Pioneer MVH-P8200BT: A new era in car audio.?
Jan 10, 2011 (Updated Jan 14, 2011)
Review by theuerkorn
Rated a Very Helpful Review
With the increased popularity in premium stereo options for new cars, old ones like my 2001 Honda S2000 don't have to miss out. What used to be standard procedure to gut the original radio pretty soon after a new car purchase to install an aftermarket "premium" head unit, is not less often the case. However, aftermarket stereos are still quite valid for mentioned "old" cars and if you want to save the premium price that typically comes with a factory installed option.
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Further, increased popularity of the digital format (mp3, aac etc.) made the typical 6 or 12 slot CD changers less desirable than a USB port or SD slot. That's where the MVH-P8200xx took a radical new turn for car stereo at the beginning of 2010 and cut the ties to the vanishing disc format and focused completely on digital. (I have to admit I hurt a bit to "throw away" my 6 CD changer, but quickly realized I didn't use it for months and months anyway.)
Installation: [***--] While the DIN format guarantees a fit for many vehicles with a single slot replaceable heat unit (which is not integrated in the dash board), an adapter is typically needed to connect the radios wires with the car's plug. The pin-out determines the supported functions and a bit of wiring skills is needed to perform this relatively easy task (I prefer soldering over crimping). Speaker outputs are standard and so is the power supply. Original steering wheel controls are generally not directly supported as different manufacturers have different control schemes. An adapter is needed. Further the BT model provides a microphone for hands-free calling, which needs to be plugged in and installed before the radio is fully secured. Pioneer's IP bus makes it easy to add HD tuner, XM radio and other peripherals. However, the MVH-P8200 does not have the ability to control an external CD changer either.
Steering Wheel Controls: [****-] The Pacific Audio SWI-PS adapter helps out in most cases to convert the car manufacturer's control scheme into the aftermarket's. In special cases like my S2000, the Mute button is on a different scheme which requires a separate input on the Stereo. Neither the PAC SWI-PS nor the MVH-P8200 support this. (Crafty DYI installers may look into converting the locked signal into pulses based, but that's certainly way beyond the standard skills.) The programmability of the SWI-PS helps to find the best match between the steering wheel layout and the radio's functions. Please make sure to use v1.6.8 or higher to fully support the MVH-P8200BT's functionality (including the bluetooth part).
First Impression: [**---] To be honest, I don't know what I was expecting, but the first contact with the installed MVH-P8200BT was underwhelming to say the least. The standard sound profile was flat and digitally distorted, the interface anything but intuitive, and seeming HDRadio limitations a pain. Yes, it does require reading the manual or else most of the functions will be a mystery. After some "training" with the manual, it's a lot better now but the initial frustration is still lingering a bit.
Documentation: [**---] We already established that one has to read the included manual in order to make sense of the functions hidden in menus and performed by the multicontroller. Ignoring a few instance of incorrect statements, one is still confronted with an excellent layout that's filled with tech lingo gibberish that only an engineer could write. Despite being one myself, I find that the author(s) of this manual made virtually no attempt to make the text easy to understand: "(1) Display menu columns to register. (2) Push and hold M.C. right to register the menu column. The menu columns you have registered are displayed in large, circular indicators." This may make perfect sense if you wrote it, but a "column" basically stands for a menu entry and the "large, circular indicators" turned out to be tiny dots (approx. 1 or 2 pixels) in the unregistered state and still small in the registered state (maybe 4 pixels).
Second look: [****-] I admit that the initial frustration was greatly reduced once the setting were adjusted to my preferences and especially once I read the manual. Still, the multi-controller design (not the idea) and some limitations are holding an otherwise great design back. Some things could be addressed in firmware updates, but one year after release there has none been posted and navigating to Pioneer's respective page on their support website revealed a rather confused treatment of such updates in general.
Design: [****-] The MVH-P8200BT looks virtually identical to the MVH-P8200 which only lacks the bluetooth capability (and for some reason the ability to update firmware ... if there was an update). The minimalistic front with three stylized buttons and the prominent multicontroller is clean and attractive. The piano black (glossy) surface may stand a bit out in older cars, but overall shouldn't have difficulty to fit into most interiors. The clean design is the way to go and modern while likely to remain timeless for some time.
Display: [***--] The relatively large 3" display is fairly low resolution and the interface / colors can't compete with today's Android or iOS phones (especially the iPhone 4 sports an ultra-high resolution). Pioneer play with the sub-pixel technicality and calls it a 1440x240 pixel display. Sounds impressive until you realize that a full pixel consists of three sub pixels which are distributed horizontally. Hence the real resolution is a meager 480x220 pixels by 2010 terms. Nevertheless it gets the job done, even if the focus on digital content and OSD menus may spark the hope for a touch interface, which the MVH-P8200 does not provide. The display's black level is about average and nothing to brag about as it degrades into a medium gray at higher brightness. Viewing angle is good though and no visible degradation is noticed from the driver seat. The curved front face reduces glare and that's an important thing in my convertible. Performance in bright daylight, however, has yet to be determined weather permitting. Overall, it's big and good, even if it doesn't compare to most recent hand-held devices.
