With iPod capacities reaching 80GB--and having no place to go but up--many people have most or all of their entire music collections stored on their magical music boxes. Instead of digging for a favorite CD, true iPodders are likely to just plop their player in the dock, dial up a song or playlist, and let the music play over the speakers of their home stereo system. Of course, in this age of instant gratification and ultrashort attention spans, setting the player to "shuffle" just won't do--some people just need to hear Brahms back-to-back with Bon Jovi, but they just can't be bothered to get off the sofa and walk across the room to work the iPod's touch wheel. And that's exactly where the DLO HomeDock Music Remote ($130 list) comes into play. The DLO's dock wirelessly transmits the iPod's display info to a tiny handheld remote, so you can navigate the player's entire music collection from afar. And because it utilizes RF wireless, the signal can travel through walls and obstructions, so it works whether you're in an adjoining room, or even out on the deck.
The DLO HomeDock Music Remote basically consists of two halves: a small iPod docking station and a handheld remote control. The dock is about twice as deep as the default Apple model because it's got two recharging bays: an iPod sits up front, and--when it's not in use--the HomeDock remote sits in the rear. The dock can be connected to any stereo or set of powered speakers via the 3.5mm line-out minijack (a patch cable with red and white stereo RCA jacks is included). A small wall wart AC adapter powers the dock, and--if it's near your computer--you can also plug in a standard mini-USB cable, and use it to sync to iTunes. An adjustable backstop is included to support varying sized iPods, and cradle accepts any of the standard sized tray inserts as well. Officially, it's compatible with all Nanos, Minis, and 4G and 5G iPods, but it seemed to work fine (albeit slowly) with an old 3G black-and-white model we had on hand as well.
The setup process is about as close to true plug-and-play as you can get. Drop the iPod into the dock (the DLO logo popping up on the screen means you've got a good connection, and the iPod is charging), and navigate to the "settings" menu on the remote. Click on "Download lists," and the DLO system will pull in the artists and playlists from the iPod. Note that you have to do this whenever you switch iPods, and it can take several minutes on models with large hard drives. Once the sync is complete, you're good to go--pull the DLO remote from the dock, and use it as you would your iPod. Because the remote uses RF (radio frequency) rather than IR (infrared) transmission, it works well through walls and other obstructions. We were able to still get a good 60 or 70 feet away, and still had no trouble choosing new songs or adjusting the volume.
You navigate in and out of song lists by artist (the album and genre info is simply omitted). Alternately, you can choose pre-existing playlists, or create an on-the-fly one using the "jukebox" feature. Overall, the remote access works well enough, but it's not as good as could be. The navigation is somewhat sluggish--there's a perceptible pause when your moving up and down lists, and back and forth between menus. And the HomeDock remote controls aren't as intuitive as those on the iPod. There are only five buttons, in a standard D-pad configuration (up, down, left, right, and center), but their functions aren't clear. For instance, the center "MENU" button doubles as select and back; but the left button (previous track) can also take you to the previous menus, in some instances. Furthermore, anyone with a large music collection--say, more than a couple of gigabytes--will find paging through the long alphabetical artist lists (going from Rolling Stones to Beatles and then back down to Prince, for instance) to be tedious.
A bigger issue that gave us cause for concern was that the DLO unit seemed to lock up when we tried to use a 60GB iPod that was about two-thirds full of music. While an 8GB iPod Nano worked fine, the larger iPod kept giving the DLO problems. It may have been something unique to the iPod, but the repeated glitching made us think the HomeDock needs a bit more stability. (Unfortunately, there's no indication as to whether or not the unit is firmware upgradable.) And while we're nitpicking, the fact that the remote's rechargeable battery isn't removable is annoying. When it eventually dies (all rechargeable batteries do), the unit is effectively useless.
The HomeDock Music Remote's flaws are all the more glaring because there are a handful of competing products that are easier to recommend. The Belkin TuneStage 2 uses the iPod itself as the remote (a snap-on dongle relays the music to a wireless base station), so you retain the player's excellent scrollwheel navigation--though the Bluetooth transmitter saps the iPod's battery pretty quickly. The Keyspan TuneView for iPod costs more than the DLO Music Remote, but it offers a similar screen, better button layout, alphabetical shortcuts for long lists, and it also provides access to videos and photos (if you've got the dock connected to a TV screen). Another video-centric alternative is DLO's own HomeDock Deluxe, which displays the iPod's contents on an attached TV screen, so you can navigate to songs and videos from the comfort of the sofa. Later in 2007, meanwhile, Philips (the corporate parent of DLO) will offer the SJM3151, a universal remote that provides iPod navigation on its built-in LCD--in addition to controlling all of the other devices in your home theater system.
All in all, the DLO HomeDock Music Remote is a promising iPod accessory for the home--it just needs some improvements before it's truly ready for prime time. We'd like to see an improved button layout, faster response time, better stability with high-capacity iPods, and (of course) a lower price for the product's next-generation. Until then, it's OK as a convenience for small capacity iPods (Nanos or Minis).