Infotainment Goes Epic

The new Xite infotainment system for View/Navion/Eras will be a HUGE success.

Don Cohen Don Cohen  |  11.22.2016

Months ago we were in Seattle visiting friends and went for a ride in their new Tesla.  One of the car’s signature technologies is a console display larger than two oversized iPads.  That evening, after they dropped us off at our Navion, my eyes kept looking at our front dash and then I came up with an idea.

I took my iPad, turned the screen on, carefully balanced it on the dash where our current infotainment systems was, took a picture of it with my iPhone and texted it off the the president of Xite Solutions of North America with a simple message, “I’d like to have something like this.”

In a matter of moments a text replied, “I think we can do that.  Stay tuned.”  A few months later my Navion’s dash was in pieces as a prototype display (electronics temporarily tucked under the passenger floor mat) was installed.  Now, after seven months of testing and 10,000 miles driven, the new Xite MB9 is now being installed as an option in all of Winnebago’s Sprinter-based products (Era, View, Navion) and if you’re getting a 2017 model, you’re going to want one.

It’s awesome.

Currently this product can only be found in Winnebago products as the company has worked closely with XSNA to develop this next-generation system.  But, before we jump into the deep end of the pool with an in-depth review I think it would be useful to explain that I’ve been using mobile GPS products for 16 years starting with a teeny black and white Garmin GPS III.  I’ve used external and in-dash systems from Garmin, Tom Tom, Rand McNally and Magellan.  I’ve installed all-in-one infotainment systems from Pioneer, Kenwood and Alpine.  I think I earned my graduate degree figuring out the interface box to make steering wheel controls work with a Kenwood I put into our former Honda Fit.

I’ve also had premium infotainment systems in cars I’ve owned including units by Mark Levinson and Bose.  Currently our tow car is a 2016 Ford Focus and we have the upgraded Sync 3 GPS/infotainment system in it.  Ford finally got it right with Sync 3 and I think it’s truly one of the best systems out there.  Winnebago will be using Sync 3 in their two Ford Transit products the Fuse and Paseo and it’s a winner.

And while the Xite MB9 may not currently have some of the features of the Sync 3, it has many, many other RV features that makes it a must have in the coach.

An Epic 9” Screen

This is the one single thing that simply changes the whole operating experience of the Xite.  Both the driver and passenger can see it from either angle.  All that screen real estate also means that text is bigger and more readable.  There’s an industry term called projected capacitance.  It’s the highest quality touch technology (like an iPad) and the Xite display uses pro-cap, so when you tap on the screen it is highly responsive.

xite-in-dash-for-e-mailThe screen is also exceptionally bright (400% over competitive products) with very high contrast (20% more).  And that gets to the number one complaint with almost all automotive displays – not being able to see the screen when it’s in direct sunlight.  The first thing that pinged my heartstrings is that, even in bright sunlight, the screen is readable — and that was with the sun directly on it.  In real world driving that doesn’t happen much, but the incredible brightness of the screen still makes a big difference just going down the highway on a bright day.  And that “Dim” button on the screen isn’t just for show – you’ll appreciate the automatic dimming feature when driving at night – which can also be manually controlled if you want to keep the display brighter.

The big 9” screen also yielded another completely unexpected benefit:  larger virtual keys.  Whether you are the driver or co-pilot, if you’ve ever tried to peck out an address to program a GPS with a tiny on-screen keyboard, especially while you’re jiggling down the road, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  With bigger virtual keys it’s sooo much easier to accurately tap in a street address.  Fat fingering be gone!

With the larger screen you also see a wider view of the GPS map and that’s a very nice feature that gives you a better sense of what’s around you and where you’re heading.

Sound

The Xite MB9 receives AM/FM and Sirius XM signals.  It does not receive hi-def FM or digital AM.  While I enjoy the digital broadcast quality in our cars in the city, the reality is that these are features that are best enjoyed by commuters in urban areas.  For traveling we pretty much stick to Sirius XM.

For higher fidelity you can use Xite’s bluetooth or hardwired USB input to play from your phone or portable player like an iPod. Often overlooked is the 8GB of internal memory where you can load in many hi-res audio files to enjoy music without external devices (more on fidelity later in this story.)

