Sunday, September 24, 2006

TuneCenter update

Update: First things first... It turns out that the TuneCenter cost me the full $129.99 USD ($148 CDN, plus the 14 bucks FedEx crap)... Not happy... Where the hell is the benefit to preordering something and having to wait 9 friggin' months to get it. Especially since I was so frustrated with waiting for it that, as I said before, I was in the process of figuring out how to cancel my order when it showed up in Calgary, and it was just too late to cancel.

Secondly: After playing with this for a few days, I find that the internet radio is what I use almost exclusvely. I also find this a bit odd, not to mention that my iPod sits in it's nice little Apple dock, while the TuneCenter pretty much sits on some Moscow music station as a little background music. Why would I do this, you may ask? Well it's because I can sync my iPod when it's in my dock, and it has audio out, and has S-video out as well. Sure it doesn't have the fancy interface for the audio tracks, but when hooking it up to my projector, or LCD, I want it for the video, and not simply the audio. Since there is no on-screen video browsing/launching capability what's the point.

When I placed my preorder the TuneCenter had RCA outputs on the back, where now there is the iPod video/audio mini-jack output cable, nice if I wanted to take the cable with me and hook my iPod directly into a TV, but then why do I need the TuneCenter? Plus every device that even remotely has anything to do with video has come with one of these cables, my portable DVD player came with 2, my camcorder had 1, and I bought a good high quality one on my own for hooking up my 5G iPod. With my camcorder mini-jack cable, the Apple dock, and the remote (which all come in a pack from Apple for less than the seperate parts) I essentially have the TuneCenter for much less, with the only bit missing being the internet audio, and the really slow-ass interface; but I do get the ability to sync my iPod, which is a HUGE bonus. And by the way Griffin... Apple included the bloody battery for the remote (just like your AirClick remote).

If I sound a bit bitter about this, it's because I am. The remote battery was a big issue since the TuneCenter is useless without the remote, then when hooking it up it is painfully slow when clicking around the interface, not to mention the aspect ratio issues, and the EQ settings that still don't work, (and there is no mention of this on the support page @ Griffin), and the fact that you have to get up, and look at the tiny little iPod screen to navigate your pictures, and videos (although you can still use the remote to navigate the menus, big whoop!).

There are no display settings, which for a display device is more than a bit odd. No colour customization, no background options, not even brightness or contrast, and the S-video doesn't offer any discernable quality difference on any of the 5 sets that I tried it on.

After looking at my existing iPod dock which is already setup, with remote; I felt pretty OK that I spent a little extra for a fancy interface, but once I saw that I paid full price after waiting 9 months for this BARELY better dock-that's-not-a-dock, the aforementioned "wow factor" has worn off. All I can think of when I look at the thing is, "I blew a hundred and seventy buck on that... What the hell was I thinking?"

While the Griffin TuneCenter is a reasonable device if you really want internet audio with a TV display, but otherwise save your cash, and get the iPod AV Connection Kit for $99 USD, the trade off is that you don't get the on-screen interface and the internet audio, but you do get to save money and can sync your iPod. If I could use the on-screen interface (as slow as it is) to browse my videos, and pictures, then it would have been worth it.

Bottom line is the TuneCenter is an acceptable solution to get your iPod on your TV, it however is not the best or most reasonable priced. It is one of the nicest looking, and sturdiest feeling around. Just remember: Try before you buy, and never preorder without a clear launch window.

Never again... Never again....


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Griffin TuneCenter First Impressions

Upon first opening the box, I was impressed that everything seemed to be included and plug and play ready, and for the most part it was, especially since I opted to order the non-wifi enabled version, sticking to the straight forward (and slightly cheaper) wired connection. Having pre-ordered I got a break on the price, and in total (after price, shipping, taxes, brokerage fees) it worked out to be about $125 CDN, which now is @ $129.99 USD but so far it is well worth the current price.

