Review: JP’s/Pods Plus Dock with Video Out
Company: Pods Plus
Model: Dock with Video Out
Compatible: iPod 3G, 4G/color/photo, mini
Pros: A substitute for Apple’s official iPod Dock with video, audio, and data outputs on the rear. Includes three cables for the same price as Apple’s Dock without any cables, including a good composite AV cable.
Cons: Larger and less attractive than Apple’s official Dock, with a built-in light that only illuminates under FireWire power, not with the included USB cable, and is hidden behind one corner of the iPod. Sound isn’t as pristine as in Apple’s Dock. Two of the three cables aren’t well-made.
There are smart and not-so-smart ways to copy and add features to an official Apple iPod accessory. JP’s and Pods Plus’ Dock with Video Out ($39.99, packaged and sold as iDock Photo) uses some of the not-so-smart ones.
Conceptually, it’s a great idea: the company puts three cables and an iPod dock in the same box for the same price as Apple sells a video-ready iPod Dock (iLounge rating: B) by itself. There are two types of video cables - one S-Video, one RCA-style composite with stereo audio plugs - and one USB-to-Dock Connector cable.
Then there’s the dock itself, a large, oval-shaped white plastic base that’s almost twice as tall and a bit wider than Apple’s official Dock, but the same depth. While not unattractive, it’s not quite the match of Apple’s part overall, and looks especially big when used with the iPod mini. JP’s Dock is advertised as a one-size-fits-all product, which it is, given that it’s sized to accommodate the largest (60GB) iPods currently made.
Is there any good reason for the extra thickness? Perhaps it’s to accommodate the purple LED that’s inside the dock, oddly positioned to the right rear of the iPod, mostly out of sight when actually used with a full-sized unit. Even more odd is the fact that the LED doesn’t go on unless the dock is connected to a FireWire cable; the included USB one leaves it dark.
That included USB cable isn’t the most impressive we’ve seen. Unlike Apple’s official cable, our review cable didn’t fully snap into place in the back of the JP’s Dock, so our first attempt at synchronization was interrupted when the cable came loose. However, subsequent attempts with the cable pushed in to the maximum extent possible were successful, and music transferred without any issue to the connected iPod. Unfortunately, even after fooling around with them to try to make them work properly, the cable’s side locks still don’t lock into the JP’s Dock, so a tug can loosen it - again, unlike Apple’s.
We would have chalked the cable up as a single bad part except for a couple of other issues we noticed. First, the included S-Video cable has problems, too. When connected to the JP’s Dock, it produced a distorted but legible image, but would not sync properly on the TV when connected from Apple’s official Dock. The problem’s apparently with the cable, not the JP’s Dock; a reference S-Video cable we use worked without problems on both docks.
And then there’s the JP’s Dock’s line-out. It sounds great except for one thing: unlike Apple’s official Dock, you’ll hear a low-volume squealing sound every time the iPod accesses its hard drive, which will typically be every 4 or so tracks, depending on the size of your songs. This is a problem with some, but not all third-party dock-connecting accessories, but it’s not something we prefer to hear in something that purports to be a replacement for Apple’s clean official part. (For reference, the same sound can even be detected in Kensington’s highly-rated Stereo Dock for the iPod, albeit a little less audibly.)
The one cable in the package that worked as expected was the composite RCA cable, which plugs into the color iPod’s top as an alternative to S-Video output from either Dock’s rear. Apple sells a nicer looking but otherwise identically functional version of this cable separately for $19, so its inclusion in the package can definitely be seen as a bonus.
Apple’s history of premium pricing generally means that lower-cost cloned identical accessories can be developed without cutting corners, but JP’s Dock with Video Out cuts a few too many, in our judgment. Given that it costs as much as (actually, a little more than) Apple’s official, B-rated part, comes with two cables that have issues, and doesn’t offer a functional, visual, or sonic advantage over the original, we don’t feel comfortable recommending it to our readers. In our judgment, anyone who buys this expecting all of its components to perform properly will be disappointed.
On the other hand, some people will be willing to overlook the flaws in the package because of the modest benefit of getting one good extra cable and an adequate dock for the same price as Apple sells its superior but overpriced Dock alone. That’s fair enough, and we wouldn’t actively discourage people from buying this if they really want to save a few bucks, so long as they’re aware that this isn’t as strong a performer as they might expect.