When we got the JVC KD-NX5000 in for review earlier this year, we were so impressed with the single-DIN navigation/multimedia device that we slapped a CNET Editors' Choice on it. Now JVC Mobile is following the release of this year's "hero" product with a couple of other in-dash devices that make use of the same design. With its bright, 3.5-inch color LCD display, the KD-AVX33 boasts many of the same multimedia capabilities as its navigation-enabled cousin. While it doesn't have a built-in hard drive a la the KD-NX5000, the KD-AVX33 comes with a range of media playback options including an as-standard USB port, support for Bluetooth audio streaming as well as the ability to play compressed audio codecs such as MP3, WMA, and WAV.
The KD-AVX33 owes its good looks to the simplicity of its faceplate design. As its primary control, the system features a four-way D-pad similar to that of the KD-PDR30 and KD-HDR1 and identical to the control pad on the front of the KD-NX5000. The main interface is surrounded by a few small (we think too small) dedicated hard buttons for making and ending phone calls, changing sources, and calling up the main AV menu.
Nearly all of the remainder of the system's faceplate real estate is taken up by its full color 3.5-inch display, which, while smaller than that of nearly every other in-dash video system on the market, enables the KD-AVX33 to get away with being a single-DIN sized stereo. (Installers should note, however, that they will have to take off the DIN-slot's frame to fit the system in, as it is slightly larger than other single-DIN systems). As with the KD-NX5000, we are impressed with the clarity of the screen, but as we explain below, the lack of hard-button controls combined with its wide range of features means the device has to rely on complex menu structures. We would love to see the display upgraded to a touch screen in future models.
The KD-AVX33 is a feature-packed multimedia device. In addition to its support for a range of disc-based audio (CDs, MP3 WMA and WAV-encoded discs, and DVD audio), the stereo has an as-standard USB 2.0 port for playing digital audio files directly from thumb drives or USB-enabled MP3 players, and the ability to stream music via Bluetooth from A2DP-enabled devices. For video, it supports DVD, DivX, and MPEG 1 and 2 formats as well as external devices via video-in RCA connectors.
In addition to these as-standard features, the KD-AVX33 comes with plenty of expandability options with four sets of 5-volt preamp outputs and a gold-plated video output. Audio output at 20 watts per channel comes via the device's 24-bit digital-to-audio converter, and audiophiles are given the choice of two settings (music or movie) for the system's built-in 5.1-channel Dolby ProLogic II decoder. Nine preconfigured EQ presets and three user-programmable settings programmed via a seven-band equalizer give drivers plenty of options for tweaking acoustic output to their own liking.
For communications, the KD-AVX33 comes with a built-in Bluetooth receiver for making hands-free calls while driving. And for paired phones that support the relevant Bluetooth profile, the KD-AVX33 can also display incoming text messages on its screen in a similar way to the JVC KD-BT1.
When playing back digital audio files, the display shows information for album, track, and artist and provides a useful guide to what's playing. Drivers can skip tracks and folders one at a time by using the four-way dial, but the system takes longer than we would like (about 7 seconds) to display the new tag information for each song. We are also a little disappointed with the browsing functionality of the KD-AVX33. While it is possible to view digital audio libraries, users cannot get there very easily from the default CD playback screen.
Rather than a one-touch means of getting from the track information screen to a list of tracks on a disc or external media device, the KD-AVX33 requires users to go back to the main menu, navigate to the List feature using the dial, and press Enter. The display then shows a list of folders on a given disc/device, which drivers can then browse and select using the dial and enter buttons. We would prefer a one-touch means of displaying song libraries. Another gripe we have with the navigation of audio files is the system's time delay when skipping between audio sources. When switching between disc and USB music, for example, it takes around 10 seconds for the new source to begin playing, and a further 10 seconds for the display to show complete tag information. This is lost valuable time when you are sitting at the stop light trying to select your next tune.
On a more positive note, we are impressed by the video function of the KD-AVX33. Its small, 3.5-inch screen delivers iPhone-like clarity and picture crispness making it possible to watch an entire movie without getting eye strain. We are also impressed with the quality of the KD-AVX33's built-in Bluetooth hands-free calling interface. Pairing a phone to the system is a straightforward procedure, requiring users simply to activate the system's Bluetooth receiver and choose a PIN code, and then to search for the stereo with their phone.
Call quality--both outbound via the external microphone and inbound through the car's speakers--is generally good and we like the dedicated call button, which enabled us to answer calls with one touch. Once paired with a phone, the KD-AVX33 copies over all phone book entries (up to 5,000 contacts) and call information, enabling users to access and call contacts via the dial menu.
If your phone supports voice dialing, then the KD-AVX33 can also be used to initiate spoken call commands, although we had trouble making ourselves understood--perhaps the fault of our Samsung T619-SCH's less-than-stellar voice-command system.
The JVC KD-AVX33 is a stylish, feature-rich in-dash multimedia and communications device. We are impressed with the number of audio and video sources it supports as well as with its as-standard Bluetooth hands-free calling features. While its video display is perhaps the smallest on the market, it redeems itself with crystal clear image quality. The main disadvantage of the clean, stylish faceplate design is that drivers have to negotiate a convoluted menu structure to browse digital audio files, a problem that is exacerbated by a slow screen-refresh rate when skipping between sources and tracks. At $500 to $600, the KD-AVX33 is not a steal, but its compact design, high-quality audio and video reproduction, and wide range of as-standard features will endear it to those looking for a compact, cutting-edge in-dash multimedia player.