HD Radio has been available on the digital airwaves for the better part of the last decade, and though there are hundreds of stations taking advantage of this technology, there has been some question as to whether the standard would catch on. That's because most OEM and aftermarket tuners are still of the old analog variety, requiring expensive add-on tuners to gain compatibility. JVC's newest kid on the block, the KW-NT3HDT GPS navigation system, attempts to stand out from this crowd by being one of, if not the, first in-dash receivers to offer HD Radio tuning as a standard feature. However, JVC didn't stop there, and the car stereo manufacturer also managed to get a bit more mileage out of the HD Radio tuner by rolling in Clear Channel's HD Total Traffic network high-speed data service.
Design and installation
The KW's face is occupied primarily by a 6.1-inch resistive touch screen. The display resolution is unpublished, but we're estimating that the screen operates at around 480x234 pixels. The resistive nature of the touch display means that you really must commit to each input with a solid press--glancing blows are simply not registered--but overall the screen can be quite responsive once you become accustomed to exerting the right amount of pressure. Just above the screen is the slot for the single-disk CD/DVD drive and to the left of the screen is a narrow vertical bank with a few physical controls, including a volume knob (which we prefer over a volume rocker for quick sound-level adjustments). Other physical controls present include audio source selection, map/audio control mode toggle, and an eject button. All of the physical controls feature color illumination that can be set to cycle through the spectrum or set with RGB values to match your vehicle's illumination.
Near the lower left corner of the unit are the 3.5-millimeter analog audio input and USB port, the latter being hidden behind a plastic door. We reckon that the purpose of that door is to protect the port from dust, but it is also tricky to open and shut and feels a bit fragile, as though it could pop off at any minute--fortunately, ours did not. The USB connection accepts standard mass storage devices and Apple's iPod- and iPhone-branded devices. When connected to an iPhone, the KW-NT3HDT offers two modes for selecting your music: the standard onscreen selection mode that uses the touch screen and a second remote-control mode that allows a passenger to make playlist selections from the iPod or iPhone itself.
The front of the unit has one more physical feature: a detach button that causes the entire screen faceplate to pop off and be removed for security. Detachable faceplates, while not rare in the car stereo world, are almost unheard of for double-DIN units such as this because carrying a large touch screen can be unwieldy. In addition to being a bit over 6.1 inches diagonally, the KW-NT3HDT's faceplate is about an inch thick and weighs about as much as a small SLR camera, so it's not at all pocketable. However, having the option to bring the screen with you when parking on the street overnight, for example, is a welcome feature. The KW ships with a soft case to protect the screen during transport. Just behind the faceplate, and accessible by partially removing the screen, is a hidden SD card slot. It's very easy to forget that it's back there--or completely miss it in the first place--but this slot does provide yet another audio input option. More importantly, this is where you can update firmware, maps, and the POI database when the time comes.
Spinning the unit around and taking a look at the rear panel for the last time before installation, we were greeted with only a few hard connection points and inputs. The KW-NT3HDT uses a pair of wire harnesses to offload most of its connections and potentially save space. The first wire harness contains the standard power, ground, and speaker connections that are common to all vehicles and must be connected for the unit to function. The second harness is optional and contains a selection of audio/video connections for a rearview camera, an external monitor or rear-seat entertainment system, an input from an external video source, and steering wheel controls. There are standard RCA connections for four channels plus subwoofer output to external amplifiers, as well as connections and pigtails for the parking brake sensor, reverse gear sensor, speed signal sensor, microphone, and GPS antenna.
HD Radio receiver and Total Traffic service
On many receivers we test, the broadcast radio receiver feels like a bit of an afterthought, behind iPod connectivity. In the KW-NT3HDT, radio is center stage thanks to the addition of an HD Radio receiver that both serves as an audio source and feeds data to the navigation system.
When selected as an audio source, the FM tuner will automatically select HD Radio reception when an available frequency has been selected. HD Radio stations may carry the advantages of increased audio resolution, multiple digital substations within the same frequency, and enhanced station info and song metadata. When connected to an iPod or iPhone device, the HD Radio receiver can attach an iTunes tag to a playing song, creating an on-device playlist of songs to be downloaded later.
For navigation, the HD Radio receiver serves the secondary function of acting as a receiver for the Total Traffic HD network data service. This Clear Channel service offers a few advantages over standard RDS-TMC FM traffic services, not the least of which is increased data bandwidth that allows the HD Traffic-equipped receiver to pull down traffic-flow and incident updates 10 times faster and much more often than its analog counterpart.
In addition to the increased traffic data resolution, the Total Traffic HD service beams sports scores, weather forecasts, and select news headlines into the dashboard and makes them accessible via the KW-NT3HDT's menus. JVC includes a lifetime subscription to the Total Traffic Network with the purchase of the KW-NT3HDT and there is no setup required. Simply power up and start using it.