Interface: [***--] As the front face looses most of its buttons and consists of a total of three plus the multi-controller (7-way controller), most of the interaction with the MVH-P8200BT happens through menus of varying depth. And there are many functions and options! The concept of the multi-controller is quite good in general, but it forces to take your eyes off the road more than dedicated buttons would. Further, the 7 functions are difficult to separate on this controller and vehicle motion might easily turn that attempt to press the controller straight in into a test of patience combating accidental ups or downs. It's much easier when playing with it in the store than when driving! If this multi-controller was a bit better defined, the menus would be easier to navigate but still require more attention than units with dedicated buttons.
Sound: [****-] With a bit of tweaking (sound profile, sound retriever for digital content, sub-woofer settings etc.), the MOSFET amplifier produces a rich and dynamic sound which is to be expected for a unit like this. Of course that requires appropriate speaker to handle the load. So far the only issues producing a very undesirable digital distortion in the initial setup, and with HDRadio sure not living up to its hype when signal strength is insufficient. The latter produces a rather unsatisfying listening experience, much more pronounced than a degrading analog radio signal. However, with XM radio, iPod, and SD as high quality sources, the overall sound turned out to be excellent. The quality improvement from the Sound Retriever feature is significant in both iPod and SD playback.
Bluetooth: [*****] One of the main reasons to upgrade my head unit to begin with, the MVH-P8200BT supports Bluetooth to bring phone functionality to the head unit. This enables a convenient and safe hands-free conversation which allows to keep your eyes on the road while the speakers make it also easier to understand. The included microphone can be installed in many places and I chose to integrate it in the dashboard. Call quality is excellent if the signal allows it. The phone book functionality is disabled unless the parking break is on, and Pioneer tries to keep your distractions to a minimum and force responsible action. (It's easy to override this with a simple wiring trick, but the phone dialing is still possible and you may keep it safe.) Implementation is very standard, and the pin code "0000" easy to remember, unless you choose to change it.
Note: The Bluetooth feature is not available in the standard MVH-P8200, but only in the MVH-P8200BT!
Radio: [****-] The integrated SuperTuner IIID is a very capable radio tuner which can also read the RDS data which even analog stations supply to know station name and the current artist and song name. Once coupled to an external HD Radio module, the internal tuner is disabled and cannot be used until the Power to the HD module is interrupted (or the IP bus unplugged). The module is capable to tune both digital and analog, although the latter with less success than the integrated tuner of the MVH-P8200. This is both in sound quality and decoded information. (Internally you get three lines of text, while the HD radio tuner only decodes two.) Setting favorite stations is --simply said-- cumbersome and unintuitive. The menu surfing is one thing, but one would think that if the unit recognizes the station's name it would store that in the presets rather than a non-descript "Ch1". Per Pioneer there is no option to even edit the name manually.
SD Card: [***--] Okay, so all your music is in iTunes and you want to play it without tethering an iPod or iPhone to the unit? The integrated SD card reader makes it easy. However, Pioneer's documentation is neither accurate nor complete. Claiming compatibility with SD cards only with a capacity of up to 2 GByte, it turns out that it has no trouble playing my Sandisk SDHC with 16 GByte capacity. Despite its speed rating of "Class 6", it takes 42 seconds to read the (admittedly large) library of 1800 songs (12.7 GByte) of my iTunes library ... every time I turn it on, change sources, or receive a call! It is recommended to keep albums in respective folders (as iTunes has an option to organize its library that way). Navigation of thousands of songs is a bit cumbersome, but mostly due to the temperamental multi-controller and not so much due to the typical hierarchical scrolling.
iPOD: [***--] Connect any of the compatible iPod/iPhone to the front USB interface and the MVH-P8200 can fully control the iPod functionality or let the iPod be the controller. In the latter mode it's still possible to perform basic navigational tasks (i.e. skip song) from the head unit. Generally not a bad implementation, the menus are surprisingly sluggish in this mode. One could blame the iPhone but it's way more responsive when hooked to the head unit in my CR-V than the MVH. Combine that with typical multi-controller hassles and attempts to quickly navigate an extensive play list are quickly tamed. Aside from those issues (some of which could be fixed in that illusive firmware update), the capability meets the requirements. If Pioneer just had included a rear USB port to "permanently" route a cable to the glove box ...
Sirius/XM Radio: [n/a] Even if I have the XM radio module connected via IP bus, I am currently not subscribing to neither XM nor Sirius (in the foreseeable future) and didn't test this feature in detail. The controls are very similar to the HDRadio and there is slightly more information decoded and displayed. In the past there were coverage issues with limited access to the clear sky, which the MVH is unlikely to resolve, but sound quality and coverage are certainly great.
Value: [***--] The recent price drop from the MSRP of $360(ish) to Crutchfield's $199 in December 2010 (not even a year after release) shows that the market may not be ready for a complete neglect of older media like CDs. May that be as it will, the MVH-P8200BT is a great offer at the lower price -- provided you transitioned to iTunes or other methods to store your music collection as mp3. After all, it allows to have hundreds of albums with you at any time. Of course, some of the shortcomings make an unconditional recommendation hard as the multi-controller can be a hassle.
© 2011, theuerkorn
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Amount Paid (US$): 199
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