Pioneer NAV-SYS900DVD GPS Car Navigation System

Reviewed by Daniel Mohabir (9/1/02)

After a month of research, I have bought and installed the Pioneer NAV-SYS900DVD Navigation system into my 2002 Chevy Trailblazer.
Why the Pioneer NAV-SYS900DVD

When I decided to install an after-market navigation system into the Trailblazer, I decided to research the best possible unit. At first I was focusing on just the Navigation system. I already have an AM/FM/CD player (OEM) installed in the vehicle and I was perfectly happy with it. With this in mind, I was leaning toward the Magellan 750 Nav. This is the same as Hertz Neverlost. I have used GPS systems in the past. I have a GarminEMap and I have used the Hertz Neverlost in rental cars. I love the Neverlost. It has always helped me to navigate in unknown cities. That is why I wanted to get it for my vehicle. I have also used the Pocket CoPilot on my Casio Pocket PC. This worked well for what it was intended to do. But you can’t store large map areas and you have to load new maps if you are traveling a long distance. It worked well. But you have to remember to load the maps that you need.

The other units were unknown to me. And, in spite of searching the web for reviews of the other units, I came up empty. But one thing I did not like with Neverlost was the small screen. I decided to see what else was available. I started to research the following:

  • Pioneer NAV-SYS900DVD 
  • Alpine NVE-N852A Navigation Unit with the IVA-C800 motorized display
I could not find reviews of either of these units, so I relied on the manufacturer's web sites for information. The Alpine unit was more expensive that the Pioneer unit. The Pioneer unit could also play DVDs, but the Apline couldn't. Both of these units, and also the Magellan 750 Nav, use the same maps from Navtech (the latest). The Alpine and the Pioneer have head units with 6.5 inch widescreen displays, both considerably larger than the Magellan 750 Nav. I am convinced that all three units provide the same level of navigation and the same information on the screens. I then ruled out the Magellan 750 Nav because of the smaller screen. In addition to being able to play DVDs, there was another big plus for the Pioneer unit over the Alpine: The Pioneer web site has all their manuals available for download. I could read the installation manual and the operating manual to get all the information about their unit before even purchasing it. It seemed like it had everything I was looking for. Other manufacturers should pay attention to this. The availability of the manuals online sealed the decision. I decided to get the Pioneer NAV-SYS900DVD.
How much

The cheapest price that I could find for the Alpine NVE-N852A Navigation Unit with the IVA-C800 motorized display was $2700 US. The Pioneer NAV-SYS900DVD was $1923 US. Almost $800 less for the Pioneer unit and it could also play DVDs. The kids will love me on long trips. So on to the ebay I went and placed my bid for the Pioneer NAV-SYS900DVD. It was a "Buy it now" bid, so I got it and waited for it to arrive.


While waiting for the unit to arrive, I started to research the installation of the unit. Before making the decision to purchase it, I knew that the Pioneer unit consisted of 2 DIN units; the AVH-P6400CDwith its motorized head. This unit can also play CDs; and the AVIC-90DVD navigation unit and DVD player. I measured the opening of the dash for the current radio and it was a double DIN radio. I was convinced that both units could fit into the dash in place of the current radio/CD player. I went to a few installers in my area to ask them to do the installation. They would do it, but they all told me that only one DIN unit would fit in the slot (the AVH-P6400CD). They will have to mount the AVID-90DVD remotely. I was not convinced. That helped me to make up my mind. I would do the installation myself. It should be noted that once the AVID-90DVD is plugged into the AVH-P6400CD, the 2 units behaved like one. They were fully integrated. 

I have the service manual for the Trailblazer. I had previously installed a remote start/security system myself. The installation could not be very difficult. Just remove the original radio, install the new unit using an adapter cable, and connect a few other wires:

·One wire to the VSS (Vehicle Speed Sensor for speed information)

  • One wire to the backup light
  • One wire to the emergency brake switch
  • One wire to the Accessory ON power
How difficult can this be?
If you are replacing the Radio in a late model GM vehicle, be aware that the radio in an integral part of the vehicle computer system. There is a Serial communication to the radio to play warning chimes and other functions that are integrated into the radio. If you remove the radio, these functions go away. In some cases, the warning lights on the dash stay on if the radio is not in place. There are wiring harnesses available that will let you install a new sound system and also keep the current radio hooked up. I bought one of the kits ($50) and an antenna adapter ($10). So now I have to install both units into the dashboard, and relocate the original radio to the back of the Trailblazer, but keep it hooked up. I was starting to hate GM. (But I love the Trailblazer).
I started the installation on a Friday afternoon. First I remove part of the dashboard to get to the radio and then removed the original radio. I mounted the 2 units together using a custom bracket and tried them in the opening. I was right. I could get both to fit. But it would take some work to mount them together in the opening. I customized the mounting brackets and measured and drilled holes to get them to mount correctly into the opening. After about 4 hours (I didn’t want to rush and make mistakes), I was satisfied that I had the brackets made exactly as I wanted them. I stopped work for the night.

