Review posted May, 2007 by Jacob Spindel, Chief iPod Correspondent
DLO’s original HomeDock Deluxe was a pioneer, in that it was the first iPod docking product that enabled users to send both video and audio-only content from an iPod to a television. However, the HomeDock Deluxe also had some significant problems, especially the inability to use its onscreen menu system for video content, and its buggy remote control system that frequently reacted as if you had pressed a different button than you actually pressed. I am happy to report that DLO has paid attention to its users’ concerns (something I can’t exactly say about all tech companies), and that their newly updated version of the HomeDock Deluxe fixes most of the concerns with the original model.
Quick refresher course: any fifth-gen iPod can output video content to a television with a simple adaptor cable, but they don’t have any built-in method for playing back audio-only content on a TV. The original HomeDock Deluxe supplemented the iPod 5G’s built-in capabilities by adding an on-screen menu system for navigating and playing audio-only tracks on your TV—but it required you to continue using the iPod’s own menus for navigating video content, which tended to be a hassle since most people can’t read their iPod’s internal screen from across the room.
At long last, the updated HomeDock Deluxe allows you to use its own menu system, which is displayed on your TV, to navigate all audio and video content from your iPod, and it also enables you to display album art for audio-only tracks on your TV screen. The unit itself is largely unchanged from the design of the original, consisting of a rectangular base, on top of which you’ll find an iPod stand and a bay for the remote control. The updated version is lighter in color and has a new auxiliary input jack on the left side, but it is otherwise the same size, shape, and design as the original. The older model can’t be upgraded or traded in for the new one, so existing users will have to buy the HomeDock all over again to get the new features. Although this is not exactly good news for early adopters, the fact is that virtually all computer products will cause issues similar to this for their users at some point in their upgrade cycle.
An added benefit of being able to watch videos from the HomeDock's own interface is that you do not need to select the iPod's own "TV On" (or Always Ask) option to be able to watch videos on your TV. In other words, you can set your iPod to "TV Off" and watch videos on the iPod itself without having to select "TV Off" manually for each video, and then you can watch your iPod's videos on your TV through the HomeDock Deluxe without having to adjust the iPod's settings.
The rear of the unit features the same RCA and S-Video outputs found on the original, as well as the same USB connector so you can sync your iPod with a computer. The NTSC/PAL switch has been removed, but you can still toggle between the two standards via the remote control by following the instructions in the manual.
The remote control has slightly more “rounded” buttons, but otherwise follows the same design as the original, enabling you to browse the menus, control volume and playback, and turn the HomeDock on and off. As with its predecessor, the device’s infrared codes are a superset of those of Apple’s own remote control—in other words, you can control your Mac or Apple Universal iPod Dock with the HomeDock’s remote as well. This is primarily an advantage, but it may be frustrating for some users who have tried to use their Apple Remote to control either their Mac or their iPod, only to find that both devices keep responding to the remote control, no matter how hard they try to aim at just one of them, since the HomeDock’s remote can potentially cause the same problem.
Rounding out the list of new features in the updated version, the HomeDock Deluxe has multiple themes and screensavers to choose from and also allows you to build playlists on the fly. The overall interface has been refined and made clearer and more pleasant to use. These are all welcome additions, although they are not exactly “showstoppers.”
Dock ’n’ Roll
The updated HomeDock Deluxe provides a truly slick user experience. Like the original, it plays back audio and video on your TV with high-quality results (although this, of course, also depends on your TV)—but unlike the original, it is much more fun and easy to use. The light on the front of the unit pulsates to indicate when it is receiving a command from the remote, and since the remote control system is now much less buggy, the light is a nice addition that helps you feel that you are actually in control of the device. Unfortunately, the remote does still have some bugs and issues with button-presses being treated as the wrong button, but it is still greatly improved over the original.
Viewing photos from your iPod on your TV is still a bit of a weak point, however. Although you no longer have to worry about switching between “iPod Mode” and “Dock Mode” for audio and video files, you do still have to switch into “iPod Mode” for pictures, which must still be controlled using the iPod’s own internal display. For iPod nano users, the situation is even tougher, since you can’t view the nano’s photos on a TV through any method, even though it supports displaying stored images on the internal screen. The bottom line is that, even though the HomeDock Deluxe is compatible with all Dock-connector-based iPods, it is best used with the (video-capable) iPod 5G, and it just doesn’t hold quite the same appeal for owners of previous iPod models, especially those who already have the older version of the HomeDock Deluxe. It is entirely possible that the current HomeDock Deluxe will be as useful for future iPods (and the iPhone) as it is the 5G now, although for now it is too early to say.
What About The AppleTV?
The AppleTV and DLO HomeDock Deluxe may appear, on the surface, to provide somewhat similar functionality, since they both place your iTunes library on a TV. However, whereas the HomeDock takes your iPod and transmits its content to your TV, the AppleTV is a much more complex device, which can store, display, and wirelessly stream your media, even if you don’t own an iPod at all. The AppleTV almost undoubtedly has more capabilities and features than the HomeDock, but it also costs a lot more, and since most people don’t attempt to watch more than one TV at a time, iPod owners will likely find that the HomeDock suits their needs just as well, at a much lower price level.
If you want to take audio and video content from your iPod and play it back on a TV (rather than buying a separate, independent device for this functionality), the HomeDock Deluxe is pretty much your only choice. Fortunately, the refinements in the newest version make this a choice you won’t regret. Now that the user interface handles both video and audio and has other enhancements to its ease of use, you are certain to feel less like you have to use it—and more like you want to.
Pros: Plays back both iPod video and iPod audio on a TV; a single on-screen user interface now controls both; user interface is easier to use and looks better; now displays album art; much less buggy.
Cons: Still room for improvement in the areas of photo viewing and remote control reliability.