The company’s AVIC-N3 navigation and multimedia system informs as well as entertains.
By Bill Hendrix, F761S
I had come to rely quite heavily on the 5-year-old global positioning system (GPS) in my coach. As time went on, I found that I was missing recent route changes caused by highway construction. Plus, its original 10-disc CD system had no overlap, which was a real shortcoming, for changing discs while traveling could be very inconvenient. After I found out the cost of a complete set of updated discs, I decided to look around for a replacement GPS instead.
Because a dash modification would have created a sizable project, I wanted to replace my current GPS with one that would fit the same opening. So, a standard 1.0-DIN-size (7 inches wide by 2 inches high by 7 inches deep) chassis was needed, which limited the selection considerably. In addition, a single-DVD map disc system appeared to be desirable, as it would eliminate the need to change discs on a cross-country trip.
After sorting through the different systems that are available, I found a unit that seemed to satisfy my needs: the Pioneer AVIC-N3, a dual-DVD GPS system based on a 1.0-DIN chassis with a motorized 6.5-inch touch-panel color display. Although it involves two discs, not one, this model offers a long list of features and available information, and it provides a generous map overlap between the East and West map discs. This overlap gives you the opportunity to change the discs at a time more convenient for you and requires only a single change during a cross-country excursion. The navigation discs cover the entire United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, plus Canada. The system even includes 11 million points of interest (POIs). The N3 shares the same chassis as the prior N1 and N2 models but boasts expanded navigation features and attachment capabilities such as iPod controls.
There is a huge difference in storage capacity between a CD and a DVD disc. They look about the same, but the CD can store only 680 megabytes while a single-side, single-layered DVD can store 4.7 gigabytes (4,700 megabytes), which is almost seven times as much data. This is due to a much tighter spiral and closer spacing of the pits. The DVD also has the capability of putting two layers of information on one side of the disc, thereby doubling its capacity, which is what enabled Pioneer to include so much data on only two disks.
The AVIC-N3 will respond to the control buttons, to the touch-panel display, to a tiny steering-wheel-mounted remote control, or to your voice with the optional voice recognition kit. It offers a handy memory navigation feature: after you enter your route, the map disc can be ejected, and the system will store the map data in memory so you may continue to navigate along that route. Now you may insert and play a CD, DVD, or MP3 in that same DVD slot. The chassis has inputs for a CD changer, a remote display, video, a rearview camera, and A/V for games; it is also XM and Sirius satellite radio ready.
The system’s software and wiring harness will prevent the driver from viewing TV, a movie, or a game unless the vehicle is stopped and the parking brake applied. However, its tri-mode capability makes it possible for rear-seat passengers to play a DVD video using an optional rear monitor and headphones, while a different source (AM/FM/XM/Sirius or other attachments, such as iPod) plays audio for front seat passengers as the driver uses the system to navigate to a destination.
The AV receiver has AM and FM bands with 50-watt, four-channel outputs for excellent sound amplification. The receiver can store six recall station frequencies on the AM band and six on each of the three FM memory bands. These may be selected and stored one at a time for your preference, or one touch of the BSM (best station memory) screen will select and store the six strongest stations available.
For navigation, it will hold an address book of 300 places and remember the last 100 of your destinations. You can add and delete way points to a selected route and sort the order for your convenience. The background for the screen can be changed to one of several on the DVD map disc, or to a picture loaded from a CD. Voice navigation instructions can be selected to come from the right, left, or both speakers, or muted. In addition, a “vehicle dynamics display” will indicate voltage, acceleration, side acceleration, angular velocity, slope, direction, and time (this could probably be better utilized in a sports car).
Selecting a destination by POI will give multiple ways to search: by name of the place, by city, by category, and by subcategory. If the selection isn’t just what you want, another touch of the screen will initiate a vicinity search of the surrounding area, giving the names of the places and the distance. Brand-name icons can be placed on the map to illustrate available locations of the selections. More than 50 popular brand icons are available for this purpose. The POI feature has the most information available with lots of categories but will take some practice to operate with ease.
Unfortunately, there is no category for RV parks, but many are listed under the “Telephone Search” feature. Some also may be found under the “Camping & Hiking” or “National Parks & Forests” categories. The N3 does have a “Truck Stop” search that includes listings for travel center locations that are RV and heavy-truck friendly, such as Flying J, Pilot, and Love’s, as well as a “Rest Area” search.
The N3 has an iPod interface, also featuring touch-screen control. The display even simulates the appearance of the iPod’s many screens. If you opt to add XM NavTraffic in addition to all the music channels through its audio service, you can get detailed satellite freeway traffic updates currently available for 22 U.S. cities with more to come. It will show traffic flow rates and give up-to-the-minute incident reports. The normal XM subscription cost would apply.