On Saturday morning I turned my attention to the harnesses. What a nightmare. I took the 3 harnesses (one to relocate the original radio, one for the Head Unit and one for the navigation unit) and laid them out on a workbench. I then proceeded to splice, join, solder, install heat shrink tubing, tape, cut, etc. The end result was a custom cable that had four connectors and a few additional wires. One connector would plug into the original connector for the radio, one to the head unit, one to the navigation unit and one to the original radio in the back of the SUV. There were four additional wires that had to be installed as described above. I also had to install the GPS sensor and the microphone to the navigation unit, and a cable that connects the 2 units together. This was a very long cable (to allow the navigation unit to be mounted remotely) that couldn’t be cut. So I had to find a place under the dash to store the cable. Running and storing the cables was the most difficult part of the installation. I soldered and used heat shrink tubing on all the connections. Another 4 hours of work (which includes building the harness and installing it) and I had the units installed and all the wiring completed. I re-installed the dashboard that I had removed.

Safety first

As I mentioned above, one of the wires had to be connected to the emergency brake switch. The reason for this is safety. There are some functions that are not available unless the emergency brake is set. This is to prevent you from trying to set a route while the vehicle is in motion. Also, if playing a DVD, the monitor on the head unit will not display the video unless the emergency brake is set. This is to prevent the driver from the distraction. If a remote screen is attached to the unit, it will display the movie while the vehicle is in motion. Pioneer uses a fairly simple mechanism to enforce this. Set the parking brake and everything works. Or, if you connect the wire that is supposed to go to the parking brake switch to ground, all the functions work. Basically, the unit looks for a ground on this wire to allow full functionality. You make the decision on how to use this wire.

The Radio and CD Player (AVH-P6400CD)

After the installation, I backed the vehicle out of the garage unto the driveway (to allow it to see the GPS satellites). I first played with the AM/FM radio and the CD player. Everything worked as expected. All the information for the radio and CD player are displayed on the screen, which looked gorgeous. The “Cool Factor” with this setup is enormous. Changing radio stations was fairly intuitive (using the switches on the unit or the remote or the microphone). And, the title and name of songs on the CD are displayed on the screen if the CD supports CD Text. Real cool!!! And everything can be controlled with the remote or by voice.

The Navigation Unit (AVIC-90DVD)

I then started to explore the navigation system. I pressed the button for navigation and I was instructed to install the Navigation DVD. I did, and it installed the software, just like the manual said. After the installation was completed, the map was displayed with my exact location. I cycled through the different display screens that were available. There are four ways to display the navigation screen. I am sure that most people would find one of these screens to their liking. I took the SUV out for a test drive and the tracking information was displayed exactly right. The screen display was crisp and nice. And all the streets were displayed with their names. There were screens available to test all the connections (I had them all correct) and to check the 3D Hybrid sensor and the speed pulse (they were all working ok). In addition to using information from the satellites for tracking and position, the Pioneer unit has a 3D Hybrid sensor. It uses the speed pulse from the vehicle in addition to the information from this sensor to track and guide the vehicle.

Guidance and Tracking

I decided to take my son out for a (very) late lunch. I search for a Point of Interest, and selected a restaurant from the Point of Interests database. Within 3 seconds, the map was displayed with 4 routes. I selected the one I wanted and decided to follow it exactly. It guided us correctly to the restaurant with early warnings and zoomed maps as appropriate. It was so easy to follow. Its voice guidance was great. Since the navigation system integrates with the radio so well, when spoken directions are given, it first mutes the radio, sounds a chime, gives the direction then un-mutes the radio. All this is done automatically. No chance of not hearing the directions that are given. On the way back, I decided to not follow its direction. Within 5 seconds of going off-route, it had re-calculated new directions. This thing is impressive. (It had better be impressive for $2000). I have been using this system now for a full week and I continue to be impressed with its capabilities. All of the tracking and routing can be initiated with either the remote or by voice. With the microphone mounted just above the steering wheel, the voice recognition was quite good. The microphone can be used to perform most (all?) of the functions that are supported by this unit, whether it is to play the radio, CD, DVD or navigation.