The technical specs on the Xite radio are much higher than aftermarket units you see in the $500 to $1,000 range.  However, if not paired with good speakers, it really doesn’t matter.  When Winnebago was considering the addition of a high performance audio option I was lucky enough to be the guinea pig. My side door speakers were replaced by much higher performance tweeters and a big sub-woofer was installed in our dinette bench (production models have an even better placement right behind the front seats).  Additionally a high powered in-line amplifier was added to drive the speakers. An engineer from Harman International (JBL) then spent an afternoon with audio analysis equipment “tuning” the sound spectrum for maximum clarity and dynamic range.

This was a huge improvement, but in all honesty it does fall short of systems I’ve had in past Lexus and Infinitis. The big difference is the higher ambient level cab noise in a Sprinter.  Though not loud, it’s van design heritage still shows up with wind noise at higher speeds. Cars simply are better sound insulated and more aerodynamically quiet.  When stopped, or at low speeds, the premium sound system is a joy to listen to.  At higher speeds there are two significant benefits.  The first is that speech (like NPR) is much easier to hear and, with just a little more cranking of volume, you can actually hear the melody of soft jazz tracks instead of simply the “splish, splish” of percussion.

On our last road trip we were dead heading home through Wyoming and I plugged my iPod in and cranked up the music louder than normal.  Even at freeway speeds I was surprised at how vibrant the sound was, though my co-pilot made it clear that “being in concert” in the front row of the auditorium was not going to be a standard down-the-road behavior.

xite-control-unit-for-e-mailWith this new design there is one omission: no CD/DVD player.  To free up the maximum screen real estate all the electronics have been mounted lower in the dash.  Owners of existing Views and Navions will notice that the electronics now take the place of the battery boost and house power buttons which have been relocated.  If you’re still shoving CD’s in to to play music, maybe you should be rethinking your audio life.  We live in an MP3 world and it’s time to retire the discs!

GPS

Not all GPS is created equally and when it comes to RV specific GPS your two choices are Garmin and Rand McNally.  I know I’m wading into a near theological discussion here (I like both – he said with his most politically correct font), but after thousands of miles using both Garmin and Rand McNally my take is:  Garmin is initially easier to use, but once I came up the Rand McNally learning curve I find it a much better navigating companion.

The Rand software does a lot of very cool things, but that also means it’s more complicated to use.  Look, nothing is about as simple as asking Siri “How do I get to the closest supermarket?”  Where Siri will not help you out is if you’re in a marginal cell service area wanting to know where all the commercial RV parks are within 25 miles.  Rand McNally, unlike Garmin, has multiple databases built in to help in searches like that.  It can also do some pretty fancy tricks like tying into your smartphone or hotspot to perform over-the-cell-system data queries to bring in additional information like the price of gas at a station twenty miles up the road.  For an extra fee the Rand software can also provide realtime highway traffic congestion monitoring.  I could go on. . .and on. . . about many other very helpful features of the software, but that’s a topic for another day.

RV Specific Features

There is one huge difference between Xite and it’s competitors.  Xite is a true OEM (original equipment manufacturer) product designed specifically for RVs.  Unlike generic aftermarket infotainment systems that have stereo and GPS the Xite MB9 has some very unique RV features.  It starts with being currently the only approved unit that directly interfaces into Mercedes vehicle control network.  This means rock solid integration into steering wheel controls for volume and bluetooth connection to your cell phone, direct temperature feed from the Sprinter thermostat, and flexibility for future feature enhancements.  Tied to the thermostat, the Xite provides audible temperature warnings when conditions are near freezing and you need to be wary of ice.

The beautiful display also shines when it’s being fed a high-definition signal from the rear camera where the driver can see a lot more detail. The hi-def image makes a big difference in your confidence in backing up.  It will help you judge what’s behind you with far greater accuracy. If your vehicle is equipped with MobileEye for collision warning and lane departure, the MobileEye warnings will appear and you hear the sound warnings directly through the unit. Xite takes this one step further by enhancing audio warnings based on severity. This can replace the external MobileEye display and help reduce dash clutter.

And of course, as I touched on it earlier, the Rand McNally RV-based GPS software provides very helpful RV specific data that’s excellent in helping monitor trip progress, environmental conditions (ex. sunrise/sunset, altitude), campgrounds, and upcoming exit services. All of this is done with an impressive mixture of on-board data and real-time wi-fi additions like live weather overlays.

Ownership Experience

In 2015 I gave a seminar at the Grand National Rally on how to get the most of the Xite system.  The room was packed.  I had my outline, PowerPoint and live demo all set to go.  Before I even started a hand went up, then another, and then several more.  My presentation plan went out the window and I just started fielding questions that, with a few exceptions, were all about frustrations using the Xite.

