Requirements: iPod or iPod nano with dock connector.
From the moment Apple began using dock connectors on iPods, manufacturers have been creating means by which to integrate them into home entertainment systems. Most of the products are great solutions for the end goal of getting music from your iPod to your entertainment system while still sitting in your favorite chair. Other approaches fall quite short of the mark.
Most of the devices I’ve encountered for this purpose include a dock in which to place an iPod and an infra-red remote control to handle basic functions of iPod control. The only flaw in this method is that even if the device includes a means to navigate your playlists (and many don’t bother with this feature for obvious reasons), you have to get up and walk over to where the iPod is located to see where you’re navigating. Suddenly, the remote control is a little pointless. You’ve heard the jokes, haven’t you, about people who get all bent out of shape because it’s not until after they’re settled and comfortable on their sofa that they realize the remote for the TV is sitting on top of the TV?
Regrettably, Apple does not (at least I have not seen it) include a means for viewing an iPod’s menu screen through the video output on a TV. Even if they did, there are still some consumers who only use the audio outputs from a dock and have no desire, or ability in some cases, to have a TV turned on just to see the iPod screen.
The solution would seem to be that the iPod needs to remain in proximity of the owner, but still be able to send the audio and video back to the entertainment system. The most crude means for this is to simply use a long A/V cable to carry the audio (and video, if desired). Obviously, this means you have an unsightly cord running across your floor.
Other solutions have utilized Bluetooth to wirelessly transmit audio to a receiver attached to an entertainment system. None of these, however, ever seems to manage rave reviews over quality and reliability—and I’m not even sure there’s enough bandwidth to even consider sending video.
Enter Keyspan’s TuneView. This new approach to an iPod remote control puts your iPod’s display screen in your hand while leaving the iPod attached to your entertainment system.
Once connected and paired with your iPod, the TuneView truly mimics nearly all of your iPod’s menu functions. I say “nearly” because there are some items that would be pointless to include—the Games menu, for example. The remote control includes the display screen, which appears roughly the same size as an iPod nano’s screen. Below the screen are nine buttons for navigating menus, changing tracks, and adjusting volume. A tenth button at the bottom is called the Wizard button. Think of it as a right-click (or control-click) for the TuneView. Pressing it reveals contextual options that are relevant to whatever you were doing at the time.
Unlike typical infra-red remotes, the TuneView uses a 2.4 GHz RF signal to communicate with the dock. My condo is 45×29 feet, and there was nowhere I could walk that would cause the remote to no longer communicate with the dock—even through three or four walls. Keyspan says that using the remote control in a 70- to 100-foot range through no more than three walls should work, though you may have to point the remote in the dock’s general direction.
The TuneView is one of those products that, more or less, just works. The dock attaches to a power outlet (which, of course, also charges your iPod), and the audio/video signals are sent to your entertainment system via the respective 3.5mm and S-Video outputs. Attach an iPod, press a button on the remote, and you’re in business.
So, if it’s that simple and that good at what it does, why is my rating just Very Nice and not Excellent?
Regarding the TuneView dock, when I first opened the package, I noticed there’s no connection for a sync cable. I imagine there may be a good reason for this. There could possibly be all sorts of conflict problems if a computer were trying mount an iPod volume and the TuneView remote was trying to access it at the same time. Still, the TuneView dock is just a dock, and if my entertainment system and the Mac with my iTunes library were in proximity (in my situation, this isn’t the case), I would’ve wished I could use the TuneView dock for syncing. Maybe the connection could be added and some sort of toggle introduced so that it could only be used with the TuneView remote or synced to a computer.
Lacking a sync cable connection is minor, however. More serious is that I can’t completely vouch for the quality of the connection to the iPod. The first unit I received worked for a day, then started having intermittent connection problems on the second evening I tested it. By the third evening, the dock would not communicate with the iPod at all. Inspection of the dock revealed that the small connector piece in the dock that fits into the bottom of an iPod had come loose and, eventually, broken off completely. This is the sole reason you’re reading this review in the March issue instead of February as had been planned.
I was sent a replacement dock which is still working fine, so I cannot ignore the possibility that I simply received a fluke defective dock. Yet, as careful as I was even with the first dock, I’ve been extremely mindful with the second not to place any stress on the connector. I’ve never once had a problem or felt I was flexing the connector in my Apple-made docks, but I simply don’t get a feeling that I can just drop my iPod in the TuneView dock like I do an Apple dock. Perhaps the various adapter pieces that snap into the dock to accommodate different-sized iPods aren’t shaped exactly as they should be.
This possible (and I emphasize possible) dock design flaw is the primary issue I have about the TuneView. Overall, the TuneView is still a marvelous addition to an entertainment system that includes an iPod. Since the replacement dock that was shipped to me still seems solid, I will, for now, hang on to the likelihood that the original dock was simply defective.
Next, looking at the remote control, the first thing that will strike you is that it’s not very large. This isn’t a bad thing. Just keep this in mind when you look at the TuneView’s PR photos or promo video which make the remote appear larger than it is. My own photo of the TuneView, above, is a bit more representative of the remote’s size.
I do wish the remote used a click-wheel interface similar to those found on iPods. Maybe that isn’t so simple a feat across an RF connection, but I can still wish for it! Fortunately, the TuneView’s 10-button interface is very usable, and I found it undeserving of any major criticism. Keyspan addressed the potential issue of having to hold the Scroll Down button for a very long time by including Wizard button commands to jump to the middle of a list of songs as well as the end.
Keyspan informed ATPM very close to this issue’s publication date that a firmware update should be released within a few days. They provided a beta preview, and I found that it will address a few issues I had with using the TuneView.
I originally wrote for this review that there should be a search function similar to the one Apple introduced into 5.5G iPods. This firmware update does, indeed, add a function to jump directly to a first letter. Like the function to jump to the middle of a list, the Find by First Letter function is also located in the Wizard button commands.
For those who’ve carefully managed album artwork for their iTunes library, the ability to display it in the remote’s LCD screen would be splendid. Keyspan says the hardware was “designed at a time when the extended interface did not have an ability to present content such as album art…. We will address this in future generations of the remote.” Translation: TuneViews that are currently sold probably will never be able to display album art. If the capability is added, it will likely only work on the newer/revised hardware.
Moving on to the responsiveness between the remote and its communication with the dock, I’m quite impressed. If there’s any lag in navigating the menus, you’d have a hard time convincing me of it. Nevertheless, Keyspan apparently realized it could be better. The aforementioned firmware update improves the menu scrolling speed.
In the initial version of this review, I wrote that even though the TuneView keeps up perfectly while going through the menus, scanning through song or video playback was another matter. For example, I was about mid-way through a four-minute podcast and wanted to back up about 45 seconds to re-watch a segment more carefully. It takes probably just an instant longer—even with the firmware update—than it should to actually start scanning back (or forward). However, before the update, my play position would quickly end up much further than I wanted it. Instead of going back a few seconds, I ended up nearly to the beginning of the podcast. This appears to have been adjusted in the firmware update, and I was able to scan forward or backward just a few seconds with little difficulty.
The firmware update’s other enhancements include moving the Video Browser menu higher on the home menu, improved language translations, and a behavior change when the remote control is asleep so that a button you press immediately acts upon a song. Previously, a button had to be pressed to wake up the remote, and then pressed again to actually perform a function with the remote.
Keyspan does have a bit more work to do on the beta, though. I saw at least one little glitch that will earn their developers a report from me, but I’m choosing to not describe it here. It is beta software, after all.
Finally, the price—something about which I’m rather torn. I realize someone who purchases the TuneView is getting quite a handful of technology that is required to manage the communication between the remote and the dock, as well as including the LCD display. But the TuneView is $30 more expensive than an entry-level iPod nano and only $20 cheaper than a mid-level Nano. The separation isn’t much more for a 30 GB iPod video. The previously mentioned solution of simply running a long A/V cable from your iPod to your entertainment system starts to sound more feasible, especially when such a cable can be obtained for less than $20.
I can’t sit here and definitively say the TuneView costs too much. I can, however, say that its price point is such that you should definitely take a very careful look at less expensive iPod remote products before deciding that the TuneView really is what you want.
For those who are interested in the TuneView but would rather feed the music directly from a computer instead of an iPod, Keyspan will soon have you covered. The TuneView USB is scheduled to be released the first quarter of 2007, which means it may already be available by the time you read this review.