Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret

Watching iPod Videos on Your TV

Gadgets that connect iPods to home entertainment centers aren’t new. The booming iPod accessory industry has long offered docks and cables that allow music stored on an iPod to be played through a home audio system, and remote controls to manage the playback.

But, with the advent last fall of the video-capable iPod, a new type of product is emerging: connectors and docks that allow iPods to play video through a TV, as well as playing audio through home receivers and speakers. In addition, there are finally some iPod docks that place a menu of options, similar to the iPod’s own menu, on a TV screen.

$99 Apple iPod AV Connection Kit
$99 Apple iPod AV Connection Kit, www.apple.com/ipod/accessories.html

If you own a video iPod and happen to miss Sunday’s episode of “Desperate Housewives,” you can easily log on to Apple’s iTunes Music Store, pay a couple of bucks to download the episode and copy the video onto the iPod for watching on the go.

But watching movies or TV shows on your home entertainment center will always be more enjoyable than watching on a comparatively tiny 2.5″ iPod screen while listening through earbuds.

This week we reviewed two of these new iPod video connectors: the $99 iPod AV Connection Kit from Apple Computer Inc. itself and the $150 HomeDock Deluxe by Digital Lifestyle Outfitters, or DLO, as the smaller company calls itself.

When it comes to watching videos or digital photo slide shows, these two docks are about the same. Because of limitations in the iPod itself, video and slide-show menus can’t be projected on the TV screen, so selecting them requires manipulating menus on the iPod. But for listening to the iPod’s music through your speakers, the DLO HomeDock Deluxe pulls ahead. It offers a special mode that lists music on your television screen, not just on your iPod screen like the Apple kit, so you can see song details clear across the room. And overall, the DLO remote is much easier to use than Apple’s.

Griffin Technology, another popular maker of iPod accessories, has plans for its own iPod video connector that it will call the TuneCenter. This product — like the DLO HomeDock Deluxe — will offer music navigation through a TV screen menu. It should be available starting in June.

For our tests, we used a $299 30-gigabyte iPod, and made sure to copy two videos onto it from our iTunes library: rock band Coldplay’s music video of its song, “Fix You,” and the latest episode of the Bravo channel’s TV series “Top Chef.”

We started with Apple’s iPod AV Connection Kit, which includes a simple white dock, tiny white remote, white AC connection cable (red, white and yellow plugs at one end) and power adapter to charge the iPod while it docks.

We used one of four small adapters to fit our iPod into the dock. A power adapter cable and AC connection cable plug into the dock’s back side, and a small circular infrared receiver for the remote decorates the front. The other end of the AC cable fit into our TV’s red, yellow and white plugs, just like attaching a DVD player to a TV. We also made sure to turn on the iPod’s “TV Out” setting, so videos could be transmitted out rather than just playing on the iPod itself.

We picked up the iPod dock’s tiny remote, and pressed play, hearing music from our TV’s speakers, but seeing nothing on our TV screen. You can use the remote to skip through songs and turn the volume up or down, but that’s where its functionality ends. You can’t use the remote’s Menu button (nothing happens), nor can you use it to select other settings like listening to a play-list of music or turning on the iPod’s useful Shuffle Songs setting.

As if this weren’t maddening enough, we got even more frustrated when trying to use the remote to watch videos or photo slide shows on the iPod AV Connection Kit — it works only if you’ve already selected a video or slide show using the iPod buttons, not the remote.

If you’re tired of this remote limiting you to one list of songs and you want to suddenly start watching a video or slide show, you’ll have to get up, walk over to the iPod, pick it up (it’s easier to operate when holding) and start playing the video or slide show. Only then can you use the remote to navigate within that media. Apple says you wouldn’t be able to see the screen to use the remote anyway, but we’d rather have the option.

$149.99 DLO HomeDock Deluxe
$149.99 DLO HomeDock Deluxe, www.dlo.com

After dealing with the tiny remote’s big hassle, we did watch videos and slide shows through the iPod on the TV screen. While watching the episode of “Top Chef,” we easily paused with the remote to get a show-inspired snack.

Using the DLO HomeDock Deluxe was liberating compared with working with the limited Apple device. It’s a little bigger and is black, rather than white, with slots that hold its 18-button remote and the iPod. It uses the same cables and jacks, powering up from a wall plug and hooking into the TV with an AC cord.

But because the HomeDock Deluxe uses two modes — one that displays a useful user interface on the TV screen while playing music (On-Screen Navigation Mode) and another that operates videos and slide shows, as well as music (iPod Mode) — a special button on the remote must be pressed to switch between the two modes. This gets a little clumsy, stopping the iPod in midsong, for example, to swap over to the new mode.

In iPod Mode, where all data only show up on the iPod screen like on Apple’s iPod AV Connection Kit, you can listen to music, watch videos or watch photo slideshows. But the remote doesn’t limit you to one list of songs, as Apple’s does. Rather, you can skip through the iPod’s menus selecting various options with the remote, even going from videos to slide shows to music. We did have to stand closer to the HomeDock Deluxe to read some smaller print, but we never had to pick up the iPod in frustration.

We watched the Coldplay video, rewinding and fast-forwarding easily to find a favorite moment when the group’s lead singer, Chris Martin, bursts onto a stage surrounded by fans after running through the streets of London.

A small button in the HomeDock Deluxe remote’s top left corner switches to On-Screen Navigation Mode. This mode shows a brightly colored welcome screen on your TV that lists Music, Shuffle Songs, Playlists and HomeDock Settings. The Music section showed Playlists, Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, Composers and Audiobooks — a familiar iPod-like format that was easy to navigate.

Each song’s information — minus album art — showed on the screen as it played, and the bigger screen allowed us to move far away and just glance to the TV to see the upcoming song or what artist was singing. DLO hopes to add the album art to this screen in the future.

A few times, while using the HomeDock Deluxe remote, our iPod’s backlight went off, which was annoying. The company says it is working on this bug, but a special button on the remote turns it on again for now.

Overall, the DLO HomeDock Deluxe is more satisfying to use than Apple’s iPod AV Connection Kit, though it still has to work out a few kinks. Its remote is more functional than Apple’s, and it just works more easily. We’re looking forward to the day when a dock like this one can offer a TV-screen navigational mode for videos and slide shows, as well as music, so users can see all of the iPod’s data in a big-screen view.


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