Despite a few forays into the world of turn-by-turn navigation and two generations of Nav-U portable GPS devices, Sony simply isn't a manufacturer that comes immediately to mind when most of us think "navigation." Instead most think of a brand like TomTom for GPS, associating Sony with nice displays or crisp PlayStation-esque graphics. Rather than fighting this brand perception, Sony embraces it with the XNV-770BT in-dash AV/GPS receiver.
This all-in-one receiver plays to its strengths and outsources its perceived weaknesses with an external TomTom GPS module that fills its crisp 7-inch Sony video display with the full TomTom navigation experience. It's a novel approach that keeps Sony from having to reinvent the wheel with its own turn-by-turn software and provides users with a familiar interface.
Hardware and installation
The XNV-770BT sticks to the established double-DIN car audio receiver standard, its motorized front panel dominated by a large 7-inch LCD. This is an absolutely gorgeous display. At 800x480 pixels (WVGA), the XNV-770BT features a much higher resolution than we're used to seeing nestled in our test vehicle's dashboard. Menus and audio-source information screens are rendered extremely crisply. However, with only standard-definition video inputs, this ultrahigh resolution seems like a bit of overkill, but the screen resolution is almost perfect for 480p-encoded DVD video. Either way, we'd rather have too many pixels available than too few.
The display features resistive touch sensitivity, requiring a firm press of the finger to register, and is responsive enough to register finger swipes. While the majority of user interactions will take place on the touch screen, the XNV-770BT does feature a few physical controls along the bottom edge of its screen's bezel for volume up and down, source selection, and the oddly labeled "Top," which takes you to the main menu.
Behind the motorized panel is the single-slot DVD/CD optical drive. Unlike many all-in-one units that we've tested, there is no SD card slot for media playback or updating the GPS maps. However, Sony has an interesting approach to supplying the latter of these functions.
During installation, an external TomTom GPS module and cradle are installed in a user-accessible location (such as the back of the glove compartment or in the footwell). The module serves as the brain and processing unit for the Sony unit's navigation functions, displaying an interface identical to TomTom's portable navigation devices on the XNV-770BT's touch screen. The GPS module can be removed from its cradle, connected to a computer using a USB connection, and updated using TomTom's Home software. Once updates are complete, you can just pop the GPS unit back into its cradle and resume navigation. The 770BT will function without the GPS unit in place, but navigation will be unavailable until the module is connected.
Depending on the particulars of your installation, an external magnetic GPS antenna may provide enhanced positioning sensitivity, while a vehicle speed sensor connection helps in vehicle tracking when the satellite signal becomes inconsistent.
Also placed during installation is an external dashboard or sun visor-mounted microphone that allows you to make hands-free calls. This microphone connects to the 770BT's back panel, which is home to a plethora of connection points for wire harnesses and audiovisual inputs, outputs, and pigtails. All in, there are two video/audio inputs, one video output, two stereo audio outputs, a monaural subwoofer output, a single USB connection, a dedicated input for a rearview camera (not included), and a bus connection for an external satellite radio tuner (also not included). These connections can be configured in dozens of ways to support whatever equipment you may want to use. For example, an included 30-pin dock connector can bridge the USB port and one of the video inputs to allow for iPod video playback.
The receiver also ships with a small infrared remote control.
As do-it-yourself car stereo installations go, the Sony XNV-770BT is of moderate difficulty. You will be required to drill to mount the external GPS module's cradle, route connections for the external microphone and GPS antenna, and tap the vehicle's speedometer and parking brake sensors, as well as make the standard connections for power, ground, speakers, and (if available) external amplification.