Sony XAV-A1 A/V center
Sony's XAV-A1 looks like an ordinary in-dash CD player until you press a button and a motorized panel slides out and up to reveal a 7-inch LCD monitor. The XAV-A1 supports nearly every popular media format, including DVD Video, DVD±R/RW, Video CD, Audio CD, and CD-R/RW. It plays MP3 audio files, displays JPEG slide shows, and has three auxiliary connectors for optional devices such as a TV tuner, a rear camera, and a gaming console. It also has a dedicated XM radio connector and a breakout box. If four 50-watt channels aren't enough to rattle your windshield, the unit has outputs for four amplified (preamp) channels plus a subwoofer. Other than its steep price, our only gripe with the Sony XAV-A1 is the lack of native support for GPS mapping.
Touch the screen
The unit's centerpiece is a retractable 7-inch active-matrix touch-screen display with a resolution of 480x234 (336,960 pixels) and a 16:9 aspect ratio for watching DVD movies in wide-screen mode. It impressed us: colors looked vibrant, and the overall picture quality was very good when viewed from an extreme angle--a key feature, since most units are mounted in the center of the dash and viewed at an angle, from the driver and passenger seats. Even in the brightest light, the screen remained sharp. It's important to note that the Sony XAV-A1 has a built-in safety feature that disables video playback and other touch-screen controls unless the vehicle's parking brake is set.
Three buttons along the display's lower bezel adjust the tilt of the LCD and slide the whole panel forward and backward for optimal viewing. A fourth switches the front and rear outputs, offering quick zone control. For example, the driver might listen up front to audio from the radio or the CD player while rear-seat passengers watch a movie on a remote screen. The fifth button selects audio or video sources. Two buttons on the top bezel open and retract the monitor and tilt it forward.
Many playback sources
You can use the responsive touch-screen and onscreen controls to adjust DVD- and CD playback, JPEG viewing, and other audio and video options. Alternately, you can use the included wireless remote. A single tap on the touch screen brings up an onscreen menu with access to settings screens for each source (CD/DVD, Tuner, TV, Auxiliary). While in DVD mode, you can adjust brightness and contrast levels, set audio properties for the DVD player, and select the aspect ratio for viewing movies. The Sony XAV-A1 has a built-in equalizer with seven presets, and you can create and store your preferences for each mode of play. The screen doesn't have to be open while you're using the radio or CD player, but if it is, it displays all available tracks and lets you choose them via the touch screen if you don't want sequential play. The player also provides shuffle and repeat commands and displays ID3-tag information when playing MP3 files. The XAV-A1 stores up to 18 FM and 12 AM radio stations or 18 VHF/UHF TV channels if you're using a TV-tuner box.
Control buttons on the removable faceplate include Volume, Seek, Eject, Source, and Off, all of which surround a smallish panel that displays the time and the current audio track or radio station. All buttons on the XAV-A1 are backlit in blue and easy to read under any lighting condition. We like the inclusion of an auxiliary input on the front of the unit, which makes it easy to connect to a video camera or an external audio device without having to grope under the dash for an available input cable. But while you can use the auxiliary input to display mapping information from a GPS unit, the XAV-A1 doesn't include native support, so you won't be able to control navigation via its touch screen.
The XAV-A1 ships with mounting hardware and in-line taps for connecting to various power and accessory leads. A comprehensive user manual and an installation guide with wiring diagrams comes in the box, but Sony recommends having a professional install the unit--and we agree. You also get a hard-shell carrying case for the faceplate and an input cable for the front A/V port. Sony covers the XAV-A1 with its two-year parts-and-labor warranty, which provides for repair or replacement of the unit.
Obviously, Sony's XAV-A1 A/V center is a luxury accessory and may not be practical for some. But if you want to turn the family wagon into a full-blown entertainment center on wheels, it's worth every penny.