Chinon AVi Docking System with ATSC TV for iPod Review

When I got my iPod touch, I was excited that I’d be able to watch videos on its “big” screen.  And I have a history of problems with finding comfortable ear buds, so I was happy that the touch had a built-in speaker so I could listen to music without using ear buds or external speakers.  The actuality was a bit different than my imagination.  Yes, the touch’s screen is bigger than most other iPod screens, but it’s still only 3.5 inches.  And you have to have a stand, or you’ll hold the touch the whole time you’re watching your video.  The built-in speakers work, but they don’t fill the room with breath-taking sound.  Of course, there are a lot of docking speaker systems for iPods, and you can play video from your iPod through a television set if you have the proper cables.  I have a speaker system, but I’ve never really used the video function of my iPod touch because it’s a bit of a pain.  I’d never seen a system for iPods like this Chinon AVi Digital TV iPod docking system that Julie sent me for review.  The Chinon provides both audio and video playback in a compact little unit not much bigger than an alarm clock.  

The Chinon AVi docking system works with many iPods equipped with the dock connector.  With an iPod and the Chinon, you can listen to your music, watch a picture slideshow, or watch videos.  If your iPod isn’t capable of video playback, you can still use the Chinon for music. (Check iPod compatibility here.)  The AVi also has a clock with alarm, digital FM radio with station presets, and an ATSC receiver so you can watch digital television.   It’s made of a black plastic with a rubbery feel.  It has silver-colored controls on top, and silver-colored metal speaker covers. 

 

What’s in the box:
Chinon AVi ATSC TV iPod docking system
Remote control
AC adapter
AV cable
3.5 mm Aux-in cable
TV antenna 

Specifications:
Digital TV signal system:  ATSC
LCD panel size:  7 inch TFT LCD
Panel resolution:  480 (RGB) X 234 (V)
Video output: composite (RCA X 1)
Analog audio output:  Left & right channels (RCA X 2)
Power: AC (with provided adapter) / battery (8 C batteries)
Speaker output:  2.5W X 2
Operating temperature: 32-104 degrees F
Weight 2.65 lb (without batteries)
Dimensions (L X W X H):  11.8 X 4.5 X 6.0 inches 

Click to enlarge.

Getting started using the AVi is as simple as removing everything from the box, plugging the power adapter into the back of the unit, and plugging it up to a power outlet.  If you prefer batteries, you simply insert 8 C batteries (not included) into the compartment on the back of the unit.  You can control the AVi using either the included remote or the buttons on top of the unit.  

 

The remote is about the size of a credit card in length/width, and it’s about 3 credit cards thick.  It is packed with buttons, and not one millimeter of space is wasted.  Buttons are close together with small labels.  The number keys are in a non-standard layout, but you don’t have to use them unless you want to go directly to a TV channel.  You can control every function using the remote – from setting the clock, snoozing the alarm, watching TV, and fully controlling iPod playback functions.  The remote uses a single CR2025 button battery, which is included.  You can use the buttons on top of the AVi instead of the remote, but only the remote has the number buttons. 

Clock and Alarm Functions
I used the remote to enter clock setup mode.  Setting the time was a snap because the people at Chinon allow you to use the left/right buttons to adjust backward and forward.  The hour set function also sets AM/PM.  Time is displayed as medium-gray numbers on a backlighted medium-blue LCD display under the TV screen.  The clock display is bright, and I was relieved to see a backlight button on the remote.  I was disappointed to learn that the backlight was already on the dim level.  However, I didn’t find it too distracting once I turned off the lights to go to sleep.  It’s brighter than my alarm clock, but it doesn’t light up the room.  Without my glasses, I do have to squint a bit to read the gray numbers on the blue background. 

The pale gray numbers are a little difficult to see on the bright blue background.

Since I am replacing my bedside alarm clock with the AVi, I set the alarm.  I used the remote to set the alarm time just as I had set the clock time.  You may choose to be woken up by buzzer, FM radio, iPod, or TV.  A bell icon on the clock display alerts you when the alarm is set.  I have trouble getting to sleep, but I sleep like the dead once I do, so I chose the buzzer.  The buzzer was loud enough to wake me – and to take a couple years off my life that first morning.  It’s loud, but not really deafening.  There’s also a snooze function.  You can get nine more minutes of sleep by hitting the Function/Snooze key on the remote or the unit itself. 

General operation
The AVi has an iPod dock connector on the top of the unit.  It does not come with any of the dock adapters to customize the fit of your iPod.  My touch plugged in easily, but I do think an adapter would make it feel more stable.  If you don’t have an iPod, you can connect any mp3 player with a 3.5 mm headphone output to the Aux In input on the back of the AVi for audio playback with the included 3.5 mm audio cable.  

Click to enlarge.

