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by Bill Braun

Reviewer Extraordinaire

on January 2, 2014
Pioneer released a series of seven DVD receivers for the 2014 model year.

Featuring Bluetooth compatibility and AppRadio features, screen sizes range from 6.1 to 7 inches. The AVH-X4600BT is nearly their flagship, and the most affordable model that features a 7 inch screen.

The features themselves are nothing new to Pioneer. What’s new is the mixture of better features in increasing inexpensive models. As is the nature of electronics, what used to be a “premium” feature has evolved into the commonplace for Pioneers product line. It wasn’t long ago that paying $450 (the MSRP of the X4600BT being reviewed) meant you were getting an in-dash DVD player barely capable of playing anything above DVD’s, CD’s and Radio. No longer.

Now, the rest of the industry has to play catch up. The X4600BT uses Pioneer compatible “apps” that include navigation, a web browser, Pandora, social media and quite a bit more. These apps range in cost from being free to $24.99. Most are free.

There are of course competitors. Kenwood sports the DDX770, and Alpine has the IVE-W530. The similarities lay mainly in price. Screen sizes, Internet connectivity and screen quality are a just a few of the differences here. 

Build Quality

Inspecting the build quality of the X4600BT begins with the screen. I expect a small amount of movement in the screen when I move it, simply because it is not hard-mounted to the frame. To increase the screen size, the assembly tilts down to reveal a disc slot. I found the screen to be reasonably solid, moving very little when pushed to one side or another. Decent build quality tells me that the chances of the receiver lasting 5 or 6 years (an average amount of time that someone owns a car) is a reasonable expectation from a mechanical standpoint.

Like most other receivers in Pioneer’s catalog, the plastic doesn’t seem to be overly thick, but far from flimsy. Another sign that the receiver will do just fine for the long haul, but not what I would classify as “overbuilt.”

The buttons provide decent feedback, which is something I look for. A solid “click” is reinforced by a button beep, and equally as important I felt good padding when the button reached it’s destination. For me, the feel of the physical buttons is another indicator of the receiver’s durability. I see little to make me doubt the receiver will last a good half-decade, which means we’re off on the right foot.

Design

The design of the home screen is extremely self-explanatory. Every usable source (and some that aren’t depending on what’s hooked up) is laid out in front of you on a single screen. The source buttons on the screen are designed intelligently, and large enough to be immediately recognizable on their own. As an added touch, the icons are also labeled.

Below the source buttons are the settings buttons, on the bottom 10% of the screen. They are low enough that I found them hard to manipulate while driving. The advantage of having the audio, system and theme settings all available on the home screen greatly increases the access speed to each section. It also greatly simplifies the selection process when you want to change button colors, select screen brightness or alter audio qualities of the receiver with little unnecessary thought or analyzing.

Apart from the home button, a separate method of selecting sources is available on the X4600BTWhile playing an audio source, you have access to a faster source selection than the home screen by pressing a downward facing arrow on the top right corner of the screen. Once pressed, up pops a list of sources. They are best described as “huge.” At that point the sources appear simply as a list of words, which are extremely easy to manipulate.

The source selection process is as easy as it is intelligent. Big buttons. No extraneous choices. Good call Pioneer. Good call indeed

If nothing is touched, the home screen only stays activated for 30 seconds at a time. While driving that’s plenty of time for most people to figure out what it is they want to do on the screen, but I found it annoying that Pioneer decided to limit where none should exist. If I pressed the button, I wanted to use the screen. The speed I choose to use that screen should be my decision. They should have at least put in an option to defeat the time constraint.

Another odd decision was the “off” button. While there are two ways to turn the receiver off – pressing the off button on the home screen or holding down the “src” button – the unit never powers down completely unless you turn off the vehicle. While this will rarely come up in your day-to-day life, I don’t see why the “off” command/button doesn’t actually shut the receiver down completely.

The DVD menu system requires the instruction book be consulted to completely understand the options you see. I’m never a fan of that requirement, but it was a process of defining some slightly cryptic symbols in the menu system. Once done (only took me about 2 minutes total) I was good to go.

In the grand scheme of things, this was a minor amount of effort for what was ultimately a minor detail. Apart from 2 or 3 DVD receivers I’ve worked with in my career, every other receiver has required a jaunt to instruction land. At this point in the car audio industry, it's a nearly inevitable part of the process if you want to know chapter and verse about a DVD receiver.

Usability

In working with the AVH-X4600BT, my expectations were admittedly high. This is nearly their flagship DVD receiver, so I was looking for an attractive design that was ergonomic as well, and I wanted that functionality to flow consistently through every part of the receiver. How was it going to work when I was alone in my car, with (at best) a second to figure out how to do what I needed to?

