Following the replacement of the original radio in the Delica, I upgraded to the Pioneer AVH-P5900DVD with iPod connectivity. This is marketed by Halfords as a “made for iPod” unit, though their website erroneously stated that the necessary CD-I200 cable is not included. Installation was sufficiently simple that it was done in the Halfords car park in a matter of minutes, and as such with a wallet £519 lighter (web price at the time of purchase, now available between £470 and £600 online), I was able to enjoy AV in the Delica again. However; comparisons with the Ripspeed DV920i are inevitable, and they aren’t all in the Pioneer’s favour…
Initially, as with nearly all of the retractable-display style of 1-DIN headunits, the Pioneer front end is somewhat of a disappointment. As well as protruding significantly from the dashboard, the single-line VFD display looks cheap and inefficient besides the sort of high-end headunits you may have considered previously, and the simple control layout of five buttons and a volume control looks downright restrictive. Unlike many, the Pioneer does not come with a remote control – the appropriate model is relatively inexpensive, but not actively marketed by high street retailers like Halfords, meaning you will need to go online to find one.
For those of you worried about theft, the front panel is detachable – though this does little more than leave a prospective thief in no doubt as to what is installed in your car, with the edge of the LCD display clearly visible. The front panel is coded to the car stereo, but I cannot help wondering if the designers would do better to come up with “hidden” versions – I would like to see a system similar to Kenwood’s “MASK” faceplate, with a normal radio interface on one side which can rotate or drop to allow the screen to emerge from the head unit. Given the thickness of technology like the iPod touch, this is not impossible.
Installation of the unit is otherwise conventional, with the usual provisions of DIN cage or screw mounts, a fascia trim for cars which can use it, ISO connectors and AV in, out and parking camera terminals. RCA pre-outs are provided for front, rear and subwoofer. The only caveat for the home installer is the presence of the “park sensor” wire – in this case, as a reputable manufacturer they do not provide an option to ignore it in the menus, and an unscrupulous installer may be tempted to short it out on the car chassis, which does work. Naturally for the safety of the driver and other road users, a professional installer will have to connect this to the handbrake to ensure DVD/video functions are not going to distract the driver.
Once installed, the user interface presented is a clear, and well designed initial layout with multiple colour “themes” (the buttons may also be illuminated in blue or red). Clarity appears to be at the cost of “efficient” use of the screen display when using primary functions however – and what information there is is not always displayed well. Radio setup is quick and easy, with exceptional reception compared to the cheaper Ripspeed unit, and Radio Text is clearly interpreted and displayed in a series of memo pages. Interestingly the ability to use the RDS “CT” or Clock Time function is not implemented, meaning you must manually set the time – for 21st Century technology, this is surprisingly 1970s. The choice of themes available consists of 8 colours and 3 background patterns, of which I favour the grid layout seen in my screenshots.
The DVD drive allows the use of CDs, CD-Rs, MP3 CDs and DVDs, and DVDs containing DiVX encoded video as well as traditional DVD content. Using the “advanced” media functions is somewhat irritating – MP3 CDs contain little enough information that the simplistic user interface is not a barrier to efficient browsing, but 4.7GB of files is asking a bit much of it. For some reason it seemed unwilling to play back multiple DiVX files on a disk, and I need to go back and explore this issue thoroughly. When it accepted a movie, the nearest comparison I can think of is watching it on a slightly larger Sony PSP – this may be coloured by the fact that the source was an encoded version of Totoro produced to watch on the aforementioned device!
DVD playback is of tolerable quality given the low resolutions provided on all these displays (despite the availability of 800 x 480 displays in this format with touch screens, nearly every automotive DVD display I have seen works at very low resolution of 480 x 234, or as many technical specifications like to claim, 336,960 “pixels”. Pioneer’s new AVH-7800DVD does feature a higher resolution display), and CD playback is perfectly acceptable, with the 4 x 50W output actually resulting in decent volume with good quality despite the Delica’s factory (and 12 year old) speakers. It is comfortable, at speed, at around 2/3rd maximum volume, leaving plenty of headroom for quieter tracks, and suggesting improved speakers would yield very respectable performance.
Of course, the primary reason I favour this class of headunit is not the ability to play CDs well – I can do that for a fraction of the cost – or indeed, watch DVDs on a large, but cellphone-resolution, display. It is the ability to safely control an iPod (or iPhone – it works, despite a warning, and will smoothly mute the music for an incoming call. Use a bluetooth headset and this is a surprisingly effective alternative to a car kit! The iPhone’s SSD storage and smaller capacity results in faster playlist access, too) using large, friendly control surfaces and in depth interfaces. Given the Ripspeed’s surprisingly good performance, I had very high hopes for the Pioneer – although Halfords had conveniently left the iPod cable disconnected, so I was unable to test the interface before purchase. This, out of everything with the Pioneer that offers, would prove to be the biggest disappointment.