Review: Belkin TuneCommand AV for iPod
Pros: A combination of a radio frequency (RF) remote control and small Universal Dock-compatible iPod dock with AV cables, power supply, necklace and clip attachments, all designed to let you conveniently access an iPod’s music, photo, and video content from a distance of up to 120 feet away from a connected TV or AV system. Aggressively priced.
Cons: Performs better with music than with videos thanks to interface quirks, requiring you to create a video playlist to control any video on screen. Achieves broadcasting distances of only around 80 feet, and even within that range, sometimes with less button responsiveness than should be expected. Short AV cable.
Going into the production of our 2007 iPod Buyers’ Guide, there were several new iPod accessories that we really looked forward to seeing perform up to full expectations, as they would conceivably have been category leaders had they been properly executed. Belkin’s TuneCommand AV for iPod ($80) was near the top of this list - a smart combination of a radio frequency (RF) remote control and audio-video iPod dock, promising to let users control iPod audio and video on a TV located up to 120 feet away. Unlike similar products from companies such as DLO, Belkin’s dock and remote design was simple and mercifully small - the dock’s only a little bigger than one of Apple’s, and besides its additional broadcasting power, the remote is similar to an Apple Remote, only with shuffle and repeat buttons in addition to track backward/forward, volume, and play/pause buttons.
Our enthusiasm wasn’t only based on the unit’s technology and simple design - on paper, it seems like a much better deal than Apple’s iPod AV Connection Kit (B+), which for $100 delivers an iPod Universal Dock, AV cable, Remote, power supply and cable in a single package. Belkin’s new dock is also Universal Dock standard-compliant, and includes five Dock Adapters for various sizes of iPods, a power adapter to keep the iPod charged while docked, and an AV cable - S-Video and composite video out are both supported, with pretty clean audio and video signals relative to some of the iPod video docks we’ve seen. Additionally, Belkin’s includes several add-ons for its RF remote, namely a detachable lanyard necklace and belt clip, along with an adhesive pad that attaches the clip to any flat surface for storage. Oh - have we underscored enough that this whole package sells for only $80?
With all that said, there has to be a reason TuneCommand AV didn’t rate higher, and here it is: though it does fine with music and photos, the unit behaves oddly when it comes to playing back video content. Plug your iPod in and try to use the remote to control anything during video playback, and more likely than not, TuneCommand AV will do literally nothing. Press the pause button on the remote, and the iPod won’t respond; try to fast forward or reverse, and the iPod will keep playing as if nothing was being asked of it. This had us stumped when we first found that the iPod wasn’t responding to commands, so we tried everything - unplugging the iPod, the dock, the remote’s battery, and so on. Nothing helped. Then we paged through the included manual, where the company acknowledges that you’ll need to go through a special step in order to control your videos with the included remote. Specifically, you’ll need to go back and add all of your videos to a video playlist with iTunes, and try again. Once a video’s in the playlist, TuneCommand AV lets you control it. But when it’s not, you’re out of luck - the remote won’t work. This isn’t an issue with Apple’s docking solution, and others we’ve tried.
This wasn’t the only odd part of using TuneCommand AV. The remote wasn’t quite as responsive as we’d prefer - even when used from only a room away, and without forcing it to broadcast through a wall, there were times when button commands weren’t recognized, requiring multiple presses to pause or resume playback. We also found that the battery had run down after less than a month of testing - something we couldn’t attribute to the remote for certain, but have seen happen in other RF-based remote controls - and then had some small synchronization issues trying to get the remote to re-pair with the dock once the battery was replaced. Belkin’s manual again seems to anticipate this, and pulling power from the dock a few times eventually re-initiated the devices’ connection. On the other hand, TuneCommand AV is aided by the facts that it even approaches its promised 120-foot transmitting distance (think more like 80), can work without being pointed directly at the dock, and responds to commands at least 75% of the time from two rooms away, all of which put it ahead of the 30-foot, line-of-sight-only Apple Remote and Universal Dock combination.
It’s worth brief additional notes that unlike Apple’s Universal Dock, the unit doesn’t put out an audio signal unless it’s plugged in to the included power adapter, and it also lacks a Dock Connector pass-through or USB port for connection to your computer. Additionally, its included audio-video cable is on the very short side - just enough to connect to an adjacent receiver or TV, but not as much as you’ll need for a more spread-out system. None of these issues is a major showstopper given the price of admission, but they’re all factors you may want to consider.
Overall, TuneCommand AV is a better than average iPod dock and remote solution, offering RF remote control technology and a nice design at a reasonable price. Because of interface quirks relating to its control over videos, and some issues with the remote, we didn’t feel comfortable rating it as highly as it otherwise would have merited, but depending on what you need it for - music or videos - it may be better or worse suited to your needs than more expensive, less fully equipped options from other companies.