By Gideon V. – Sonic Electronix Editor

Not long ago, cassette decks were prominently used as car stereos. Nowadays we live in an era of “mega” stereos fashioned with remarkable features like built-in GPS navigation, Bluetooth, DVD/MP3 playback and touchscreen controls. If your car’s dash has a double din slot, then your car is ready for one of these multi-functional, sizeable, touchscreen stereos. With these double din touchscreen head units, you can even use the screen to control your iPod or other USB/aux compatible media players. Top of the line units can also be equipped with premium radio broadcasting channels such as satellite or HD radio. When it comes to head units, it simply does not get much better than a do-it-all stereo with an easy-to-use touchscreen. Pioneer has introduced models like this that allow you to control all of your entertainment devices through the touchscreen monitor.

The ultimate car stereo is the Pioneer AVIC-X910BT, a 5.8” in-dash head unit with a touchscreen monitor. This double din head unit plays CD’s, MP3’s, and DVD’s and it has built-in flash based navigation. It is compatible with MSN direct, so with the purchase of a subscription you will have access to real time traffic updates, local gas prices, movie times and more. When the map voice guidance is activated, this unit will turn down your music temporarily to make an announcement regarding your route such as: “In 200 feet, make a right turn on 1st street.” The navigation voice guidance actually names the upcoming street because it is outfitted with text-to-speech technology. After the announcement is over, your music volume is automatically restored. You can use the touchscreen to type an address or select from one of the 12 million points of interest stored on the unit’s memory.

That’s just the navigation aspect of the AVIC-X910BT. This unit is also equipped with everything you need for Bluetooth connectivity. You do not need to purchase any additional adapters or a microphone. The AVIC-X910BT is designed with the best Bluetooth interface on the market, Parrot Bluetooth. It is aptly named Parrot because it relays everything you say to the party on the other side of the call. In fact, you will not feel like a “parrot” during phone calls, as you will not have to repeat yourself on this Bluetooth interface because the microphone is equipped with echo cancellation. Not only that, you can make a call without even touching the screen because this head unit can respond to voice commands. The voice recognition even responds to conversational phrases, making the voice command feature that much more practical and easier to use.

In terms of expandability, the Pioneer AVIC-X910BT has a front aux input, which makes it easy to connect digital media players such as your iPod or iPhone. If you want to use an SD card, the front SD input makes using a SD card a viable option. It also has a rear USB input for loading thumb drive media. If you would like to add Satellite or HD radio, you just need to purchase the required adapters and/or tuners. With all of these options, you will certainly have plenty of fresh music to choose from.

Finally, if you don’t feel like touching the screen while driving, you can retain your factory steering wheel controls with the PAC SWI-PSv1. With the SWI-PSv1 you can use your steering wheel controls to operate the AVIC-X910BT. To further enhance the safety of your driving experience, add an optional backup camera using the rear camera input. This will make parking a cinch and it will help prevent accidents.

For about half of the price, you can get a lot of these same great features albeit a smaller screen, with the Pioneer AVIC-U310BT. This in-dash head unit has only a 4.3” touchscreen monitor and it doesn’t play DVD’s or iPod video. However, it uses the same GPS navigation technology as the AVIC-X910BT. It also features text-to-speech software, a MSN direct tuner, and flash based GPS technology. It only has 400,000 points of interest but it can be upgraded to over 12 million by purchasing the optional POI SD card.  Like the AVIC-X910BT, the Bluetooth connectivity comes standard, so you do not need to purchase any additional parts for hands-free communication. The only difference is that this unit does not respond to voice commands, so with this unit you will have to use the touchscreen (or your cell phone menu) to dial out and answer phone calls.

The AVIC-U310BT offers a lot of the same great expandability options as the AVIC-X910BT, but there are a few differences. The aux input is actually a rear input on the AVIC-U310BT. However, as with the AVIC-X910BT, the USB input is also a rear input on the AVIC-U310BT. Unlike the AVIC-X910BT, the AVIC-U310BT does not have a rear camera input, but it can be configured with a steering wheel adapter to retain your steering wheel controls. On the plus side, the AVIC-U310BT is detachable for added faceplate security whereas the AVIC-X910BT is not. On the downside, the AVIC-U310BT only has 2 sets of preamp RCA outputs (compared to 3 sets for the AVIC-X910BT).

Overall, the AVIC-U310BT is a great option if you’re looking for something more affordable but with many of the same great features as the AVIC-X910BT. No matter which one you choose, either of these stereos are sure to amaze your passengers with the sheer number of options that they offer.

Click to Compare the Pioneer AVIC-U310BT vs. the Pioneer AVIC-X910BT