The AVN6600's primary navigation and media controls are two strips of hard buttons found along each side of the unit's 6.5-inch TFT widescreen display. We found these buttons a little scattered: most of the audio controls are in a cluster on the left-hand side, while the seek/skip track buttons are found to the right, underneath the navigation buttons. The presence of two identical Menu buttons (one for audio, one for navigation) is useful, but takes some getting used to. We did like that the AVN6600 comes with a one-touch mute function, however.
Iconic navigation system
The AVN6600's DVD-based navigation function is its main selling point. Destinations are entered using a bright, touch-screen keypad, and can be selected using address, previous locations, points of interest (POI), or by moving a crosshair cursor to a desired spot on the map. We particularly liked the unit's many POIs and the small logos displayed to identify commercial businesses--in some cases (such as Target and Home Depot, for example) the logo is that of the store itself.
The AVN6600's "inside-out" method of programming destinations also met with our approval. Rather than entering state, city, street name, and then house number, in that somewhat illogical order, the unit asks for details more conventionally, starting with the destination's house number. Yet the system is accommodating, and can accept information in seemingly any order. Once a destination has been entered, drivers can retrieve precise GPS coordinates or even phone numbers for commercial locations by pressing the Info button on the right-hand side of the screen.
While the resolution of navigation maps on the AVN6600 is lower than that in some factory-installed units we've seen, streets are clearly marked. A useful hold-zoom function allows users to zoom in or out without having to repeatedly press the same button. Another elegant feature is one-touch scrolling, which lets users search a map for a certain destination. Maps can be configured in either full- or split-screen modes, although the lack of resolution and detail when zoomed in can make it difficult to distinguish between the two views.
Perhaps our favorite feature of the navigation system is its virtual run-through of a planned journey. Once a destination and route preferences are programmed, a driver selects the Route Preview button, and then uses the Play, Pause, and Rewind buttons to review the entire trip on the map. When ready for actual navigation, the system provides real-time, turn-by-turn instructions. During route guidance, the system shows distance to destination, estimated time of travel, and compass direction.
Shut your face
The AVN6600 includes a range of multimedia playback options. Audio discs and DVDs are inserted behind the unit's motorized faceplate, which opens following a two-step process. First, press the Open button in the lower left-hand corner of the unit, then make a touch-screen selection for either: opening the faceplate; opening the faceplate and ejecting a CD or DVD; or opening the faceplate and ejecting a navigation disc.
One of the unit's most bizarre design choices is that it doesn't have a dedicated Close button, which makes one wonder: once the screen is open, how does it close? While the screen automatically shuts after a disc is inserted, this is not the case if you want to simply eject a CD or DVD. In this case, the touch-screen "soft" buttons are the tools you'll need. While this isn't a problem when the double-DIN slot is placed low enough in the dash for the driver to see over the flipped-up screen, for some drivers, this will mean a lot of stretching and neck-craning to locate the correct touch-screen button. A button on the screen's bottom (like the one on Pioneer's AVIC Z-1, for example) would have been a far better solution.
Audio customization is definitely one of the unit's strong points. The AVN6600 comes with a built-in amplifier (15 watts RMS x 4 output). Users can select one of five preset digital sound processing (DSP) settings (concert, live, cathedral, club, or theater). If the presets aren't sufficient, a manual EQ screen lets the user adjust the 7-band parametric EQ to preference through a user-friendly virtual mixer. In conjunction with DSP settings, three additional settings allow listeners to optimize output: Loudness, which boosts the high and low frequencies at low volume; TruBass, which increases the bass output; and Harmonizer, which acts to restore some of the sound quality lost in the compression of digital audio files.
Touch-screen controls for video
The third main function of the AVN6600 is playing DVD video. Movies can be viewed only when the vehicle's parking brake is on, unless the head unit is connected to a rear-seat entertainment system and the unit's Dual Play function, which allows two media sources to play simultaneously, is selected. DVDs can be viewed in one of four screen configurations--Normal, Wide 1, Wide 2, or Wide 3--with controls operated via the touch-screen buttons. The touch screen contains all the usual playback controls (play, pause and stop) as well as additional screens for selecting chapters or DVD menu items. The AVN6600 has no remote control, so the touch screen is the only way to manage DVDs--yet after some practice, the controls aren't too difficult to manage. While a DVD is playing, however, a viewer can skip through chapters by pressing the seek/skip hard buttons on the right-hand side of the bezel.
Overall, we got on quite well with the Eclipse AVN6600: after coming to terms with its design deficiencies, we found it a versatile, all-in-one unit with an impressive navigation system and some advanced audio capabilities. Potential buyers should compare it with the AVIC Z-1 and its additional features (including available Bluetooth hands-free calling), which we think gives the AVN6600 a serious run for its money.