VDO Dayton MS5000 Automobile Navigation System
Product Review draft (9/25/00)
by Joe Mehaffey
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Overview of the MS5000
The VDO Dayton MS5000 (5K) is the one of the latest of VDO's several models of automatic route finding GPS navigator for automobiles.  VDO is a well known German name in the European GPS navigator market and has their equipment is optional OEM equipment in several cars including the Lincoln Navigator and BMW.  The 5K is a top-of-the-line model with several interesting features.  These include:

1) A 5.8"W x 3.25"H (168 mm x 98 mm) color display.  The display is bright and EASY TO READ in all light conditions including bright sunlight.  It has an automatic brightness control which works well as ambient light changes.  The map display can be North UP or Track UP as desired.

2)  The inclusion of a 2 axis Piezo Electric GYROSCOPE is an important and functional feature of the 5K system.  This  gyro takes care of the problem of intermittent GPS reception when  traveling in built up city areas, mountains and wooded areas.  When the GPS signal is inadequate,  the system switches over to the piezo gyro and the signal from the speedometer and "dead reckons" until the GPS signal returns.   When GPS signals are being received,  the GYRO and speed sensors are continuously calibrated.

3) The computer/CDROM reader is 180mmW x 160mmD x 51mmH.  The computer module includes the 32 bit RISC computer,  Piezo gyro,  CDROM reader,  16 megs Ram,  16 megs Flash ROM,  and the 8 channel parallel GPS receiver.  An amplified external antenna complements the GPS receiver.

4) An infrared link hand held remote control can either be used on internal AA cells -or- it can communicate and be powered by a plug in cradle if desired and not use the IR link.

5) Software capabilities of the 5K are extensive and include all of the features needed for automobile navigation.  The address-to-address routing is competent and we especially like the automatic recomputation of a new route if you take a wrong turn or decide not to follow the computed route.  Most user operations were intuitive.  A few were poorly thought out and counterintuitive.  However,  after a learning period,  all is OK.  (Additional discussion below.)

What's Different about the MS5000?
The 5K definitely has five outstanding features.
First,  the daylight viewing screen with automatic brightness control and the ability to automatically turn to night mode when you turn on your headlights are definite display advantages.  We have not seen a better monitor in direct sunlight.  Second,  the VDO has a gyro element which allows you to continue to navigate during momentary (or even fairly lengthy) GPS signal interruptions is pretty impressive.  The gyro used in the VDO Systems is a Piezo-electrical gyroscope 1.6"x1.5"x0.8" and is mounted on the main Printed Circuit Board.  Seeing the system track my progress in an underground parking garage was interesting if not especially useful!  In city canyons in Atlanta,  tracking was full time even when the GPS signal was intermittent.   For full accuracy,  (i.e.  so as not to confuse the navigator  when you back up),   you must hook up your back up light signal and of course the car's electronic speed signal (analog voltage or digital pulses OK.  The system automatically uses "whichever" and calibrates it against the GPS.).  With these signals,  the system is able to "dead reckon" navigate for many minutes in the absence of GPS signals.
Third,  the automatic address-to-address router recomputes the route automatically if the driver deviates from the computed route.  -And-  The computer generated routes were routinely  "extremely satisfactory" and always at least "acceptable".   I saw no really unsatisfactory routes in the areas where the NavTech maps had full coverage.  Outside the full coverage areas,  you can navigate to town centers or to cross streets.  NavTech coverage is NOT universal in the USA.  Make sure your areas of interest are covered.
Fourth,  Map scrolling is smooth and fast. (Not instantaneous,  but faster than other systems we have tested.)
Fifth,  Coming next year in Atlanta is a road/street/highway warning service via radio.   When/Where implemented,  an accessory receiver can pick up these signals and automatically route the driver around traffic jams,  wrecks and construction.  This sounds like a GREAT feature.

How do you operate the MS5000?
Having a  MS5000  with you is a lot like having a human co-pilot in the right hand car seat with a map book and total familiarity with your travel area.  To use the MS5000,  you enter a destination city and a destination street address (or two cross streets) and enter click the GUIDANCE command.  The sequence for entering an address is moderately involved.  Using the remote control,  the user presses MENU,  then selects NAVIGATION,   then ADDRESS BOOK,  then RETRIEVE/STORE address,  then select PRIVATE/BUSINESS,  then enter country,  city,  street and number.  Then press OK,  then select GUIDANCE and off you go.  This procedure is much more involved than most other similar systems,  BUT,  you do in the end get the job done.   After a delay of perhaps 15 to 30 seconds,  the MS5000 will  begin VOICE GUIDANCE INSTRUCTIONS.  Unlike the Delorme SA7 and SkyMap 2000,  the available audio level from the MS5000's  built in speaker (located in the rear of the display) was more than adequate in a noisy car at 70 mph.  In about 1000 miles of travel so far with the 5K,  we found it to give extremely good directions and best of all TIMELY and clear directions.  On RARE occasions,  we found the directions a bit late  where an exiting expressway ramp was extremely long.  We found that it was really not necessary to refer to the very accurate map display.   The voice instructions are all that is needed to get you from address to address efficiently.  If you wish to deviate from your set route for a period,  you press a few keys and PNA recomputes your new route.     Other functions allow you to view the map without guidance,  retrieve addresses from the address book,  setup system parameters,  operate map screen guidance,  pointer screen guidance,  or combo (split) screen guidance.  An automatic volume control increases volume as your car speeds up and reduces it as you slow down.  This adjustable feature is GREAT!  I wish my car radio had this feature.

