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A year ago, we sung the praises of the Pioneer AVIC Z-1 for its ability to pack GPS navigation, video, digital audio, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and a hard drive into a single aftermarket device. In a kind of Moore's Law for car stereos, we find ourselves a year later looking at a device that packs even more features into a device that is about half the size. JVC's KD-NX5000 is a stylish, hard drive-based head unit equipped with nearly every entertainment and information feature that drivers could wish for. With 40GB of built-in storage (10 more than the Z-1) and a bright, 3.5-inch color LCD screen, the KD-NX5000 comes with integrated GPS navigation (with optional real-time traffic service) and a wealth of media options. Although its compact size can impede the usability of its navigation function, the KD-NX5000 is a serious contender for those looking for a capable, all-in-one car tech system.
The most striking design feature of the KD-NX5000 is the integrated 3.5-inch color LCD screen built into its front faceplate. The depth of its screen makes the unit tricky to install in standard single DIN-sized slots (on most cars, you'll have to take off the surround bracket to fit it in), but its bright, high-resolution display allows the system to offer a usable navigation system.
Once they've installed the unit, drivers have to go through a "calibration" process (driving around at over 25mph), which syncs up the system's GPS module with a minimum number of satellites. With the unit calibrated, entering destinations from the map screen's menu can be done in a variety of ways: punching in an address, GPS coordinates, or the name of a point of interest; using the onscreen keypad; entering a phone number; or selecting from a list of previous or preset destinations.
The KD-NX5000's 16GB hard drive-based navigation system contains 13 million points of interest (POI) with maps provided by Navteq. Destinations must be entered by using hard buttons on the faceplate or by using the system's remote control. We found the process of letter-by-letter destination entry somewhat labor-intensive, although the predictive address feature saved us from a lot of unnecessary button pushing. We were particularly impressed by the predictive phone-number entry: we had only to type in the California area code and first three digits of the number for CNET's corporate headquarters in San Francisco before the system gave us the address we wanted.
One of the most remarkable design features of the KD-NX5000 is the way that it manages to incorporate so many features without having a faceplate packed with buttons. To achieve this economy, many controls rely on the user pressing the same buttons to access multiple layers of selection. For example, pressing the Map button on the left hand-dial while in A/V mode will change the screen to show the map, while pressing it repeatedly on the map screen will change the perspective from a 2D overhead view with heading up, to a 3D birds-eye view, to a 2D view with north up.
Another example of multilevel control is the shortcut menu, which can be called up by pressing the Enter button while on the map screen. This brings up four icons, which can be used to mark a location on the map as a favorite, get information about a particular point on the map, select a category for quick guidance to a nearby point of interest, or set the destination as a preprogrammed Home address. When selecting a POI, the system gives a comprehensive list of the location's details, including phone number--a very useful feature for drivers who want to call ahead before setting out, for example, to a restaurant.
Map renderings are nowhere near as crisp as those of other OEM and double-DIN aftermarket systems we have seen. Adding to the vagueness of the maps is the fact that the zoom function's smallest scale is about the size of three or four city blocks, which is a pain when trying to navigate in built-up areas. Accordingly, the navigation function on the KD-NX5000 is likely to be used for general highway guidance rather than pinpoint wayfaring.
When guiding drivers to a destination, the system gives voice prompts for distance to and direction of upcoming turns. Holding the button when in voice-guidance mode will repeat the last command--a feature that we like to see on navigation systems. Voice guidance can be tailored to the driver's preference with options to select male or female prompts, the required output channel (left speakers, right speakers, or both), and whether music is muted or just attenuated during spoken directions.
The KD-NX5000 has another advanced navigation feature in the form of a subscription-based real-time traffic information service from Navteq. With the service activated, traffic information can be called up at any time by pressing a button on the right-hand corner of the faceplate. A setting in the navigation menu enables drivers to set the system to automatically reroute as needed to bypass traffic.
If the KD-NX5000's navigation functionality is somewhat limited, its breadth of audio and video media capabilities is undeniably impressive. The system plays audio and video files from both CDs and DVDs, as well as video, DivX-encoded video (MPEG1 and MPEG2 formats), JPGs, and MP3, WMA, and WAV audio files from recordable/rewritable CDs and recordable/rewritable DVDs. One observation we made when playing discs was that both the discs and the head unit got extremely hot, perhaps due to our test unit being a preproduction model, but a noteworthy point.
For all these formats, there is an equally impressive range of preconfigured EQ settings--including dance, country, reggae, classic, hard rock, pop, and jazz--plus three, user-configured EQ memory settings. In addition, there are separate controls for subwoofer output, amp power, and fader/balance.
For MP3 digital audio, the screen displays full ID3-tag information for folder, track, and artist. Folder lists can be displayed by holding down the up and down arrows on the right-hand dial. A feature that we particularly liked is the system's ability to display browsable still pictures, which they call BSPs, from DVD-Audio discs on the color screen (see the image of the Beatle's Love album in the gallery). If there is more than one of these graphics, then users can cycle thorough to choose the one they want to see.
The KD-NX5000's built-in hard drive is one of its major attractions, as it enables drivers to compile their own media libraries, eliminating the need to bring stacks of CDs on the road. Audiophiles can rip CDs to the hard drive using JVC's Lossless Encoder, which maintains original CD quality, while those wanting to cram in as many songs as possible can store files in compressed format. JVC estimates that the KD-NX5000 has enough capacity for 6,000 songs.
Ripping audio discs to the library is a straightforward procedure: An option in the A/V menus allows drivers to copy the current track, all tracks, or a specific track of their choice. The copying process for one track takes about 10 seconds, during which time the playback of the track is paused as the hard drive imports the file. When an MP3 or WMA file is copied to the hard drive, the system also copies over all the ID3-tag information, which is then displayed when the track is played back from the hard drive. As with the navigation of files on discs, the hard drive music can be navigated using the List function, accessible from the menu, which enables users to search music by genre, album, or track. When in audio playback mode, the Source menu enables users to access and organize the tracks saved to the hard drive.
Once a file is copied to the library, users can use the Title Entry function to tag and edit songs according to genre, title, and track name. While this is a useful feature, we found the process of entering letters via the four-way dial and the Enter button very time consuming. Those wishing to catalog 24GB of music in this way had better set aside a couple of months for the task.
We are used to watching video on our iPods, but we must admit to being skeptical of the realistic prospects of watching a video on a screen this small from the distance of the driver's seat; in practice, we found these misgivings to be unfounded. In Full 16:9 screen configuration (there are also settings for Regular and Auto aspect ratios), movies on the KD-NX5000's display are remarkably clear.
The easiest way to control the video function of the system is via the included remote control, which enables users to play, pause, skip forward and back, and adjust all screen menus with the dedicated buttons. In keeping with the design of the head unit, which packs loads of features into a limited amount of real estate, the remote has a sliding panel that gives access to controls for each of the stereo's different functions, while a button for Top Menu and a four-way keypad give users an intuitive interface for controlling videos.
In an indication of the sheer number of features on the KD-NX5000, its instruction manual runs to 119 pages. For those tech junkies who want more connectivity and entertainment options than those offered in the base unit, the KD-NX5000 can be hooked up to add-on modules for iPod control, Sirius Satellite Radio, and Bluetooth hands-free calling. While its irregular size, complex menus, and rough navigation maps leave something to be desired, the KD-NX5000 is about as much car tech per square foot as you can get. It will be available in mid-February this year.