Even in a Parking Garage and Tunnel

One day this week I had to visit someone in the hospital. Of course it told me how to get there. (I feel like I should give it a name, a female name because I set up the voice to be female). I had to park in a multi-level parking garage. It was kind of weird to see it still tracking correctly in the parking garage using its internal sensors. And it was tracking accurately. It was the same as I was driving through a tunnel. My turns and location were displayed correctly. Very nice.

Map Features

I said above that after I installed the navigation software, my position was displayed correctly on the map. After looking at the Navtech website, it turns out that the area that I live in does not have detailed coverage. Most metropolitan areas in the US have detailed coverage. I think that (almost) all of the streets in the US are included in the map database, but the areas that have detailed coverage have additional street information (like addresses, turn information, speed, etc). So far, I have not found any areas that are not included on the maps and I do live in a suburban area that does not have detailed coverage. I have noticed that in the detailed areas, the vehicle tracks exactly on the roads. In the non-detailed areas, the vehicle sometimes tracks slightly to the right or left of the road. Also, guidance may not be available in the non-detailed areas, but tracking is always available. I have not gone on any long trips since I have installed the Pioneer unit, but I have plotted routes for long trips that I am familiar with, and the routes that it has plotted for these places are accurate.

Playing DVDs

Of course, one of the reasons that I select this unit was its ability to play DVD. And it does an excellent job at this. The picture looks crisp. And the display can be seen from all the seats in this SUV. I may add screens in the headrest one day. Of course, you cannot play DVDs on the main screen unless the parking brake is on (or a ground is sensed on the wire that is supposed to be connected to the parking brake switch).

Un-resolved issues

I do have one un-resolved issue with this setup. The navigation system consists of two individual units and I think each unit has their own clocks. After I installed the Navigation software I was prompted to set the clock. The default clock is PST. I set it for PST -3 hours and set the DST. This displayed the local time (EST) when the Navigation system is in use. However, if I do not have the navigation DVD in the drive, and I am listening to radio or CD, the time that is displayed is PST, not my local time. As soon as I insert the navigation DVD, the time is displayed correctly. I have called Pioneer support on this twice and they were not able to help me with this. They told me to talk to my local dealer, but they don’t have a clue what I am talking about. So if I do not have the navigation DVD in the drive, I am not able to display the time correctly.

Wishful Thinking

There are some features on GM radios that I have gotten accustomed to that are not present in this setup. One of the features that GM has is the ability to control the volume of the radio based on the speed of the vehicle. If I set the volume of the radio or CD player while I am stopped, as I increase speed, the volume increases so that I do not need to change the volume to compensate for engine or wind noise. When I slow down, the volume decreases. I have gotten used to this feature. With the Pioneer unit, I have to increase the volume as I increase speed. The next time I start the vehicle, the volume is too loud, so I have to turn it down and then turn it back up as I start to drive. Since there is a microphone attached to the Pioneer unit, it should be relatively easy to implement this feature. I wish that they had done this.

The other feature that the GM radio has is the RDS system. While traveling, we were able to get weather and traffic information from stations that broadcast this information. The Pioneer unit does not support RDS. This is the ideal unit to support this feature because the RDS information can easily be displayed on the screen. I will miss that.

I would like to see Pioneer make a GM OEM replacement unit with this combination. Since the GM radios are double DIN, it would be easy for Pioneer to package the two units together into a GM form factor and create a direct replacement for GM vehicles. They would have to provide the Serial Communication link to the on-board computer like GM does on their radios. But if they do that, then the unit can monitor the computer traffic on the car and display all the information on the screen. There would be no need for additional wires because all the connections that have to be made on the current unit are available on the GM Serial Data Bus. So this dream unit would be able to play CD, radio, DVDs, provide navigation and become the interface to the GM computer system. All in a direct replacement unit. That would be cool.

Overall Reaction

So far I am very happy with the Pioneer unit. It is what I expected it to be, and more. It provides all the information I need and it is relatively easy to install. I do wish, however, that someone could help me figure out the clock problem. It is embarrassing to have a $2000 unit that cannot tell time correctly. Other than that one problem, the unit has surpassed my expectations. I would highly recommend it.

Comments? Corrections? Questions?
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