Halfords’ own brand range of in-car headunits and accessories, ranging from inexpensive MP3 players to full multimedia systems with “dubious” discount pricing, seems to have escaped the attentions of most online reviewers. As a car enthusiast and technology obsessive with an iPod, the connectivity offered by these inexpensive devices seemed quite compelling. After a quick check on the store displays to see how it all worked, my 1996 Mitsubishi Delica was fitted with the latest offering at the time, the DV920i. The lack of online reviews of this device partially prompted this site’s creation!
When I first looked at these units in October 2007, the main models on offer where the DV720, DV725, and some smaller devices without motorised screens. The DV range is essentially a branding exercise on Chinese in-dash DVD players of the type found on auction sites and occasionally through lower-end retailers, but with the benefits of warranty backup, a local retailer, and hands-on decisionmaking with the purchase. In context, the DV725 was priced initially at £349 when I saw it – inevitably claimed to be “reduced from” some stratospheric price, and very rapidly discounted. The 920i was announced and on the Halfords website for £375 (vs. £399 in store), and was pitched as an upgrade to the 725.
Installation of the DV920i was simple, with an included ISO connector making fitting for most modern cars very straightforward. It did not require a parking-brake sensor to be connected – a recommended option with any screen visible to the driver – and included 2 x A/V Inputs, 1 x A/V output, 1 x camera input, and the usual power leads and interfaces with front, rear and subwoofer pre-outputs. Finally it included a large, full function remote control. It claimed to be 4 x 45w, but delivered fairly poor peformance with factory speakers. iPod connectivity was via a dedicated single cable with dock connector, and it is this function we will look at first.
Most car radios on the market offer some form of MP3 player functionality or connectivity, with options for USB mass storage devices, simple aux-in, bluetooth or my favoured approach of iPod direct connection. With the advent of video iPods, multimedia head units have developed with various ways of accomodating the video output – with the most common being a standard dock connector and the head unit passing control over to the iPod. As one would expect, normally the head unit provides controls for the iPod, allowing a natural, safe way for the driver to select tracks or skip tracks rather than fiddling with the inevitably small iPod itself.
Most solutions I have tried have been less than perfect. Alpine’s systems included the original, pioneering iPod interface which was frankly dangerously slow, but have evolved to offer a quick, rapid-access system on even their lowest-end headunits. The Ripspeed, with a 7″ touch screen, promised easy control.
Innovative interface on Ripspeed DV920i
In some ways, the user interface offers benefits over the more common, and indeed, established players in this market. There is a conventional scrollbar – touch it and drag it to scroll through the list – and it’s proportional. This is clever stuff, although in practise you stand no chance of hitting it when driving without suffering the same distractions as you would when using the iPod itself. The Ripspeed’s interface comes into play when a passenger can operate it, with direct page access to a given list.
This concept seems to have escaped most manufacturers, yet it’s here in an otherwise very “cut price” feeling unit – the iPod’s list of artists can get immense, with my 80Gb unit offering 11,000 songs from several hundred artist names – and to scroll, push or even drag through the list can take a while, with nearly all devices of this type displaying 10 or so at once. The displayed list has a page number on the DV920i, and you can jump to any page.
Budget price, budget build
Inevitably this is a budget unit despite Halfords’ aspirations – at the time of writing in 2008 it was just £299 in stores, and I do not recall ever seeing it for sale at the claimed RRP of £799 – a trick which allows the promotion as a “half price” unit. No known brand unit of similar specifications have dared to inhabit such a lofty price point, so quite who Halfords are kidding is beyond me. Even so – it had some merits, and as a used find on eBay could be entertaining in a modern classic car.
The same class of unit (possibly the same unit) would cost around £140+tax+risk+shipping from Hong Kong typically. The build quality is actually quite good with that in mind, with a nice screen, reasonably responsive touch screen, and tolerable buttons. The “security” consists of a clip-on plastic cover (and in the case of most Japanese-designed cars, the fact that the unit is screwed physically into the dashboard), and the display is a VFD-type rather like an old calculator.
The user interface displays a similar “almost, but not quite” fit and finish with text and buttons that don’t align correctly and jarring colour schemes serving to distract from a reasonably full-featured setup.
Electronics: what can it do?
The drive mechanism is quiet, unlike the unit itself which relies upon a cooling fan which seems to run constantly. Audio quality is poor by comparison with almost any other device claiming similar outputs and marred, for radio fans, by a poor quality tuner that whilst it features RDS and Clock Time, and naturally supports PTY/Radio Text, seems to have a poor AF function. The AV inputs seem to be a little fussy, rejecting a plug in Sega game that may have featured NTSC at the wrong frequency, but accepting C64 DTVs of both NTSC and PAL origin, and an Intellivision handheld device.
Frustratingly, the dual-zone function has been dropped from the DV920i, meaning that the lesser DV725 actually offers more real-world flexibility with the ability to route one media source to the front and front speakers, and one to the rear and rear speakers. Higher-end models from branded manufacturers offer this as a way of legally allowing the driver to enjoy radio whilst playing video to rear display units, and it’s a shocking feature to see removed on something with four actual video inputs.
Verdict: The DV920i went wrong!
Here’s where things go a bit wrong; part of the decision to purchase the Ripspeed unit in the full knowledge of where it comes from and what it really costs was avoiding the fear that an imported Chinese unit will not work, will have no warranty, and is impossible to examine before purchase. Some resellers in the UK are giving you a chance to be confident about the former two with the “Beat” brand, but overall, Halfords is a large national chain, and therefore should be easy to deal with should the unit need repair.
Twice it reset when changing gear on the Delica, responding badly to a combination of A/T power and overdrive switches. This was put down to a spike upsetting the system, and did not happen outside of that specific situation. However, when the unit was two months old, it shut down completely and could not be persuaded to work again – fuses and circuits were thoroughly checked.
Halfords, in this case, could not refund me fully and I did not want the unit repaired or replaced (though the former option was the “correct” one, and the latter was offered despite the replacement period being 30 days), and I opted to pay an additional amount to get a Pioneer AVH-P5900DVD unit. This took my overall budget over what I would really have liked to have spent, and as will be shown later, represents terrible value, but the subsequent price drop on the DV920i reflects what I interpret as a “revision” of the perceived quality of the unit.
It may be that mine was faulty, but in the interests of honesty, some time later the Delica’s alternator failed. The Pioneer appears to have been unaffected by this, but there’s a chance there was an external factor in the Ripspeed’s failure, and with that in mind I think that the fairest thing to say is that it does not have sufficient power filtering/cleaning or protection.
At £299, it’s an interesting budget choice, and if you have a single DIN slot available, desire iPod control, and don’t want to chance money on a direct import unit, then the DV920i is worth a look – the few ex-demo, refurb or overstock DV725s represent better value in my opinion with additional functions. If you have a double-DIN slot then Kenwood and JVC both have units on the market which are not significantly more expensive if you shop around, and should offer much greater reliability.