(VDO offers the model MS3100 without the excellent color map display but with a smaller screen giving POINTER directions and VOICE directions for about $1500 compared to the approximate $2500 price tag for the MS5000.   (Check Latest Prices HERE.)  The MS6000 is another  VDO model which includes the excellent color display of the MS5000 within a standard DIN size radio chassis.  It includes an AM/FM radio and disk player within this very compact module.  When you want to use the display screen on the MS6000,  the front of the radio slides out,  the screen rotates and like magic the big display screen appears.)

Map Accuracy
The  NavTech maps appear (in the Atlanta area) to be the most accurate digital maps we have seen.  So far,  we have found zero errors in the road maps excepting in areas built or changed within the last year.  (That is not to say that there may not be a few!)  The one way streets,  expressway ramps,  are all in the right place and pointing in the right direction as far as our checks determined.  This was a major contributor to the smoothness of operation we felt when driving in "tricky" road areas.  Often,  5K would take us one way going in and another way coming back to take advantage of one way streets.  At a glance,  you might infer that NavTech Maps provide street level detail in all areas of its map coverage.  Unfortunately,  this is not true.  Basically they cover "large cities and metropolitan areas" with extraordinarily detailed maps.  Then many areas OUTSIDE these "large cities and metro areas" have just state and federal roads and highways and the better known local arteries.   We did note that when we were outside the metro coverage areas,   the MS5000  continuously directs you toward a main highway even if this routing would take you considerably out of your way and on lower quality roads and streets.    By using the map display,  you can easily note this and just drive the more direct way.

Be sure to carefully review the map coverage data  for details in your area to avoid disappointment.  For instance,  in the Atlanta area,  Cherokee  and Hall Counties have no detailed  coverage despite officially being in the Atlanta Metro Area  <When the coverage is there,  it is excellent.  When it is missing,  you will need your map book.>

What other features does the MS5000 have?

The 5K includes a built-in directory with over 40 categories of Places To Go such as gas stations, ATMs, restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, civic centers, sports arenas and more.  We found the restaurant category reasonably accurate.  The SHOPPING category failed to display major shopping malls.   We did not check other categories extensively.     The USA is divided up into  about nine different CDROM maps by NavTech.  For other countries map offerings,  see the SOFTWARE  listings HERE.

 Installation:  Not for the inexperienced

At first,  I intended to make a "temporary" installation in my car.  However,  when I got into it and found that at a minimum I needed:
a) Always ON +12vdc.
b) Accessory +12vdc.  (On and OFF with the Radio)
c) A signal that goes on with the headlights. (in my car,  this signal was most easily found as the license plate light.)
d) The electronic speedometer signal (or something similar).  I found this under the dash with a little searching in the car's shop manual.
e) The back up light power.  (If you do not want your Piezo Gyro to get confused when you back up.  I ignored this item.)
Since I was not overly familiar with my car's  wiring harness,  (and despite having the factory shop manual and some expertise in this area),  it took me about 4 hours to IDENTIFY signals a), c) and d) in a location convenient to attach to -and- in a place where they were properly fused.  Then it took me about 4 hours to actually install the equipment.  Not bad for a first time install and I encountered no special problems.  Still,   unless you are quite used to automobile equipment installation and reading auto wiring diagrams,  best to have professional help on the install.   In the end,  the installation went well with the usual few plastic trim fasteners which had to be replaced.   (SOME of you may be squeamish about drilling holes in your dash or jerking out your interior trim.  Just remember:  After you drill the FIRST hole in your car,  it is "just transportation" and any additional holes are much easier to drill!)

What we didn't like about the VDO MS5000.
1)  Although MS5000 routed us beautifully most of the time,  we found it equated all US highways as superior to all STATE highways.  This caused it to sometimes choose slow and heavily traveled US 9 in our area when a freeway (Georgia 400) was the highly preferable route.   You can force the issue by driving on US 19   but there is no ability for a user to provide preference information on specific roads.
2)  We found that "occasionally" MS5000 would route us through a shorter but heavily traveled "surface street" area rather than a slightly longer but much faster freeway route.  We think that the "fastest" selection should place higher emphasis on freeway routing.
3) MS5000 requires that you enter a destination address or cross street as a destination.  (You can also use the Points-of-Interest destinations).  It is  supposedly possible to "point" to a location and have the 5K route you there,  but we were unable to get this feature to work.
4) The user MENU system needs improvement.  While it works,  it takes an unusually large number of keystrokes and menu selections to do the simple things such as "Enter and address and GO".   Some of the commonly used menu items are counterintuitive and if you operate the menu system the way you THINK it should work,  things appear to function,  but data entry will not occur and you will encounter a dead end.

The MS 5000 had few problems and we found it a pleasure to operate.  The somewhat unwieldy Graphical User Interface is basically our major gripe.    The VOICE DIRECTIONS are excellent and provide timely and adequate directions in almost  every situation we came across.   In fact,  the voice directions were of such quality  and clarity that we found it totally unnecessary to refer to the MS5000's  map display page.   This makes the PNA much safer to use that systems which require reference to moving map displays.  While the $2500 price tag is high, the system quality is also high and the inclusion of the Piezo GYRO for navigation in the absence of GPS signals makes it worthwhile

VDO Dayton provides technical specifications,  manuals and FAQs on their various models on their website HERE

Please feel free to send us your  ADDITIONAL comments,  and any corrections or additions.
If we failed to answer YOUR QUESTIONS about the MS5000,  please let us know.

Joe Mehaffey