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Review: Zune dock a nice but not necessary accessory

Story Highlights

• DLO HomeDock for Zune is solid and easy to use
• Includes high-quality AV cables and a nice remote
• The $99 price tag may not be worth it for some users
By Jasmine France
CNET.com
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(CNET.comexternal link) -- DLO, a company quite well-known for its plethora of iPod accessories, has really stepped up to the plate of choice by offering an array of add-ons for other MP3 players as well.

You can find cases for the Zen Vision:M, an FM transmitter for the Microsoft Zune, and even an AV dock for the Zune. That's right: DLO makes a HomeDock for the Zune ($99) and -- dare I say -- it's even better than the one for the iPod.

This mainly has to do with the fact that the Zune appears not to have any restrictions about passing through its onscreen menus, which makes for a slightly better user experience.

Still, the HomeDock for Zune is not without an issue here and there -- namely that videos formatted for the small screen don't translate so well to the larger screen. But if you're looking for a way to integrate the Zune into your home entertainment setup, the HomeDock is a highly suitable option.

The HomeDock for Zune is nearly identical to the HomeDock Deluxe for iPod. The only real difference is that the dock connection is made for the Zune rather than for the iPod.

You get the same small footprint (5.5 inches by 3.7 inches by 0.8 inch) and the glowing blue DLO symbol to indicate the unit is powered on. As with the iPod version, the docking cradle isn't cut out of the base, but juts out of it, requiring a separate backing piece to be screwed in for a secure fit. This isn't the most ideal solution, but it gets the job done. The remote slot, however, is etched out of the base.

As has been the case in preceding versions, the HomeDock's IR remote is quite lovely and has a nice, high-quality feel to it. A smorgasbord of buttons ensures that you never have to drag your heinie off the couch. The highlights include power and back keys, various directional buttons, volume adjustors, and playback controls (including dedicated Shuffle and Repeat buttons).

The remote works well from about 20 or so feet away, which is plenty for most at-home applications. In addition to the remote, DLO includes a power adapter, a nice black AV cable for connecting the unit to your TV, and a nice black RCA-to-minijack cord for hooking up to powered speakers.

Unfortunately, although you can sync the Zune while it's docked into the HomeDock, the necessary USB cable is not included. (It's the one used by most compact printers.)

Like the HomeDock Deluxe for iPod, the HomeDock for Zune outputs the player's menus to the TV screen, which makes for easy (not squinty) navigation. However, unlike with the iPod version, DLO can port the Zune's menus directly, meaning you get the exact user experience that you do on the device itself.

This is especially nice with the Zune as you can choose your own background for the menus. Plus, you get to utilize the player's neat twist interface on your TV screen. Unfortunately, I did run into one issue during testing: when connected to a 27-inch Sony WEGA, a fraction of the right side was cut off.

This equates to the last digit of time remaining being absent and the volume level indicator being almost invisible--quite undesirable, to be sure, but it's probably particular to specific televisions.

All in all, the HomeDock for Zune does well in overall performance. Since it needn't use its own software like the iPod version, navigation is relatively snappy and there are no software glitches to be had. Audio output is very good so long as the unit is connected to some quality speakers. Video doesn't look spectacular when outputted to a large screen -- it suffers from quite a bit of pixilation. But this is likely a limitation of the Zune: it's very particular about the video format and size it supports. Hopefully this will improve as Microsoft adds more compatibility in the future.

The question remains: how useful is this accessory for the Zune? If you get the majority of your portable video content online (such as from YouTube, video podcasts, and the like), the HomeDock offers a nice way to watch that content in your living room.

But if you get most of your digital video from ripped DVDs and recorded television, there's no compelling reason to use your Zune as the container from which you watch the content -- watching it in its original form gives you better overall quality.


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