Pioneer Electronic’s dash-mounted DVD navigation system can lead you to your next destination and entertain you once you’re there.
By Jim Brightly
Have you ever stopped for fuel and then pulled back on the highway going the wrong way? My wife does it all the time. While she loves traveling and seeing new sights, and enjoys meeting new friends (strangers, to her, are merely friends she hasn’t met yet), she admittedly has no sense of direction. She can, quite literally, pull off an eastbound interstate for fuel, fill the tank, make a pit stop, grab a cup of coffee — triple cream, no sugar — and pull back onto the interstate heading west.
Earlier this year, I had to return to our Colorado home from a vacation in Southern California a week earlier than she did. This left her at the mercy of her less-than-reliable sense of direction, desert weather in June, and stops for diesel fuel along the route. It also gave her the opportunity to test Pioneer Electronics’ new combination DVD-based entertainment and navigation system, the AVIC-90DVD. The unit ended up being a godsend to her on a solo trip.
Since the vehicle’s air conditioner worked perfectly and finding diesel fuel along the interstates is no longer a problem, only the combination of her sense of direction and the new navigation system concerned us. We worried needlessly.
Pioneer did its homework when it developed the AVIC-90DVD, and it shows in the finished product. All my wife had to do before embarking on her 800-plus-mile journey was to register our home address into the system. Unfortunately, our hometown is not among the more than 13,250 cities in the United States and Canada that are mapped in detail within the AVIC-90DVD’s database. Just the town itself is listed, so she entered the name of our town as her registered home address. With this information keyed into the navigation system’s computer, all she had to do was use the on-screen menus and the remote control to tell the system that she wished to “Return Home.” (Another option would have been to use the system’s voice control feature, but she felt more comfortable using the remote.)
However, I’m getting ahead of myself. We installed the unit in a Ford truck. The dashboard is more or less a corporate design, so installing the system into a Ford type C motorhome is pretty much identical to this one. The installation process in a type A motorhome, bus conversion, or other vehicle will be different, but not much. Here’s a word of warning for do-it-yourselfers: unless you are extremely adept at installing complex electrical components, this is not a project to be attempted at home or in a campsite. An experienced and knowledgeable technician should perform the installation. Even with such a person tackling the work, our installation took 10 hours. Admittedly, one of the cable looms was crushed after being shipped from the factory, which had to be traced and replaced, but the job normally would have been scheduled for eight hours.
The truck’s seats and dash were removed during installation, but in a type A motorhome, the system’s components likely would be located in an overhead cabinet, adjacent to the VCR and TV input switching box, rather than under the seats. This location also would make it more convenient to slide in a DVD movie after a long day on the highway. But the real star of this unit is the navigation system, which provides real-time location and direction via a single DVD disc, instead of several CDs.
To program the unit, the operator calls up the primary menu on the convenient remote control. He or she then uses the center toggle to move the highlight bar up and down the menu until the proper title is reached, from which other sub-menus can be accessed. These sub-menus can be called up at any time if you need to verify a command instruction. And there’s no need to input your location; the onboard computer, working with the GPS, can ascertain that for itself.
Let’s say you’re going to visit an RV supply store that just opened up across town and you want the shortest route there. Using the remote control, you first call up an on-screen keyboard (it looks just like a computer keyboard) and then spell out the city’s name (it usually will jump intuitively to an alphabetical listing of towns once a few letters have been input). After you have selected the town name, the unit asks for the street name. Once the street name is in memory, the computer jumps to another on-screen keyboard and requests the numerical address. The computer takes several seconds to compute your route, and then you’re off — complete with voice commands and warnings of upcoming turns and routes. If your destination had a published telephone number before your DVD disc was imprinted, then your route can be plotted using this information. We didn’t try using this mode with an unpublished number, but we’re guessing this would not work.
If your journey crosses state lines, you must add a step to the above instructions and tell the system what state you are headed for. The AVIC-90DVD will save your last 100 destinations in a memory file, so you can return to the scene of an earlier destination without having to reprogram it again. If you exceed 100 destinations, the oldest locations are replaced with the newest.
But, let’s get back to my wife’s recent cross-country trip. Leaving Orange County in Southern California before daybreak, she encountered fog near the coast and in the mountain passes, which limited her vision and kept her speed down. With the AVIC-90DVD giving her instructions on when to turn or “to bear left half-mile ahead,” she was able to be more relaxed behind the wheel. She wasn’t constantly peering through the windshield searching for off-ramp signs when she should have been paying attention to the traffic around her.
Once out of the fog and into the high desert, she stopped for fuel while the temperatures were still in the 90s. When approaching the on-ramp, she didn’t have to decide which way to go. “Turn right onto the freeway in 500 feet,” were her instructions, and she followed them.
Later, while she was crossing the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona, the wind demons kicked up and had the highway covered in blowing dust. The dust storm dropped visibility to less than 100 feet and slowed her speed to 40 mph. Again, the AVIC-90DVD came to the rescue with its promptings on turns, curves, and bearings. What could have been a major headache of a trip for her — with the weather problems and directions — became an enjoyable tour of several Southwestern states.
After she was home, I took the opportunity to register our home location by using the map search to locate it. Since we live on a dirt road that doesn’t appear in the Pioneer database, I used the map and cross pointer to pinpoint our residence. In doing so, I also discovered that I could have done the same thing from anywhere by taking my time and calling up the correct map search. Now, wherever we happen to be, all we have to do is use the remote control to call up “Return Home” on the menu, click on it, and the system tells us exactly where to go.
From now on, if we know the address or phone number of a campground, a site to see, or a friend to visit, we can zero in the location from anywhere in the continental United States or Canada. What a warm and fuzzy feeling for someone without a sense of direction.
The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the AVIC-90DVD is $2,300. Additional product information is available from Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc., P.O. Box 1760, Long Beach, CA 90801; (800) 421-1404; www.pioneerelectronics.com.
GEX-FM903XM Universal FM Modulated Tuner
After thoroughly enjoying the sound quality and selection available from XM satellite radio during our recent evaluation of the product (“XM Satellite Radio,” August 2002, page 62), we wanted to check it out with a different receiver. Therefore, we asked Pioneer to include a GEX-FM903XM tuner in the evaluation package with the AVIC-90DVD navigation system. Anyone with an onboard FM stereo can access XM Radio’s 100 channels with the Pioneer FM-modulated digital satellite tuner and an antenna. While in use, the tuner displays the channel’s name, the artist’s name, the song, and the program title. The unit requires Pioneer’s AN-90XM antenna, used in conjunction with all of the XM digital satellite tuners, to pull in signals from the XM satellites. The suggested price for the GEX-FM903XM is $250; the MSRP for the AN-90XM is $120.