Touchscreens are now the norm in everything from phones to my coffee maker. The quality of the experience depends on factors in the physical world as well as the ergonomic. Pioneer has evolved technologically – perhaps more so than the majority of their competition. They have taken connectivity to an entirely different level with the advent of AppRadio, and it proliferation across the nearly every DVD receiver they offer.

Any touchscreen receiver relies a certain degree of pressure sensitivity as well as touch accuracy. The better the sensitivity (without being so sensitive that you sacrifice accuracy) the easier the receiver becomes to work with while driving. Pioneer usually does very well in this department, with buttons being easily selected anywhere on the screen, without having to press too hard or too softly. As was the case here.

Playing the radio, my iPhone, a CD and Pandora were all extremely easy to use. Thanks to the source drop down menu, resoundingly clear instructions and graphics facilitated easy selection of Pandora radio channels (including the thumbs up/down and channel selection features), I was able to change the station or source at the drop of the hat.

Playing my music from my iPhone was straightforward, with selectable lists available by genre, artist, song or album. A searchable keypad and alphabetical list are also easily selected and used.

The DVD menu system is not as elegant, and for reasons I can’t completely explain seemed to desensitize the soft buttons under certain circumstances. Pressing back buttons and escape buttons (looks like an “X”) became more difficult. The primary issues I had were swapping modes between selecting the arrow keys and using the full menu system. The arrows and “key” buttons hung around the screen until I found a way to get rid of them, which in this case meant selecting the full menu system, then de-selecting it.

The graphic quality itself is mediocre. This is not due to the WVGA resolution, but a tradeoff made when using an anti-glare screen. In an effort to lessen glare from the sun, Pioneer uses a special coating, which works very well. The coating also has anti-fingerprint properties, which all but eliminates the smudging you typically get on glass or hard plastic front faces over time.

I played with the graphic settings including brightness and color temperature to account for the subtle white film and grain you see on the screen. It did improve the picture’s clarity and contrast, but the slight grain seen on the movies I played was unavoidable.

As with the Pioneer AppRadio 3 (SPH-DA210)– which mirrors a great deal of the X4600BT’s features and for a nearly identical price, your phone’s functionality extends far beyond the standard Pandora and playlists you see on nearly every other receiver.

Once your phone is connected and configured, it’s automatically recognized by the receiver every time you turn the vehicle on. This happens when the Bluetooth signal is detected (up to three phones can be paired) or the phone is plugged in via a compatible cord. You’ll see a small phone icon in the upper right corner. Pressing the icon reveals the phone’s contact list (you have a 1,000 contact limit per phone – but as many as 5 phone numbers can be stored per contact). Pioneer’s method of using the phonebook and voice commands are the easiest I’ve seen to date - even when connected via Bluetooth.

If you have an Android or an iPhone 4 (or newer), the AppRadio feature of the receiver has a myriad of free and premium services. More than any other brand on the market by a wide margin, this gives the X4600BT a head and shoulders advantage over most.

Navigate to your destination, find a good parking spot, web browsing (yes, really), check your appointments, find where speed traps are, listen to music and a great deal more all exist for both iOS and Android platforms. Many of the apps are free or extremely inexpensive, and often you have your choice of more than one app to do the job.

Unlike the drop down audio source menu, AppRadio mode is available only by pressing the home button. Once selected, getting into app mode takes a few seconds, which was more annoying than it was prohibitive. When in app mode I tried the media player. The player and image viewer ware pretty selective, only allowing me to choose pictures and not videos. Viewing video is dependent on the video being in the iTunes library. This means playing a video texted to you is not possible.

Trying to get out of a few apps was tough too. Once when trying to get out of an app called EC Touch I pressed the source button, only to be greeted by a completely blank screen. Pandora said it was running according to my phone, but I had to unplug the hard connection and re-plug it to get back to the menu.

Playing with some of the apps was fun, albeit a bit clunky. Having an in-car browser requires a little patience - which is something I am admittedly short on with reviews like this. Once again when switching from an app to the standard menu system I was given a blank screen. After reading the instructions I learned that you have to hit the home button to get out of the app you’re using. I’m sure some people will mistake this for a bug. I know I did when it first happened. It’s not - just needs a bit better design.

General Features

The AVH-X4600BT has one video input one stereo audio input. It also has a dedicated camera input. There is also one dedicated video output, meant to distribute video to overhead or rear seating.

For audio outputs, I was pleased to see that not only does the X4600BT have a proper set of RCA outputs (dedicated front, rear, and subwoofer) but the voltage was on the higher end at 4 volts. Most at this price point are half that.