Later that evening I wrote down all the “tough” issues that came up and I saw a definite pattern.  I’ve seen similar comments on the Yahoo View/Navion forum too.  The substantial majority of “problems” people have can be easily solved by one thing most owners are loath to do:  read the manual.

Hardware-wise the Xite unit’s circuit fidelity is excellent, but that didn’t stop one forum poster from claiming that the sound quality of the Sirius/XM was terrible.  He “proved” his theory by playing the satellite channel and then plugging in his iPhone to stream the same Sirius/XM programming via his home wifi network.  The “fault” had nothing to do with Xite.  You see, many people don’t realize that the Sirius/XM satellite signal is highly compressed which dramatically cuts it’s fidelity.  The same programming streamed via the Internet is not compressed and therefore sounds much, much richer.  In computer lingo it’s referred to as “garbage in — garbage out.”

Another person complained about a huge lag between where their rig was and what the GPS was displaying.  This was a known Rand McNally software bug that could be fixed by using Rand’s free software updating system (called The Dock) where you remove the SD card in the Xite and plug it into your computer (some may require an inexpensive USB to SD card adapter) and download the latest software.

During college I worked part-time in a mountaineering store.  When customers would come in and buy a tent I would recommend to them that right before they went on their next camping trip that they set the tent up on a sunny day in the back yard.  That way if they got to camp late and were setting up in the dark and the wind they’d know what to expect under adverse conditions.

While all the radio, satellite, iPod and accessory functions on the Xite are easy to quickly figure out, the Rand McNally software absolutely requires some learning.  A little time spent with the documentation opened up and sitting quietly in your driveway, parking lot or campsite would be time well spent in learning how to set a route and search for points of interest.  And, like learning any software or skill, you need to work at it consistently to be proficient.

It’s a keeper

Right next to the Xite I have a Wilson cell booster cradle for my iPhone.  Before we dropped the big screen in, I’d sometimes just use Siri to get directions. I’d squint at the display and cock my head to hear her tiny voice give directional commands.  Now, after thousands of miles of having my giant Xite screen next to me (and audio cues through the better sound system) I don’t want to use any other method for navigation.

Bigger isn’t always better, but in the case of the Xite MB9 bigger is better than better.  As I said earlier, it’s awesome.


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38 Comments

  1. PAT SHORT Posted on 11.26.2016

    iS THERE A BETTER MODEL FOR OUR 2015 SUNSTAR? THE UNIT WE HAVE IS PANASONIC AND IT’S TERRIBLE. HARD TO SEE FROM DRIVER LOCATION AND PASSENGER.

  2. Paulette Hoffman Posted on 11.26.2016

    We have been ready to trash our Info center in our 2015 View. Where oh where can we buy this unit Xite MB9.?

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 11.26.2016

      While an upgrade option is currently not available, Winnebago will monitor interest.

  3. Kevin Deane Posted on 11.26.2016

    This sounds pretty cool. What’s the cost? Can it be installed in any Sprinter? I’m looking for a replacement for the Jensen unit in our 2013 Navion iQ.

  4. Robert Dougherty Posted on 11.26.2016

    Is there a system for the 2015 Vista 36Y? Thanks, Bob

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 11.26.2016

      Sorry, no.

  5. Tim Posted on 11.26.2016

    I believe the in-dash GPS in Views and Navions are inherently dangerous because of the distraction of changing fields-of-view from the highway to the GPS and back. An external unit can be placed up on top of the dash and requires minimal eye movement and focus to keep up with current road situations.
    For the $2500 this unit costs, one should be able to buy a premium external GPS, a good Bluetooth capable radio, a 10-wheel TP monitoring system, and a back-up camera and screen that actually function (both the GPS and backup camera on our 2015 View GPS are nearly useless).
    If we were ordering a new View, we would go that route (pun intended).

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 11.26.2016

      Tim,

      In my own driving experience (about 10,000 miles with the MB9) I did not find the visual shifting of road to display and back to be an issue. Because of the high brightness and enlarged graphics, the MB9 is much easier to read. For dashtop units, about the largest you can find would be the Rand and Garmin 7″ units. I have the 7″ RV unit from Rand McNally that they asked me to test and used it with the suction cup mount in our Navion (prior to MB9 testing). It worked fairly well, but readability and glare was an issue as it is much less bright.

