but after a few days of sliding our finger around the touch pad, we really missed having a proper volume knob.
A built-in Bluetooth wireless transmitter and microphone allow the El Kameleon to sync with a compatible phone for hands-free calling. Caller ID information is displayed onscreen and music/movies are paused for the duration of the call. The unit also allows uploading of phonebook entries for easy access, but the process is excruciatingly slow and only allows entries to be sent one at a time. Call quality is satisfactory, although ultimately dependent on quality of service and the phone itself.
We were surprised to learn that the unit also supports A2DP-audio streaming from Bluetooth devices. We were easily able to control playback of music stored on our Windows Mobile phone. Even though JVC places much emphasis on iPod integration, for us the Bluetooth integration is the killer app. Playing music and making calls from a device that's still in our pocket is the ultimate in ease of use. It's too bad the iPhone doesn't support A2DP streaming.
The disc slot hidden behind the faceplate accepts a wide range of media, from non-DRM MP3, AAC, WMA, and WAV CDs, to DVD movies and DivX encoded videos. The unit only displays video when the parking brake is engaged.
The built-in display is suitable for occasional viewing from the driver's seat, but for entertaining backseat passengers you're going to want something bigger. With that in mind, the El Kameleon sports a full array of audio/video outputs to expand the unit's capabilities. A video output allows the addition of an external monitor and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround capabilities. The system allows you to specify in a menu the number and arrangement of your speakers, and adjusts to give the best sound possible. The sound's character is further customizable with a seven-band EQ.