The XAV-W1 is Sony's first in-dash audiovisual media player and it looks set to raise the bar in the aftermarket car tech segment. The system's WVGA LCD display is one of the brightest, clearest, best-rendered screens we have ever seen on any in-car video display. In addition to its stunning visual reproduction and well-designed menu structures, the XAV-W1 supports a large number of media sources as standard, and has a good range of expandability options.
Like other in-dash video systems such as the Eclipse AVN5510 and the Panasonic Strada CN-NVD905U, the XAV-W1 has a very simple faceplate design. With just five hard buttons along the bottom of the bezel, the system maximizes the amount of screen real estate in the double-DIN-size slot, and for most functions, the XAV-W1 relies on "soft" touch-screen buttons. However, in contrast with some other touch-screen devices, the XAV-W1's menu structure is extremely intuitive, with drivers given the choice of just three buttons on the top menu screen. Adding to the system's ease of use is the outstanding resolution of the display and the crisp menu buttons of the onscreen menus.
The XAV-W1 supports a wide range of audio formats including Red Book CDs, MP3 and WMA discs, and Sony's Super Audio CDs (SACD), all of which make use of the system's single disc slot behind its drop-down motorized faceplate. With external modules, the system can also be used to pick up satellite and HD Radio, and to play music from iPods.
The XAV-W1's source list includes six options: tuner, disc, aux (via one of the three AV RCA inputs on the back of the system), CD changer, iPod, and satellite radio. (The latter three sources require additional Sony modules.) To our disappointment, unlike Sony's most recent single-DIN stereos, the XAV-W1 does not come with either a generic line-in auxiliary input jack or a USB port, meaning that drivers are restricted in the number of portable devices they can attach to the system.
With any of these audio sources selected, the system responds with a pop-up menu that makes use of a dynamic, Flash-based animation, which adds to the system's visual appeal. When playing disc-based audio, the bottom quarter of the display becomes a touchable control panel with the major controls (such as play, pause, and skip) permanently visible. With an MP3 disc in, the driver is given a crisp readout of ID3 tag information for track, album, and artist, while the bottom control panel includes a dedicated button for skipping between albums in addition to the track-skip buttons.
When playing compressed digital audio discs, the XAV-W1 provides a useful means of navigating audio tracks via its List function, which displays the titles of five folders or five tracks at a time. A single-touch scrolling button allows drivers to skip through long lists of tracks quickly--a feature that we particularly like when navigating large disc-based libraries. However, one of the few criticisms we have of the system is that drivers can't browse other tracks or albums on a disc without stopping the playback of the current track, meaning that you just have to sit there in silence while you search for your chosen music.
For our test of the XAV-W1, we attached Sony's XT-100HD module, which gave us HD Radio reception. The first thing that we have to note is that the XT-100HD is very difficult to install in a car's dashboard. The module is wider than a standard DIN slot, and so it must be inserted diagonally into the stereo opening, and even then, it is so voluminous that it is extremely difficult to find a place for it--and the stereo itself--inside the dash.
With the module finally installed, we were able to use the XAV-W1 to pick up HD Radio stations: an HD icon appears in place of the satellite radio icon on the main source screen to inform drivers that the tuner is correctly connected. As with other HD Radio receivers, it takes a few seconds for the XAV-W1 to lock onto the HD signal from a specific FM radio station. With the HD signal detected, the screen displays information on channel name, song title, and artist title; users are also given the chance to browse any multicast HD channels on a single frequency.
The XAV-W1's video quality is superb thanks to its 7-inch WGVA screen, which reproduces DVDs and video CDs with vivid clarity. We like the fact that we were able to access the DVD's top menu with just two button pushes and were then able to navigate our way around with ease thanks to an onscreen keypad. As with the system's audio output, there are an impressive number of options for customizing video playback, with a picture EQ setting enabling viewers to choose between one of four preset visual settings (dynamic, theater, sepia, normal), or to tweak the picture to their own preferences by deciding how "warm" or "cool" the image should be.
Aside from its ability to play SACD audio, Sony's XAV-W1 has the same features as many other aftermarket in-car systems, including support for a wide range of digital audio and video sources. The XAV-W1 differentiates itself, however, by its ability to present these features in a visually stunning format; by its intuitive menus and vivid touch-screen icons; and through its range of audio and visual customization options. While we found Sony's HD Radio module to be clunky and unwieldy, the $800 XAV-W1 is an elegant all-in-one in-car media system with a competitive price tag.