Having unpacked all of the wires, and hooked everything up I found that the remote didn't work, fortunately, although annoying, it was simply that there was no included CR2032 battery. The only other thing not included was an S-video cable, but that's really a triviality, in comparison to the lack of a battery for the remote. I usually would have no problem with this, as "batteries not included" is not a new thing, but since there was no indication of this before (or after) ordering, and is not mentioned anywhere on the box, or in the documentation. This means that since I didn't open the box until I got up for my "day job" at 9 pm, I had to wait until the stores opened the next morning before being able to get past the opening screen.

Fast forward to this morning, where I pick up a 2-pack of batteries, and a fancy new iPod case... oddly enough an iClear from Griffin... I get home, and head straight to my desk where I've got the TuneCenter waiting for input from a juiced up remote. Once that was done the fun could begin.

First thing's first, I have to head straight to the settings, just to see how much I can customize my experience. All pretty standard fare here, with the exception of the Network Setup Assistant. This allows you to setup you're connection if you don't use DHCP, or if you need to use a proxy to connect to the internet.

There was however a glitch when selecting the EQ Setting from the setup menu, which no matter which of my iPods I connected it kept telling me to attach an iPod. I hope this can be corrected via some kind of web-update, seeing as it is an internet enabled device.

This leads to the internet radio portion, which was nice to see that the listing updated as soon as I selected it for the first time, and I hope it will continue to do so on a regular basis, the 10 seconds to update is worth not having to ever get an error when trying to listen to an unavailable station. Having this capability may seem a little extraneous to some, but if I want to listen to something other than my library it's nice to have, and the iPod doesn't need to be connected for the internet radio to work.

The number and variety of stations available are enough to suit just about everyone, and any mood, and is just as easy to select as just about anything else in the menus.

The iPod interface is pretty much the same hierarchical structure that you would find on the iPod and works in the same intuitive manner, especially since the remote works in virtually the same manner as the click wheel, with a few extra buttons to provide direct access to certain functions, like settings, and an on/off button.

The "Now Playing" screen is much like that of the iPod, with a fancy background, and display of various bits of information, and although I'd prefer to turn off the Griffiin TuneCenter branding in the lower left (since I know what I bought) but it's something that I can live with, at least for now.

The only complaints that I have so far, are:
- The lack of an included remote battery.
- The interface is a little slow in responding to commands.
- The EQ Setting seems to simply not work.
- To watch video (if you have a video capable iPod) you can't use the TuneCenter interface to select them, but rather the screen turns off and you need to use the iPod's own screen to navigate, which kind of negates the point of having a remote. Heck it doesn't even put you into the video portion of the iPod menu.
- The interface has no aspect ratio selector, and is a sort of an in between of 4:3 and 16:9 resulting in a slightly stretched widescreen mode that doesn't quite fill the screen, and slightly squished 4:3 mode which still doesn't quite fill the width of the screen.
- I can't leave my iPod in it's new iClear case, or any other case for that matter, without removing the dock adapter, thereby removing support for the iPod, and it's dock connector.
- No Album Art!!! But that's an Apple limitation with the iPod dock connection, rather than the TuneCenter.
- No Syncing capability

All in all it's a very good solution for getting your iPod on your TV, and essentially it's a media center PC without the PC. All this in a cheap, compact little unit. It also allows you to view your DRM "protected" content from the iTunes store, as well as your own (legally) ripped content, directly on your TV.

That's all for now, I'll do another follow up after a living with the TuneCenter for a while, to see if it maintains it's usefulness rather then just having that new "wow" factor.

Until next time,


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Griffin TuneCenter

I just recieved my Griffin TuneCenter, that was announced way back when the first Intel Mac's were introduced. And let me say I REALLY hope that it's worth the wait.

I was in the process of looking up how to cancel my order when lo and behold, I get a call from fedex telling me that I needed to provide a credit card for taxes, and brokerage fees. Since I always love getting new stuff that I can't remember ordering, I checked my email to find that my shipping confirmation from Griffin was waiting since friday... I was sure that I checked my email the same insane ammount of times that I always do, but whatever. It was almost here.

Let me just say that it took fedex 17 hours to get this package 5000 km's, and 3.5 days to move it the last 50. Nice fedex... REAL nice...

Well I'll have pictures and first impressions up soon, and a full review in a few days...

Until then, check out: