Review: DLO HomeDock for iPod
Pros: A unique all-in-one dock solution with photo and audio output, computer synchronization, and charging capabilities, plus an included remote control.
Cons: Included remote doesn’t have transmitting strength of top competing options, large but lightweight base’s look and feel are a bit off, price is on high side.
If you want to connect your iPod to a home stereo system, you now have many options: the easiest is to run a cable to the iPod’s headphone jack, but since the best quality audio comes out of the iPod’s bottom Dock Connector port, serious listeners buy “docks,” devices that both mount and extract audio from that bottom port. Priced by manufacturers from $20 to $90, these docks have varied in features: some do nothing more than provide audio output, while others provide audio, video and/or data output, and still others include integrated remote controls.
Other than speaker systems we’ve seen with similar functionality, DLO’s new HomeDock for iPod ($99.99) is the most complex and expensive docking system yet released for the iPod, and also the largest. DLO bills it as “where your iPod lives - at home,” a suggestion that people should buy this single dock for essentially everything they might want to do with an iPod in a house, and integrate it into their existing home stereo or theater system. They also show it alongside JBL’s black Creature II speakers, one of many non-docking stereo systems that it can connect to.
Having heard from our readers about their needs for iPod docks, we’re of the belief that there are at least three types of people: those who don’t buy any docks, those who buy one dock to connect to one device or computer at home, and those who buy multiple docks so that they can mount their iPods in multiple places. Because of its design and pricing, it’s unlikely that you’ll buy three HomeDocks, but if you’re a fan of the photo slideshow features of today’s color-screened iPods, you may want one to exploit that feature.
In The Box
Each HomeDock box includes six major components: the HomeDock unit itself is a router-sized base that measures 5.75” by 4” by 1” - twice the footprint of Kensington’s Stereo Dock (iLounge rating: A-), and features a glossy black outer shell with a silver top surface. Your iPod is mounted on the left side, while an included white and red remote control is docked on the right. A small red-colored infrared sensor is located on the front face under the iPod.
Since your iPod sits on an elevated Dock Connector that’s on top of the base rather than sunken inside, DLO also includes a clear plastic stand that goes in back of the iPod to hold it up, and a thumbscrew on the base that lets you move the stand backwards or forwards for different iPods. While it’s clear from the stand’s and Dock Connector’s placement that HomeDock wasn’t designed specifically for iPod nano - at maximum extension, the stand doesn’t touch nano’s back, and nano sits off-center on the Connector - nano mounts, holds, and works fine on HomeDock. Unfortunately, nano doesn’t support video output to a television, so you’ll only be able to use HomeDock’s most distinctive features with full-sized iPods.
In addition to the dock and remote, the box also contains an AC wall adapter, an RCA-tipped stereo audio-video cable, and an RCA-tipped stereo audio cable adapter, which you can use to connect HomeDock to the minijack-style cables that come with many small speaker systems. These parts connect to some of HomeDock’s six rear ports: an S-Video output, three RCA connectors for video and stereo output, a power input, and an USB-A connector. In sum, these ports let you connect HomeDock to a television set to watch iPod photo slideshows, a stereo system for listening to music, a wall outlet for iPod charging, or a computer for data synchronization and charging.
HomeDock’s look and feel will strike different users in different ways. Virtually every other dock released for the iPod has prominently featured glossy white coloration, but DLO instead went with black edging, a silver top, a generally inconspicuous white bottom, a power light that glows green or blue depending on whether an iPod’s connected, and a white, gray, and red remote control. Some people will feel that all of these colors are just too much, and suggest that an all-white design would have worked better. Others - particularly those with U2 iPods, and potentially those with black iPod nanos or silver iPod minis - will feel better about the design, though the include remote won’t match their iPods or the base. Still others, DLO suggests, will see HomeDock as a visual match for their home AV systems rather than their iPods. Given the prevalence of black or silver components, this may be true, though we’ve yet to see a home AV component that combines both black and silver like HomeDock, and includes a white remote control.
It’s also worth a brief note that HomeDock feels lightweight by comparison with other options: Apple’s and Kensington’s Docks were weighted to feel comparatively substantial, and include full rubber bottoms to maintain a solid grip on flat surfaces. HomeDock instead uses five small rubber pads which provide a fine grip given the unit’s substantially larger footprint, but it would have been nice if the unit was a little heavier just in case of cable tugs on its back.
There are only two cables missing from the box. If you want to draw superior video quality from a full-sized color iPod, you might want to try a separate S-Video cable. Despite supporting S-Video output in its own iPod Dock, Apple doesn’t sell this cable, most likely because most people don’t care much about the still image quality differential between RCA and S-Video output for their photographs. If you want to try it anyway and your TV supports S-Video, Radio Shack sells the cables for $6.99.
Less impressively, if you want to connect HomeDock to your computer, you’ll need your own USB A-to-B cable, which you might have if you already own a scanner or recent printer. This wasn’t the best possible move for DLO, given that most iPod accessories with computer synchronization include Dock Connectors that work perfectly with the cables Apple includes with every iPod. On the other hand, Kensington’s Stereo Dock omits computer synchronization altogether, and it’s better to have something than nothing. HomeDock’s USB port worked just fine in our testing, registering transfer speeds averaging 7.3MB/sec when connected to a USB 2.0 port. You won’t need to connect the power adapter to HomeDock in order to dock and sync your iPod with the unit.
HomeDock’s most distinctive feature is a sizable remote control, which as previously noted is primarily white, topped with a red cap that covers its infrared transmitter. The single most notable thing about its gray rubber buttons is how many of them there are: unlike Kensington’s dock, but somewhat like Ten Technology’s naviPro EX (iLounge rating: B+), DLO includes more than just volume and track control buttons: HomeDock’s remote includes dedicated Previous Playlist and Next Playlist buttons, a shuffle button, a mute button, a repeat button, an iPod backlight on/off button, and a HomeDock on/off button.
Though most of these buttons are useful, the iPod backlight on/off button isn’t. You’ll probably need to be close enough to the iPod to read its display before you’ll have any reason to activate the backlight. What HomeDock really could have used instead was a macro button to automatically activate a color iPod’s photo slideshow mode; as is, the remote lets you control a slideshow already in progress by using the track forward and reverse buttons, but you’ll need to walk over to the iPod to start the show. It would also have been nice if the Playlist Forward/Back buttons could have been useful to change music tracks during photo playback - pressing them just brings a halt to the slideshow in progress.
In our testing, the remote performed pretty well but not spectacularly, even by Infrared standards. In a direct comparison against the remote Kensington includes with Stereo Dock, HomeDock’s remote successfully communicated with HomeDock at distances of between 15-18 feet when pointed in a direct line of sight. Stereo Dock’s remote consistently beat HomeDock by 5-10 feet, more than a trivial amount. However, neither remote comes anywhere close to the ABT iJet and Targus RemoteTunes remote controls (iLounge ratings: A-), which achieve 100-foot control distances from the iPod by using RF rather than Infrared broadcasting technology.
Ninety-nine percent of the current iPod population would have no reason to question the audio output of any of the docks manufactured for iPods to date. But a handful of purists want unfiltered audio from the iPod, and insist on as direct and powerful connection to the device’s bottom Dock Connector as possible.
Notably, like Kensington’s Stereo Dock and unlike Apple’s own iPod Dock, HomeDock’s audio outputs use variable audio out rather than standard line outs. A variable audio output is a good thing in that the included remote lets you adjust volume at any time - the one major thing you could not do if you purchased an Apple iPod Dock and a separate remote control instead. And if properly implemented, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for 99% of users - variable audio out is generally accomplished by dampening the iPod’s line output rather than amplifying it, which means that the iPod’s output shouldn’t be distorted when tuned to the right level.
The major difference between Stereo Dock and HomeDock’s variable audio-out is that HomeDock’s peak volume is louder than Stereo Dock’s, and at these higher levels, you may hear a little distortion in the audio that isn’t evident in Stereo Dock’s signal. So instead of turning the volume all the way up, purists will need to make a little extra effort to take to insure top sound quality: for safety, turn your stereo’s volume to zero, then turn HomeDock’s volume to its maximum, then gently tune the stereo’s separate remote control and HomeDock’s in tandem to find the best-sounding combination. Everyone else won’t notice or care.
HomeDock’s single biggest selling point is convenience: for the $99.99 asking price, you can make a single purchase that generally combines the functions of Apple’s $39 video-equipped iPod Dock with a infrared remote control akin to DLO’s iDirect ($39.99) or TEN’s naviPro EX ($49.99), enhancing them with the ability to control the volume level of audio that comes off of your iPod’s bottom. You’ll also get a power supply and stereo cables without needing to purchase them separately, though it’s quite possible depending on the iPod you own and your personal needs that you mightn’t need these additional items. To some people, and especially if retailers discount HomeDock’s in-store prices as they have with other DLO products, this will seem like a great value.
However, HomeDock also represents a price and feature creep over Kensington’s similarly equipped Stereo Dock, which started at a lower price and is already available at retailers such as Best Buy for as little as $44.99. Ever since Stereo Dock’s price dropped to a level near Apple’s own Dock, we’ve heard multiple stories of people buying more than one for different rooms of their homes, and loving them. Despite the fact that HomeDock adds a few features to the mix, we’re not sure that people will need them, and think that some may prefer the smaller-sized, lower-priced white Apple and Kensington alternatives, especially if they can buy both for the same price as one HomeDock.
Overall, we think that HomeDock’s a pretty good idea with equally good implementation, but could have benefitted from a few significant tweaks - stronger remote control strength, a more polished look and feel, and slight changes to its USB port and audio output. People who really need the convenience of an all-in-one device with photo display functionality should consider it a solid option; others should consider alternatives from companies such as Kensington, Apple, TEN, ABT or Targus instead.