      In your multi-component scenario my rough guess is the you’d need to assemble $1,000 to $1,200 of third party components – not counting labor (if a tech was required for installation). From a distracted driving standpoint, looking at multiple devices seems like more of a distraction than looking at a unified interface in one place.

      Compared to pieces and parts, the MB9 is an expensive option, but I believe, in this case, you get what you pay for. It’s in a very rare space with the only larger displays being Xite’s 10.5″ found in Winnebago’s bigger Class A coaches (and a few other high end competitors), and the giant console display in the Teslas.

      In the automotive world the standard dash space for a radio/gps is called a “Double DIN.” It limits radio screen size to 7″. The MB9 takes a very creative approach by creating a thin 9″ screen that uniquely fits over the radio cavity, yet fits perfectly under the dash trim panel. The uniqueness of the Sprinter dash console also allows the external electronics to be installed below (instead of behind) the screen. And while 2″ doesn’t sound like a lot, in comparing the readability to the standalone Rand McNally 7″ tablet, the difference is quite noticeable.

  6. BENNIE CONATSER Posted on 11.26.2016

    How do you get one installed in a 2014VIA. What will be down time and approx cost?

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 11.26.2016

      A retrofit option is currently unavailable, but the company will closely be gauging interest.

  7. Chris Posted on 11.26.2016

    I will second Pat’s comment. We have a 2016 Vista LX and the head unit is useless. I have to cock my head so far to see the unit from the driver’s seat, it is a DANGER to use it. My wife sees it better from the passenger seat, but she still has to shield it from the sun with her hand to even see it. I get the feeling that Winnebago does not even use their own products or, if they do, they don’t want too spend the extra money to make it useable.

  8. Joe Robinson Posted on 11.26.2016

    I have a 2016 Navion. As a driver I almost never look at the screen as I can never see it. The passenger can see it but the driver can’t due to rellections.

  9. Bob Anderson Posted on 11.26.2016

    Like Pat says, the unit in my 2005 Sunstar is quiet not usable. Will this new one retro fit in my 2005 Sunstar?

  10. Bill Grey Posted on 11.26.2016

    We love our 2007 Winnebago Sightseer. With 48k miles it’s not ready to trade in. How can we retrofit one of these in our coach?

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 11.26.2016

      Sorry. For now this technology is only available on the View, Navion and Era.

  11. Jay G. Posted on 11.26.2016

    The options on the View via the Winnebago website lists the monitor as being 6 inches. The same as the regular one. Is this a mistake?

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 11.26.2016

      The web site should be updated soon to reflect the 9″ screen which is standard for the infotainment system.

  12. Jim M Posted on 11.26.2016

    Something like this for the Travato would be great. Compared to the system in my Toyota, which earns a 10, the Tom-Tom thing earns a 2. The screen is too small, the functions deficient, the features too few.

  13. Rick Allen Lippert Posted on 11.26.2016

    Is it possible to replace an existing unit in an Era with this one? Cost?

  14. gale ribeiro Posted on 11.27.2016

    I have a 3917 navion that I received the second week of August it had a two month order window … I purchased the upgraded info system and stereo system but got the older model not this nice one you described in this article. I just found out that another person got their 2017 and it had this unit in it and it was ordered a few weeks after mine ? Not happy about that

  15. Mark L Zolton Posted on 11.27.2016

    Is this available for my 2015 view yet? If so where can I get it installed/retrofitted?

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 11.27.2016

      Sorry. The MB9 is only available in new units.

  16. Jim Manning Posted on 11.27.2016

    The unit in our ’15 Era is worthless to us, even as a mere radio…the search, scan and tune functions are awful. The back-up camera is worse than nothing. The one in my Subaru Outback is excellent, even in bright conditions.

  17. JAMES KIBLER Posted on 11.27.2016

    I feel VERY, VERY strongly that 3 or more separate systems are the only way to go, and manufacturers really should learn to design new systems instead of an “infotainment system” that tries to do everything. While driving on a busy 10 lane freeway through an unfamiliar city with multiple exit options the Magellan GPS is fantastic, especially with “lane assist”. (I can explain all its othe RV specific features).

    I still want to watch my toad at the same time through my after market wireless rear camera to check lane change clearances, and make sure that it is still there! I don’t want to use it only for backing up. Can’t back up with a toad anyway.