In addition to AM/FM and audio from CD, DVD, USB or Bluetooth device. Pandora is supported via Bluetooth with most Android or iOS devices. With the optional cable(s) installed, the iPhone will play video through the receiver.

Supported Disc Types:

  • CD
  • CD-R/CD-RW
  • DVD
  • DVD-R/DVD-RW
  • DVD-DL
  • Video CD

Supported Audio Formats:

  • MP3
  • AAC
  • WMA (Except Lossless & Audio 9 Professional)

Supported Video Formats:

  • DivX
  • DVD

The Pioneer AVH-X4600BT will support these Bluetooth profiles (also depends on the phones capabilities):

  • Hands Free Profile (HFP) v1.5 - Lets you make or receive calls without touching the phone
  • Audio Streaming (A2DP) – the receiver plays audio from your phone
  • Audio/Video Remote Control (AVRCP) – lets you control audio and video playback
  • Serial Port Profile (SPP) - a replacement for simple serial cable, and the basis for AVRCP
  • Generic Access Profile (GAP) – defines how Bluetooth devices discover each other and establish a connection
  • Service Discovery Profile (SDP) – defines how Bluetooth devices discover available services between each other
  • Object Push Profile (OPP) – allows pictures to be sent to the receiver
  • Phone Book Access (PBAP) – caller ID displays on the receiver and allows the receiver to download the phone book

For Android, the MirrorLink app does provide a bit more on-screen flexibility. Keep in mind that the MirrorLink app is not compatible with every single Android app in existence. You will see additional on-screen functionality, but it is not universal.

The iPhone 4 and above are a bit less compatible in comparison. At last count there are exactly 28 possible apps you can use, and several of them serve very similar purposes (you have 8 map/navigation apps to choose from for example). The biggest question I ask myself is one of pragmatics: “what do I want to know while I’m driving?” My suggestion to you is to consider what you need from your phone while the motors running, and how important is it to have on the receiver’s screen.

Expandability

To use any of the apps you must buy the appropriate Pioneer cable to interface with your specific phone. There are four possibilities, most of them enable video and audio: the CD-ML100 works with most Android phones, and allows MirrorLink to work. The CD-IV203 works with the iPhone 5 and enables AppRadio mode. The iPhone 4 and 4S can use one of two adapters, the CD-IU201V is $60 (MSRP) and will let you play audio or video, while the CD-IU201S costs about $15 more but allows you to use AppRadio as well as utilize audio and video.

The AVH-X4600BT is compatible with an external video input. The most common use is for a backup camera, but any composite video input can be used, though there is no auxiliary audio input to go with it. You can choose any brand (and there are several), Pioneer’s camera is called the ND-BC6. It’s a good choice for the price point, and it’s 1” square measurements make it rather easy to mount discreetly by the license plate.

Examining the box or reading the sticker attached to the corner of the receiver shows you that navigation is possible. The AVIC-U250 is a dedicated navigation system, hardwired into the receiver. This $400 (MSRP) option comes with a traffic tuner and works with the touchscreen of all AVH receivers.

The advantage of having a hardwired system is twofold. First, you don’t eat up the bandwidth of a mobile plan. Second, you aren’t subject to cell tower connections. If you're traveling in areas without cell signal (relying strictly on GPS signal), or are concerned with cellular overage charges then the U250 makes sense. If this isn’t true for the way you travel, using one of the AppRadio solutions is the smartest call.

Value

The value of the AVH-X4600BT is good. Stellar? Superb even? Not quite. As I said before the AppRadio 3 (SPH-DA210) does mimic many of the features seen on this unit, save for a few major differences:

The AppRadio 3 has decidedly better video quality.

  • The X4600BT has audio and video outputs, and 2 video inputs (one dedicated to camera).
  • The X4600BT has a better EQ and higher quality outputs for amplifiers.
  • The X4600BT can accept a navigation expansion.
  • The X4600BT about 10% cheaper.
  • The X4600BT can be seen (even in direct sunlight) while driving.
  • The AppRadio 3 has an outstanding menu and operations system throughout, which is marginally better than the X4600BT – especially when playing DVD’s or using Apps.

If functionality and expandability outweigh the difference (and importance) in video quality, I would choose the X4600 in a heartbeat. The price for what you get is very, very good and the video quality - while I do harp on it in this review – could be better, the expectation you have while driving is a matter of personal preference. No one drives in a mobile home theater unless you’re Bill Gates. That said, the video quality is decent in the X4600BT. Decent, but not incredible. Very little compares to the near HD quality of the AppRadio 3 in that department.

All told I am a fan of this receiver. It’s a good combination of features and functionality for the price, and makes video & connectivity available to everyone without breaking the bank to do it.

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