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Aftermarket in-car entertainment leader Pioneer has launched its new range of products for 2014. Held in Bangkok, the regional launch saw the Japanese company highlight its latest flagship multimedia receivers featuring a variety of smartphone connectivity options, some improved, some new. It’s so much more than just playing music from your phone, as this tech laggard found out.

Both iPhone and Android camps are catered for. The latest Pioneer players support the latest Android platforms (4.0 and above) as well as Apple’s latest models iPhone 5S and 5C. The just-introduced iOS7 operating system is compatible, as are 37 Android phones from Samsung, Sony, HTC, LG and Motorola.

Four new models hog the limelight. The AVH-X5650BT, AVH-X4650DVD, AVH-X2650BT and AVH-X1650DVD join the AVH-X8550BT at the top of the Pioneer double-DIN multimedia receiver range. All of them can be connected to your smartphone via a couple of methods. Let’s start with AppRadio Mode, which requires one to download and install Pioneer’s AppRadio application from the App Store.

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Formerly known as Advanced App Mode, AppRadio Mode allows the user to access and control apps on the head unit’s touch screen, so once paired via Bluetooth, you won’t have to look at your phone while driving.

App developers insert a software module from Pioneer into their app, and develop an HMI for AppRadio Mode, before Pioneer tests and approves the app. The selection of apps isn’t very wide, but there are some cool stuff on offer, including the popular Waze.

Some Pioneer-developed apps are available too, such as the Mixtrax app, which can serve up a non-stop club mix playlist in your car with effects such as cross-fading, high-pass filter and phaser. Pioneer is after all a top DJ equipment brand, so they definitely know what they are doing here.

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Although AppRadio is available on the Google Play Store and certain multimedia receivers such as the AVH-X8550BT welcome Android, it started off as an iOS app and remains very much so. But with Android getting more popular, Pioneer has introduced two other connectivity options for the Android user – MirrorLink and direct USB connection using Media Transfer Protocol (MTP).

Also used by other ICE brands such as Sony and Alpine, MirrorLink is a tech standard for controlling a smartphone from your car, leveraging your vehicle’s controls and displays for access to apps via Bluetooth.

As its name suggests, what you see on the head unit screen is a mirror image of what your phone is showing. One can access phone functions, contacts, music and navigation with MirrorLink – for the latter, Sygic, Waze and Google Maps apps are supported. We tried it out and this mirror works as advertised, down to that zit on your nose. An optional CD-ML100 smartphone link adaptor box is required to work MirrorLink.

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Last but not least is the simplest way to pair your phone and car – via a USB cable using MTP, which allows the receiver to recognise your smartphone as a music storage device. This is mainly for listening and selcting music from your smartphone, no apps needed.

For those who want the superior power and functions of an aftermarket head unit, but want to retain the functionality of your car’s steering wheel audio controls, Pioneer has a solution for you. The latest flagship models feature Steering Wheel Control, which connects the head unit to the steering buttons.

In addition, SWC allows for recalibration of buttons, so you can swap volume with search, or the mode button for mute, for example. Steering Wheel Control is currently available for Toyota, Honda and Suzuki models, and compatability with other marques are on the way.

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Moving down the flagship AVH range, enhancements can be seen on Pioneer’s 1-DIN and 2-DIN receivers, some of which also come with USB direct control for smartphones running Android 4.0 and above.

There’s also a new Bluetooth auto-pairing feature that automatically prompts you to pair phone and head unit once both are connected. A new Guest Mode enables useers to pair new devices easily, with intuitive prompts to add/delete devices once the pairing quota is reached.

With Bluetooth connectivity, users of the new audio players can make calls and stream music wirelessly, while iPhone users get to enjoy limited voice control functions via Siri Eyes Free.

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Lots of aesthetic improvements, too. Pioneer says that there are up to 210,000 colour combinations, which means that there won’t be a car interior illumination hue that Pioneer can’t match.

It’s customisable down to each segment, which means that one can configure the screen to have red characters, while the knobs remain in green, for instance, while there are four brightness levels to select from. You can also choose different lighting effects for different actions, such as when the CD is loading/ejecting, or when a call is being made.

If like me, you no longer use CDs for music, Pioneer has a couple of MVH digital media receivers that does without the CD player and related mechanism, relying solely on USB and Bluetooth as audio sources. These models have a larger VA LCD display with two lines of text. Some models feature the new Lever Key, which resemble aircraft wings on the main knob. It’s an easier way to select compared to pressing buttons.

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At the launch event, we also got to sample Pioneer’s own head-up display (HUD) solution for cars that don’t come with the function. We first saw HUD on BMWs before it featured in some Peugeot models in Malaysia. The HUD concept is simple, an image (typically speed and navigation) is “shot” onto the windscreen (or a separate small screen on Peugeots) near eye level so the driver won’t have to look away when driving, allowing him/her to maintain concentration on the road ahead.

Paired to a head unit with navi, Pioneer’s solution is a device that is strapped on to the sun visor, with a glass screen that flips down. So instead of the image being slightly below eye level, it is slighly above in this case. As it is a strap-on, the HUD is portable between cars. Already in the Japanese market, Pioneer’s HUD will go on sale in Europe later this month.

The HUD won’t be available in Malaysia, yet, but Pioneer’s latest AVD, DEH and MVH head units will be heading to our shores by the end of this year. So what if your car lacks a multimedia function or two? Top notch smartphone connectivity can now be bought off the shelves, with functions displayed on a large screen.