The Keyspan TuneView is a two-part system: an iPod dock plus a wireless remote control. The docking unit is about an inch deeper than Apple's Universal iPod Dock, but it's still barely larger than a deck of cards. Keyspan includes trays for the 80GB and 30GB iPod with video and for the old iPod Mini; the trays that ship with all other iPods--including the Nano--should also fit. The dock's rear panel has just three ports: a minijack stereo audio connector, an S-Video output, and a mini USB jack. You'll need to supply your own S-Video cable, but the audio and USB cables are provided. If you plug the USB cable into your PC or Mac, the TuneView dock will allow you to transfer music and recharge your iPod, like any old iPod dock. Instead, you'll want to plug the dock's USB cable into the AC adapter (also included) and connect the A/V outputs to your TV or home stereo--that's where the fun begins.
Once the dock is hooked up and your iPod is firmly in place, placing the two AA batteries in the TuneView remote will fire it up for the first time. It should immediately begin communicating with the docked iPod. (If the remote fails to sync with the docked iPod, simply reset it as described in the Tips and Tricks section.) In addition to letting you control the iPod from afar, though, the TuneView remote adds a unique feature: it shows all of the iPod's menus on its built-in color screen, and lets you navigate them via an intuitive button layout. It's an advantage that can't be overstated: you can be lounging on the sofa on the other side of the room dialing up your favorite music by song, artist, genre, or playlist. The dock pumps your iPod's music through the big speakers on your stereo, recharging the music player all the while.
The remote itself has a straightforward, well-thought-out design. Just 5.25 inches long and less than 2 inches wide, it offers a 1.5-inch color LCD that's bright, clear, and much easier to read than its black-and-white counterparts. Just below the screen are a cluster of control buttons arranged in a circle. The buttons are smartly arrayed as a four-slice pie, the quadrants of which are bisected by a five-way directional pad. The result is nine control options clustered at the center of the remote, perfect for one-handed navigation with your thumb. In addition to the familiar iPod-style rewind/skip, play/pause, and menu/back, the onscreen menus are navigated via a simple up/down rocker and the select key in the center. There's also volume up and down. At the bottom of the remote is an all-purpose Wizard button, where any other options are available. The most useful one is mute--we wish it had its own dedicated key, but having it two clicks away isn't bad. No, the TuneView's remote isn't as good as the iPod's patented clickwheel, but it's among the better iPod menu navigation substitutes we've seen. And because the remote communicates via radio frequency (RF) rather than infrared (IR), it works without needing a direct line of sight to the dock. Keyspan claims a safe range of 75 feet (through walls and obstructions). That may be a bit generous, but we were able to go at least 50 feet while still maintaining control--in other words, the TuneView should work perfectly well in any reasonably sized room or home.
As great as it is for listening to music, the TuneView system really excels when you're using the iPod for watching videos. To date, remote-controlled iPod docks have been extremely frustrating in this regard. While many third-party video docks will display iPod navigation details on the TV screen for music, they always go blank when browsing photo or video content on the iPod. In other words, if you want to go from listening to music to watching a movie, you need to get up from the sofa, walk over to the docked iPod, and use its clickwheel to find what you're looking for. (This is just starting to change--Apple has released an updated development kit to vendors that addresses the shortfall, and improvements are slowly rolling out in new products and firmware updates as of March 2007.) But the TuneView's built-in menu solves all that: just click down to the video menu, choose your movie, TV show, or video podcast, and you're good to go. And while there's no onscreen display on the TV while a video is playing, the title info and the elapsed time are shown on the TuneView remote's display.
You also can use the TuneView to display your iPod-based photo slide shows, although doing so involves a bit of a hack. You toggle the remote into "iPod mode," which gives you remote control of the iPod's menus, but without the screen feedback on the remote. That means walking up to the iPod so you can see the menu on its tiny screen and navigating to the photo section. Once you're there, however, you can toggle the photo slide shows--complete with transition effects and background music--onto the TV for sofa-friendly viewing. Just be sure to follow Keyspan's instructions to the letter--in our initial evaluations, we kept overlooking the final pivotal button push that activates the TV display.
It's worth noting that the limited photo support is the fault of Apple, not Keyspan. But when and if Apple further updates its developer tools, it's possible that Keyspan could deliver improved photo navigation--and other improvements--in a future firmware upgrade. Both the remote and dock are upgradeable via the USB ports, and quickly downloading and upgrading the latest firmware added alphabetical navigation to the remote--very useful for jumping through playlists that are dozens or hundreds of songs long. But we had a few other gripes that about the remote that would need to be addressed at the manufacturing level: the buttons sometimes stick, the batteries don't fit quite as tightly as we'd like, and the screen emits a high-pitched whine when illuminated.
As good as it is, the Keyspan TuneView does have its shortfalls: the buttons sometimes stick, the batteries don't fit quite as tightly as we'd like, and the screen emits a high-pitched whine when illuminated. None of those are deal-breakers, but the TuneView's bigger problem may be the strong competition in the iPod accessory world. Chief among them is the updated 2007 version of DLO HomeDock Deluxe. For $150 (list), the
Keyspan will soon be releasing a companion product called the TuneView USB that uses the same remote to interface with a PC or Mac that's running iTunes (though we were less than enthusiastic about the similar Hercules Tunes Explorer Wireless). But controlling an iPod connected to a home audio/video system is a much more appealing prospect, and in that regard, the TuneView for iPod excels. While we'd like to see fully integrated photo support--and a lower price--the TuneView remains far superior compared to competing products such as the $100 Apple iPod AV Connection Kit and the $90 Belkin TuneCommand AV, neither of which offer onscreen feedback--on a TV or a remote--when navigating your iPod from across the room.