This description does not cover all of the AVIC-N3’s features, as they seem to go on forever, but the operation manual has 121 pages of detailed, illustrated, easy-to-follow instructions, plus a 25-page hardware manual for more details. This system really has tons of features with cutting-edge technology.
In order to do the installation myself, I reviewed the instructions several times, preparing to remove the old GPS unit so I could label the necessary wires for the Pioneer unit, as none of the plugs would interchange. Even the GPS antenna was different, requiring considerable disassembly to remove the old and install the new. A shelf held the hideaway unit and the CD changer. The minor changer size differences required a remake of the shelf, but that was pretty simple. Next, I removed the old dash unit, the hideaway unit, the GPS antenna, and the CD changer. I found that the plugs on the CD changer did not match the dash unit, so I ordered the Pioneer 12-disc CD changer and remade the shelf again. I installed the new equipment, routed the new wires, and hooked up everything except for the TV, the rearview camera, and the switch that would make it possible to toggle between the big rearview camera monitor and the dash-mounted GPS display. This was a feature provided by the coach converter, so I enlisted the aid of Donny Myers of Vantare to complete the job. This allowed me to select the large monitor to display the rear view or the GPS map. Plus, the TV can be viewed on the Pioneer display and/or the rear-view camera monitor while the coach is parked. This last step wasn’t really necessary, but I wanted to preserve all the features the converter had provided in the coach originally.
With everything hooked up, we started the engine. The motorized display extends and rises to a vertical position, which is adjustable, and a message appears asking you to insert the appropriate disc into the disc slot on the dash unit. Next, you are led through a few setup steps to initialize, select a language (several are available), and set the clock. Press the NAVI/AV button and it switches to the navigation screen with a warning message.
Acknowledging the message brings up the main (NAVI) menu for destination selection and to choose a route. Here you can select from the menu nine different ways to pick a destination: street address, return home, favorite, POI, vicinity search, address book, destination history, freeway search, or telephone number. It also gives you an opportunity to store your home location, so anytime you wish to navigate back to the home base, only a couple of touches to the screen are needed. For route selection, you establish some conditions such as avoid toll, avoid ferry, avoid freeway, shortest or quickest route.
You can choose to display only one (the most logical) route, or you may select multiple routes. In the latter case, up to six suggested routes will be displayed in different colors, and you pick the color that you prefer for each route. You may put in one or several way points, and if you go off-route, a new route will automatically be calculated. The system will even suggest a detour if there is an area you wish to avoid.
The display has four different selectable screen configurations: a map view, which looks like a conventional map; a driver’s view, which simulates a 3-D view (like looking down the road you are traveling); a guide view of mostly map with turn instructions on the right; and a route view that contains mostly turn instructions and a small map on the right. All four views will have up to 17 little boxes or windows of pertinent peripheral information related to route navigation, including remaining distance, estimated time of arrival, or travel time to destination. One touch of the compass window will toggle between “north up” and “heads up” for map orientation. The map data base has lane information for 50 major cities. The display will indicate which lane you should be in for those complex highway interchanges and exits. And in 23 of those cities you will see “detailed metro” mapping showing simulated building layouts as you traverse that district.
I prefer to use the map view for the open highway and the driver’s view for going through cities. And you can do all of this while playing music from any of the sources. When you select or change the AV source, a banner on the bottom of the screen indicates your selection or changes. After a few moments of inactivity, the banner goes away. Just a touch of one button will toggle to and from the NAVI display and the AV display.
Here’s a real-life example of how the system works. Before rolling onto the highway, I want to select today’s destination. We are leaving Denver and going to Albuquerque for our next trip. After I start the engine, the motorized display comes to life and I acknowledge the warning screen, press the NAVI MENU button, and the destination screen is displayed. We had just called for reservations and the telephone number was at hand, so I touch telephone search, type in the phone number, and Stagecoach Stop RV Park comes up with the map, a highlighted route, and a box indicating 442 miles. After we get rolling, several other boxes display pertinent driving information along with an estimated time of arrival. The other ways of selecting a destination are just as simple.
We have now operated this GPS for about 7,000 miles, and it has performed flawlessly. There are a couple of map features that would help. Rest stops and the exit numbers displayed along the interstate routes would be helpful, and having the altitude in there somewhere would be nice, especially out West.
Street price of the Pioneer AVIC-N3 is around $1,800 plus options and installation. For the Pioneer dealer nearest you, go to www.pioneerelectronics.com or call (800) 421-1404.