For drivers looking to add a huge touch screen to their in-dash audiovisual experience, there are plenty of double-DIN big-screen units. However, not all drivers have space for a tall receiver in their dashboard or want to advertise that they're packing a thousand dollars' worth of audio equipment in their parked car. For these people, there are motorized DVD receivers like the AVH-P6300BT.
This receiver crams a beautiful 7-inch color display into a single-DIN unit that doesn't attract attention or take up tons of space when not in use. However, the addition of moving parts increases the complexity of the in-dash experience and you'll want to keep your hands, the shift knob, and other obstructions out of the motorized screen's path while it's opening and retracting. So is the space savings worth the additional mechanical complexity?
On the face of the AVH-P6300BT you'll find a volume knob that can be pressed like a button to quickly mute audio, a source selection button that doubles as a power button, skip forward and back buttons, an eject button, and a screen open-and-close toggle. On the far right end of the face are the 3.5mm analog audio input and a full-speed USB connection hidden behind a small door. All of these buttons and connections can be accessed whether the screen is open or retracted, so those who want to hide the bright screen for night driving can maintain some audio control. On the bezel of the touch screen are two additional physical buttons for accessing the Menu and a Mode button to toggle the display on and off without retracting.
The bank of physical buttons can be popped off, rendering the unit unusable and exposing an SD card slot. We found removing the detachable panel to be a bit daunting, often sending the faceplate flying into some dark under-seat corner. Replacing the panel was equally frustrating, requiring that we line up two small hidden tabs before locking the faceplate into place. After a few fumbles, we gave up and left it on for the duration of our testing.
The screen itself opens and retracts on a motorized arm that extends several inches out of the chassis of the unit before rotating into an upright position. The receiver will need to be installed so that there is an arc of about 8-10 inches of clearance in front of the mounting position to avoid damaging the screen mechanism. Once it's installed, users can control the angle of orientation (between 50 and 110 degrees from horizontal) and button illumination color (over 100 colors ranging across the entire spectrum).
The 7-inch WQVGA display features a resolution of 480x240 pixels that, while a bit grainy when observed closely, is reasonably crisp for arm's-length viewing and video playback at this screen size. More importantly, the viewing angle approaches 180 degrees, so there shouldn't be a seat from which you can't clearly view the AVH-P6300BT's screen. Touch sensitivity is resistive, so a bit of pressure will be required to register a tap. The advantage here is that the unit's screen can be used while wearing gloves.
Out back are RCA pigtails for analog video and stereo audio inputs, a rear monitor output and a rearview camera input, and 3.5mm connections for audio for the rear monitor, the microphone for the hands-free calling system, and an optional wired remote. A second bank of RCA pigtails includes outputs for four-channel audio output and a discrete stereo subwoofer output. It also has the standard AM/FM antenna connection and the car stereo wiring harness with connections for power, ground, and speaker level outputs. Going unused out of the box are a pair of connections: one is for Pioneer accessories, such as satellite radio or HD Radio receiver, and the other is a dedicated input for an optional Pioneer navigation upgrade (the AVIC-U220, MSRP $439).
Interface and feature set
The touch-screen interface has a few distinct areas of interaction. A bank of virtual buttons across the top edge of the screen features options for source selection, toggling repeat and shuffle modes, EQ and audio settings, a digital clock, and contextual options such as audiobook playback speed. Along the bottom edge of the screen are contextual options for the current audio or video source. Along the right edge are buttons for the phone menu, media search, the options menu, and camera access.
Connecting an iPhone, iPod, or USB mass storage device opens up the USB connection option in the sources list. You can then browse the connected device's media by album, artist, or genre with categories for podcasts, playlists, and audiobooks when an iOS device is connected. When any other mass storage device is connected, you can only browse by folder. At the bottom right corner of the screen a contextual soft key enables iOS users to enter what is called App Mode, which hands control of audio playback over to the iPod or iPhone's screen, allowing a passenger to easily control playback. On video-capable iPods, this mode also allows onscreen playback of video stored on the handset. The same contextual button becomes a Media button, allowing you to toggle between listening to audio, playing DiVX video, and viewing photos (JPEG format only). Photos are displayed as a slideshow that can be manually or automatically advanced and, like any video source, can only be viewed when the vehicle is parked.
In addition to standard local audio playback, connecting an iPhone running iOS 4.1 or newer and the latest version of the Pandora Internet radio application unlocks the Pandora Link service, through which you can control the Pandora Internet radio app from the 96300BT's touch screen. You can browse your preset custom radio stations using the search tab, assign thumbs-up or thumbs-down ratings to songs, skip past the currently playing track, and bookmark songs and artists for later retrieval, all using the touch-screen interface. The app continues to run on the connected iPhone, albeit with its native interface locked out, and the handset's data or Wi-Fi connection is used to stream the audio, so be aware if your data plan has a download cap.
Inserting an SD card filled with MP3s, DivX videos, and JPEGs into the hidden slot opens the SD card source option, which behaves exactly like the USB audio source. Because the slot is a bit tricky to get at, we'd recommend that you load a relatively large SD card with some of your favorite photos and playlists and just leave it in the card slot at all times, functioning as a sort of internal solid-state jukebox and guaranteeing that you'll never be caught without tunes. Loading a CD-R or DVD-R loaded with supported media operates similarly.
Bluetooth pairing is accomplished via a four-digit PIN number that can be customized by the user for additional security. Once connected, the AVH-P6300BT supports hands-free calling using its included microphone and the vehicle's speakers. Calls can be answered or initiated using the touch screen. Phone-book sync gives you access to all of the numbers stored on the paired handset. However, no voice command is available, so you will be scrolling through a list of contacts using the touch screen. Fortunately, an alphabetical search button in the upper right corner of the phone book screen enables you to quickly jump to the initial letter of a contact by swiping across an alphabetical index. Missing from the Bluetooth suite of services is A2DP audio streaming, so owners of BlackBerry and Android devices will need to use the analog audio connection.
At an MSRP of $839, the Pioneer AVH-P6300BT is a solid in-dash DVD playback option for drivers who are short on in-dash space or want a stealthy installation. It has all of the connections that you'll need to output video and audio to a rear-seat entertainment system, very good iPod/iPhone integration (especially useful for heavy Pandora Internet radio listeners), and enough expandability to keep you from feeling locked in with its feature set.
Speaking of expandability, the option to add navigation to the P6300BT's feature set is nice, but the cost is an additional $439 above the unit's MSRP, making it a rather pricey choice. However, if you're looking to eventually grab navigation and you have the space for a double-DIN unit, we recommend that you save a few bucks and look at Pioneer's own AVIC-X920BT, which has a similar feature set with the addition of voice command for navigation. You'll lose an inch of screen real estate, but we're sure that you won't miss it.