- Review Price: £49.83
Apple TV has been out for a while in the UK, but with no real downloadable content to speak of available on the UK iTunes, at around £200 it seems an expensive luxury or even folly, to buy one. A cheaper, simpler alternative is this dock from Belkin, the TuneCommand AV.
It offers similar functionality to the Apple’s AV Connection kit, but the Belkin box can be found for less. The Belkin dock essentially enables you to watch your iPod videos on your TV, or you can just pump out audio to a stereo.
It’s finished in iPod white, with a silver surround round the dock, and grey on the base and on the remote. The remote is rather chunky and enables you to Play/Pause, Skip, control the volume and activate the Shuffle and Repeat functions. One thing you should realise is that you can’t browse the iPod menu from the remote, or start videos going – for that you have to go up to the iPod. This means that to skip between videos they have to played from a playlist.
Apple has rather sneakily made owning a dock a feature it can charge for, when ‘back-in-the-day’ it used to include a dock – one was included with my third gen iPod. The dock is a chunky affair and comes with adaptors for a 5th gen video iPod, a 4th gen iPod, a mini and a nano. Round the back you’ll find a power connector – it needs to be plugged in to use – an S-Video output, twin phono line-outs and a mini jack output. This is for use with the bundled cable that provides composite output and stereo phono outputs. It is the most basic connection available and image quality over this connection will leave something to be desired, so it’s not a first choice option. Belkin has usefully also provided a label chart on the underside of the dock so anyone can see at a glance what’s what, but you can easily remove this should you wish.
At the front of the dock is a small dot that lights up in response to remote commands. The remote operates over RF so you don’t need line of sight to control it. While this doesn’t make much sense for pictures and video, unless you enjoy changing channels from another room when someone else is watching telly, it does make some sense for audio. As such, there’s a holder attached to a lanyard so you can carry the remote round with you. If you wish to leave it in one place there’s a stick on pad for the holder. If you do, you’ll get the full benefit of the rubber stand, which will ensure it won’t slide around.
Rather oddly, I found that you can only change the iPod volume when connected using the supplied cable. If you use the S-Video cable, you have to control the volume using the TV or amp remote. Even odder was the fact that the remote kept dying on me. I went through three cell batteries but after a short time the remote stopped responding, even though the battery was fine when I used it in something else. I have to assume this is just a fault with this remote, but I have report it as it suggests there could be issues with build quality.
This was disappointing, as generally the dock was great to use. It does seem an easy way to free up and share the videos on your iPod. You can’t really do that on the iPod itself as it doesn’t have a built in speaker, though naturally this will change when the iPhone comes along. If you leave the dock by your TV you have easy and convenient way of displaying video and photos to friends and family.
Of course video encoded to the iPod’s native resolution of 320 x 240 isn’t going to look too hot on on TV, especially on HD TVs. As such it makes sense to encode as high a resolution as possible. I encoded one video at VGA settings though as it was a widescreen file, the actual resolution turned out to be 576 x 320. Played over S-Video resulted in just about acceptable image quality. Watching over composite and the image quality was appreciably worse. On lower resolution, lower bit-rate material there was no real difference between S-Video and composite – it all looked ropey on the larger screen! It’s a similar story with images; once you start enjoying your slideshows on the big screen, you’ll want to make sure you upload higher quality versions.
The only thing the official iPod dock has that the Belkin doesn’t is provide a USB connection so you can sync from the dock and is a great way of getting a decent S-Video connection out of your iPod. You can just go for a cheaper cable route, but then you’ll be limited to composite, which looks horrible – and the remote functionality means you can sit and view in comfort. As such, it just about justifies the asking price, as long as you get it for £50 or so – some retailers are asking for more.
A good way of freeing up video, photos and audio contained on your iPod and sharing it with the world – or at least your living room. The limitation though is really the quality of the video you’re likely to put on here, but for casual use it does a decent job.
Score in detail
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