Pros: A 45-inch long, retractable audio-video cable for full-sized iPods with color displays, capable of plugging into the headphone ports of iPods to output photo slideshows and audio to televisions.
Cons: Build quality isn’t great; video RCA plug came apart when tested (though it was easily reassembled). More expensive than Apple’s own AV Cable.
In recent months, two competing alternatives to Apple’s official iPod AV Cable ($19.00) for full-sized color iPods have emerged. Though we’ve covered Apple’s cable in our Buyers’ Guides, we haven’t formally reviewed it on the site, so we’re taking this opportunity to cover all three products at once.
Apple’s Cable does two things: it outputs stereo audio from any iPod’s headphone port, and it also outputs video from the same port on full-sized iPods. To achieve this, Apple uses three thick, substantial gray cords with white and chromed RCA-style ends (marked yellow, white and red for video, left and right audio) that merge into a single minijack. All of the RCA ends are metal-tipped and strong; it’s easy to plug them into and remove them from a TV. Signal strength is strong: photos displayed on your TV look crisp, and audio sounds great. At $19, the Cable’s not cheap, but it feels well-made and does the job no matter what your application may be – it’s around 6 feet long from end to end.
The new alternatives are from BoxWave (iPod Photo AV miniSync, $29.95 regular, $24.95 through site) and Pacific Rim Technologies (Retractable AV Cable, $16.99). Both products use retractable mechanisms and flat cables to reduce the amount of space they consume relative to Apple’s cable, which while aesthetically slicker requires considerably more room in a bag.
We wanted to like BoxWave’s AV miniSync, given both its size and the fact that it delivers equivalent video quality to Apple’s own cable. However, at $24.95, it’s the rare accessory that actually costs more than Apple’s part, which is arguably made up for by its added convenience – save for the fact that Pacific Rim does generally the same thing for less than Apple’s price. We say “generally” only for one reason: though they’re both capable of connecting an iPod to a TV, AV miniSync’s 45-inch long cable is a foot and four inches longer than Pacific Rim’s, but about that much shorter than Apple’s cable. Whether you’ll need the extra length is up to you; we didn’t.
We also had some build quality concerns about the BoxWave cable, which started when the video cable’s metal and plastic parts separated from each other when we went to remove it from our television. The parts were easy to reassemble, and the separation didn’t appear to damage anything, but we really don’t like to see accessories fall apart when we use them. By comparison, this wasn’t a problem with Pacific Rim’s or Apple’s cables.
Pacific Rim’s Retractable AV Cable is the best of the options unless you really need greater cable length between your iPod and TV. As with BoxWave’s cable, it uses a retractable, spring-loaded mechanism that worked properly in our testing, reducing its minimum footprint down to a little over one inch, depending on whether you let the AV cables dangle. As with BoxWave’s cable, Pacific Rim’s delivered video quality equivalent to Apple’s, without requiring the same space. But its RCA cable ends didn’t separate from their plastic when unplugged from our TV, another advantage over the AV miniSync.
Its only disadvantage to some will be its length: at 31 inches fully extended, it’s a great travel cable, but some may prefer Apple’s substantially longer cable for home use. While BoxWave’s cable would have been a good compromise between the two, its higher price and lower build quality preclude it from receiving our recommendation.
Considering its low price – the best we’ve seen for a quality retractable AV cable – and acceptable build quality, Pacific Rim’s Retractable AV Cable is a no-brainer alternative to Apple’s official part unless you really need a longer cable. We’d pick it as the best travel AV cable for the color iPod, with Apple’s cable the nicest looking choice we’ve tested for permanent installation in a home or office.
Company and Price
Model: iPod Photo AV miniSync
Compatible: iPod (with Color Display)