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HD Radio may be increasing in popularity, but the number of car stereos that come with built-in HD compatibility is still very limited. The JVC KT-HDP1 is an elegant solution for drivers who want to receive HD Radio without replacing their existing car stereo and without installing a clunky HD module in the cabin. The JVC KT-HDP1 can be used either as a conduit for HD Radio programming, transferring audio via its built-in FM transmitter to an existing car stereo, or as a true HD Radio receiver, hard wired to the existing stereo to deliver the improved audio quality of a digital signal.
In contrast to Sony's unwieldy XT-100HD, the JVC KT-HDP1 is an elegant solution for bringing HD radio into the car. And with a sleek, ergonomic design, a bright (albeit monochrome) display, and straightforward control cluster, it has the added benefit of being compatible with any in-car stereo that has FM playback capabilities. The buttons on the JVC KT-HDP1 are clearly laid out and easy to operate while driving along. A row of hard buttons above the dot-matrix display give drivers the ability to select between three display configuration, change the current frequency band, adjust volume, and get one-touch access to the menu. A corresponding row of buttons of under the display gives drivers a means of toggling between six preset stations.
The JVC KT-HDP1's display can be set to show readouts in either a black-on-white or white-on-black color scheme. While listening to FM radio stations, the display can be set to show the frequency of the station in large numbers or a graphic showing real-time EQ levels. When the system is locked onto an HD Radio signal, the display shows information for station name, artist name, track name, and whatever other text information the individual station bundles with its digital signal. Pressing the display button can make the artist/song title appear in oversize letters that take up the entire screen. While this makes it easy to read song tags at a glance, the letters are so big that only five can fit on the screen at once, making it difficult to see what's playing without waiting the requisite 10 seconds for the big letters to starts scrolling across the screen.
Another minor gripe we have with the design of the JVC KT-HDP1 is the arrangement of its volume buttons, which live rather inconveniently in between the Menu and Band buttons, making them difficult to locate on the fly. Also, to turn the volume up or down using the device itself, drivers have to either hold down the "Vol +" or "Vol -" button for a long time (a feat that requires not a little dexterity, as the buttons are so small and inconspicuous) or push the required button up or down repeatedly. In our test of the JVC KT-HDP1, we found it far easier to use the volume dial on our Sony CDX-520 car stereo than to fiddle about with the hard buttons on the HD receiver.
In contrast to the kludgy interface for adjusting volume, the JVC KT-HDP1 does have a very useful four-way button cluster for HD and standard FM radio stations. For those who want to listen only to HD stations, the buttons at the top and bottom of the cluster set the tuner to search only for stations transmitting an HD signal. Those to the left and right search for any available FM/AM/HD signal radio station. In practice, we found this to be an ingeniously simple means of differentiating between HD and non-HD output. The button cluster is also used to navigate through the JVC KT-HDP1's menus for display options and audio tweaking.