Griffin has had its hands in Mac accessories for well over a decade, so it's only natural that the company turn out a slew of iPod accessories as well. One of the latest products to hit the shelves is the TuneCenter, a low-profile iPod add-on that lets you integrate your player into your home theater setup and control its audio and video content from the comfort of your couch. The $130 accessory wins points for ease of use and an innovative extra, but the remote needs work.
With its 3.7x4-inch base and slanted silver back, the TuneCenter offers a small footprint and a sleek, understated design that should mesh with many home entertainment setups. The back of the unit houses all the clearly labeled ports you'll need: S-Video (cable not included), A/V out (RCA cable included), DC in (it charges your iPod, too), and even an Ethernet port, which allows you to pick up Internet radio. There's also a switch for choosing between NTSC (for the U.S. and Japan) and PAL (for most of Europe) modes. Griffin also includes a remote with various well-placed, tactile buttons, which we'll discuss further as it pertains to the use of the TuneCenter.
Connecting the unit to the TV couldn't be easier--we simply used the supplied A/V cable and attached it to our TV's RCA jacks. However, if you're using the TuneCenter with both your audio and visual systems, it's best to use an S-Video cable to connect to your television, and the RCA cable to attach to your stereo unit. And always remember to turn on the TV Out feature under the video settings on your iPod.
Once we had the TuneCenter hooked up, navigating the menus and shuttling through our song lists was a no-brainer. We didn't even need to use the short quick guide that came with the unit--we just played around with it for a couple of minutes and figured it out. Our TuneCenter started out in video mode, for which you must use the iPod's screen as the interface (good eyesight recommended). The large, four-way circle surrounding the select button on the remote serves to navigate among and through the iPod's menus (like the Click Wheel, except without scrolling). To toggle between video and music modes, press the Video button.
In music mode, a main menu pops up on your TV screen and lets you select between iPod playback and Internet radio. Selecting the iPod icon will take you to your iPod's music menu, where you can make your music selections exactly as you would on the player (artists, albums, and so on). A Page Up/Down button helps with scrolling though lists, but there's no acceleration, so longer lists can be a chore. Hitting the Settings button lets you shuffle or repeat tracks or toggle the EQ setting. This is also where you adjust settings for Internet radio.
All in all, the TuneCenter's performance was spot on. Videos looked great on our TV screen, and even audio was good, considering the medium (TV speakers). However, the remote was not entirely responsive, and we found that we had to point it straight at the front of the unit for it to work. Range was also not great: maybe 12 or so feet. We're also disappointed that Griffin didn't include a port for syncing the iPod while it's docked in the TuneCenter. That said, the unit's user-friendly interface and Internet radio capability make it an attractive option.