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When we last saw JVC's El Kameleon car audio receiver, we awarded it our Editors' Choice award for its innovative interface and expandability. However, we wished that the unit featured a touch screen instead of a touch pad.
With the new El Kameleon KD-AVX77, we get our wish. The new El Kameleon features a superwide touch screen that fills up its entire single-DIN faceplate. But is a bigger screen always better?
The superwide screen is awkward for DVD playback, but allows for a fantastic level of customization. You can download custom backgrounds, adjust text and button color and design, and even customize the virtual button layout.
The KD-AVX77 is a single DIN unit with a detachable faceplate. The face is almost completely devoid of physical controls, featuring only a Power/Attenuate button at the top right corner and a button to eject the faceplate at the lower right corner.
The rest of the KD-AVX77's faceplate is occupied by a 5.4-inch superwide (3.32:1 aspect ratio) touch-screen display with a resolution of 800 pixels by 240 pixels. Frankly, a screen this wide is of limited use for displaying DVD movies, because very few DVDs are encoded in a supercinemascope aspect ratio. As a result, movies viewed on the KD-AVX77's screen end up cropped, stretched, or just scaled down with black borders.
The display features a proximity sensor that can be used to, for example, pop up the hidden onscreen controls when your hand approaches the screen during DVD playback. The system can be set to hide the interface buttons by default or black out the inactive screen and respond to proximity or touch.
However, where the El Kameleon's touch screen comes into its own is with the customizable interface. You are able to choose different backgrounds, and virtual button layouts. The KD-AVX77 also features touch gestures for basic commands, such as swirling a finger to quickly raise or lower the volume or swiping horizontally to skip back or forward.
The KD-AVX77 El Kameleon fits into a standard single-DIN space that many vehicles reserve for car stereos. Basic installation involves making the standard wiring harness connections for power, speakers, etc. Video playback is only enabled when the vehicle is parked, so the e-brake signal lead must be tapped during installation. Additionally, the USB cable pigtail must be routed, as well as the microphone for hands-free calling.
Audio RCA preamp outputs, for stereo front and rear and dedicated center channel and subwoofer outputs, allow for the use of external amplifiers for 5.1 surround sound. A video output and a secondary stereo RCA output allow for the connection of external monitors or a rear-seat entertainment system. A video input either works in conjunction with a reverse-gear signal lead to connect an optional rearview camera, or in conjunction with a stereo RCA line input to add an external video player. Finally, an OE remote input allows for the use of some vehicles' steering wheel switchgear, with the addition of an optional control box.
The KD-AVX77's multiple AV inputs and outputs and the AM/FM radio antenna input are all on pigtails and cannot be removed from the device, which means that even if you're not using a ton of input and output options, you'll have a lot of cables to cram behind the unit, so make sure you have enough clearance to allow for adequate cooling.
The JVC KD-AVX77 features an AM/FM radio tuner and a single disc DVD/CD player behind its motorized faceplate. The optical drive supports MP3, WMA, WAV, and AAC digital audio playback. DVD playback features Dolby Digital 5.1 surround capability, but only if external amps are used for at least the center and subwoofer channels, as the internal amplifier has only four audio channels.
Around back, a USB cable pigtail allows for the connection of USB storage devices and digital media players, including iPods and iPhones. The unit can control and browse media using the onscreen controls, or relinquish control to the connected iPod while maintaining the digital signal using the passenger control mode. Out of the box, you can play back audio, such as podcasts and audiobooks, but not video. However, with an optional iPod video interface cable, you can unlock video playback.
An internal Bluetooth wireless connection allows for the connection of cell phones for hand-free calling or Bluetooth-enabled media players for A2DP audio streaming.
The KD-AVX77 El Kameleon's internal amplifier outputs 20 watts into four channels (RMS) with a peak output of 50 watts per channel, which is fairly standard for an aftermarket unit these days.
Audio quality can be adjusted with a seven band EQ with 12 presets (3 of which are user customizable), as well as standard fader/balance adjustment, subwoofer level adjustment, and high-pass and low-pass filter adjustments. The internal amplifier can be set to high power or low power--the latter is a good setting for sound without destroying OEM speakers.
Hands-free calling sounds good with the external microphone mounted near the driver's head and audio coming through the vehicle's speakers. Calls weren't completely devoid of road noise in our Chevrolet Aveo test vehicle, but callers were able to clearly hear what we were saying.
Navigating the digital media library on a connected iPod using the touch-screen interface wasn't as intuitive as the dial-based system on some of the Alpine systems that we've tested, but we were able to sort through our Artists, Albums, and Podcasts rather quickly. The interface displays six options at a time that you can scroll through using a horizontal scroll bar along the bottom of the List screen. Touch a location on the scroll bar to jump to that point in the library, which makes it very easy to get to the end of a long list of artist quite quickly.
The gesture controls could be quite useful, if they worked consistently. We had a hard time getting the unit to quickly increase or decrease volume with finger swirl gesture. Fortunately, onscreen buttons for these controls are usually available.
The JVC KD-AVX77 is a marked improvement over the previous generation El Kameleon unit (the KD-AVX44). The larger screen doesn't add anything to the DVD-viewing experience, as it is still too small for extended viewing, but the customizable interface is quite cool. We especially like that the speed of the iPod/iPhone interface has been greatly increased, but the user interface is still too clunky and requires the you too jump through too many screens to complete simple tasks like changing the playlist.
The expandability and flexibility of the KD-AVX77 makes this a great receiver for system builders looking to build stealthy in-car multimedia systems without a big double-DIN screen in the dashboard. However, anyone who doesn't plan on taking advantage of the KD-AVX77's expandability will probably find simpler, easier-to-use interfaces elsewhere.