    Lastly, I have a tire pressure and monitoring system programmed for 10 tires. As we approached the Mojave Desert with the next repair service 60mi ahead, My Scion toad showed a drop in pressure and temp climbing for the right front tire. With only 100yds to decide if we should exit, we pulled over. The entire center tread was missing, and 2 more were beginning to delaminate! 4 new tires, but no tow bill.

    Another positve aspect is the ability to position 3 screen monitors all within the drivers line of site. I rank them according to importance and frequency of use.

    7″ GPS on top of dash, a little closer to driver, but still within reach of co-driver.

    Rear camera 5″ monitor on top of dash at left corner of windshield.

    Truck Systems Tire pressure Pressure Monitoring Systems 3″? screen top of windshield with suction mount. I check visually from time to time, but it is programmed by me with audible alarms when my presets are exceeded. It has a rechargeble battery but will run for 3 to 6 days between charges, and can monitor up to 22 tires! Batteries on tires have lasted for 2+yrs. User replaceble with readily available button batteries.

  18. JAMES KIBLER Posted on 11.27.2016

    I can assure everyone that my total cost for the above was less than $900 for every thing. The only installation, other than programming the tire system was to put a 12v, motorcycle sized battery in a box on top of the rear window valance, and run a wire to the camera which is suction cup mounted to the inside of our rear window. I use a $12 battery maintainer/charger for the camera battery

  19. Bob Knight Posted on 11.27.2016

    I already have a TPMS, albeit 6 sensors right now. I’ll add 4. I have a GPS, four of them – tablet, 2 phones and a garmin. It’s not clear I need an RV-specific GPS. I can put in aftermarket speakers and upgrade the head unit. All of this is quite a bit less than $2.5K. The economics just don’t compute for me. They may for others.

  20. Karsten ASKELAND Posted on 11.28.2016

    To be honest … it if works similar to the one I have in my 2012 ERA, I wouldn’t give you 50¢ for it. Mine hasn’t worked correctly (screen has never been sensitive to touch) since the day I got it. After fiddling with dealer for over a year the warranty expired and then they had their out.

    I have since replaced it with a standalone Garmin RV 760 GPS that actually works and another brand radio system.

  21. Lisa Posted on 11.28.2016

    Damn – been searching for info on the new offering and here it is. Thanks Don! Glad I got the Stock head unit ;)

  22. Lisa Posted on 11.28.2016

    Oh I’d LOVE to see a little video on this!

  23. Lisa Posted on 11.28.2016

    I don’t see how it couldn’t be retrofitted. Anyway, I’d love for it to have Apple Car Play. Wondering also if the speakers are upgraded as part of the Option. Mine suck and I need to address audio quality pronto.

  24. Doug Posted on 12.06.2016

    Put me down as a disgruntled customer of a 2015 View Rand unit. Can’t read it and can’t input to it because it is so small of a display and so dim. We need a larger upgraded display. This new unit seems to be the trick. But we need an upgrade availability.

  25. Janet P. Posted on 12.19.2016

    We don’t care for the system in our 2015 View either. We rarely use the GPS as it is too difficult to program. We also like to leave the rear camera on and cannot have both on at the same time. So whoever is in the passenger seat uses an iPad for navigating and checking traffic conditions. It would be nice to have side view cameras also. We did not get a manual for it either with our unit, and we bought it brand new. When we requested one, we were emailed a link to the website for it.

  26. Lisa Posted on 12.23.2016

    I’m not seeing anywhere where you can talk to it to give it commands like Find Gas station, etc.

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 12.29.2016

      The Xite does not have voice recognition. While voice recognition is getting pretty darn good with services like Siri or Google, it’s because they rely on HUGE back-end computer processing power. Standalone recognition isn’t as good. While I find our Ford Sync 3 unit in our Focus to be impressive — it’s still pretty limited in features and ability to manage requests in different syntax.

  27. Norm C. Posted on 12.31.2016

    I have a 2016 TRAVATO , is the Xite MB9 avail. for my unit, if so, where can I get it and how much?

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 01.01.2017

      Sorry, no. This unit is specially engineered for Sprinter-based products.

  28. Greg Brown Posted on 01.20.2017

    Don: Recently I read and article you wrote where you mentioned there is a TPMS that integrates with the new larger screen Xite. I cannot find the article for the name of the product you are using. Thanks

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 01.21.2017

      In my test version of the Xite it did include a test version of TPMS which worked very well. However, this feature has not made it into the current version for several reasons. It’s my hope that it will be added in the future, most likely as an after-purchase dealer option.