Power the unit on and use the Function button to select the desired operation:  FM/iPod/TV/Aux.  The AVi remembers the last function you used and returns to that function when you power it on.  However, I found that sometimes when I connected my iPod, the unit automatically powered on and resumed playback of music or video – whichever I was doing when I last powered it off.  Sometimes this automatic playback didn’t happen.  I’m not quite sure how it determines if it will start playing automatically, but it did seem to happen when I was taking the iPod on and off frequently in a short time period.  When the delay was longer, plugging in the iPod didn’t start automatic playback. 

The clock LCD panel shows the status of the unit.  It will display an icon representing its current function, the name of the EQ setting, and a bell when the alarm is armed.  It displays the time when using the TV or iPod functions.  The FM station frequency displays when listening to the radio. 

The AVi can be used as a portable unit.  It can operate from battery power, and it has a handle on top to facilitate carrying it around.  The manual warns that you won’t be able to watch TV in a moving car, but that is because of the nature of digital TV signals.  

The AVi has a sleep timer.  When the unit is on, press the Sleep button to turn the timer on.  You may select 90/80/70/60/45/30/20/10/0 minutes. 

Speakers
Before I get into specific audio/video functions, I want to discuss the speakers.  Neither the manual nor the online information specifies the frequency response for these speakers.  The Chinon AVi speakers, like all small speaker sets where both speakers are in one unit, don’t have the greatest stereo separation.  They are close enough together that you lose the panning effect in Art Garfunkel’s “I Only Have Eyes for You”, my standard for testing stereo separation.  You can’t expect great separation when the speakers are only 6 inches apart or so.  The bass response doesn’t rattle the windows, but the sound isn’t tinny.  With only 2.5 watts per channel, the neighbors aren’t going to be complaining about your noise, but the speakers produce a nice, clear sound that’s certainly more than sufficient for me to hear and enjoy music and television or videos.  The AVi has an audio equalizer option with four pre-designed profiles:  Classic, Jazz, Rock, and Pop.  You can also turn the equalizer off.  I found that I prefer the sound for both music and TV functions when the equalizer is set to “rock”.  Voices (singing and speaking) sound richer and more to the “front”, and this is very pleasing to me. 

FM Radio Function
The AVi has a telescoping antenna affixed to the back of the unit.  The manual says to  fully extend the antenna before using the radio, but I found that I could receive my favorite local station with the antenna closed.  Auto-scan for strong signals by doing a “long press”, or manually tune in a station with  “short” presses of the left/right buttons.  Once you have selected a station, you can save it as a pre-set station.  You may save up to 20 pre-set FM stations. 

Video Display Screen
The AVi has a 6 X 3-3/8 inch (7” diagonal) TFT LCD screen with a matte finish.  You can change the screen’s brightness, color, and contrast to best suit your taste and viewing conditions.  You can also set the aspect ratio.  Select a default screen format in the setup options: letterbox, “cropped” format to fill the screen, “squeezed” format to make it fit a squarish format, or let it set the format by program.  You can change the aspect ratio on the fly for the current program with the Ratio/Signal button. 

A note about photographing the AVi screen:  There are stripes or bands in the photos that are not visible to the naked eye.  The picture is clear and sharp to the naked eye.  You may see a little blurring in the photos of TV transmissions because the time required for the exposure took too long to freeze the action.  (I do not mean to infringe on anyone’s copyrights.  The picture from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer video is owned by Twentieth Century Fox.  The TV transmissions are property of WFMY News2 in Greensboro, NC.

iPod Functions
You can use the AVi to play music on your iPod.  When you do, the Chinon screen will first display a “no signal” message on a blue screen, then the screen will turn off.  With my iPod, I found that I had to first manually select “music” on my touch, then I could use the menu button and the up/down arrow keys on the remote to scroll through the iPod’s music playback menus.  I had to be close enough to the iPod to see the screen to select the desired playlist/song.  Music sounded great playing through the AVi’s speakers.  My touch displayed the album cover (or the lyrics page, if available) during playback.  I could control the touch using the iPod’s screen or using the AVi’s remote. 

With most compatible iPods, you can view a photo slideshow on the AVi’s screen.  My pictures looked grainy on the AVi screen.  I would imagine that was because of the lower resolution Apple uses when you sync with iTunes to copy pictures to your iPod.  

Playback of a video on the iPod touch. Click to enlarge.

Watching videos on the AVi’s bigger screen was great.  I had bought two Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes and one Quantum Leap episode from iTunes in anticipation of receiving the Chinon for review.  I manually selected the video option on the touch’s screen, then I was able to use either the remote or the touch’s screen to select a video and control its playback.  My purchased episodes looked and sounded great on the AVi.  It was very nice to watch hands-free.  Granted, with a 7” screen, you won’t be able to sit 10 feet away, but it’s great for watching videos while I’m lying in bed, unable to sleep.  It would be nice if the AVi had a headphone jack for late-night watching.  Luckily for me, my husband is a sound sleeper, so the sound didn’t bother him. 

And the Chinon AVi did charge my iPod touch. 

Digital TV Functions
Chinon supplies a small, black, telescoping antenna with a weighted stand for TV signal reception.  The antenna plugs into the back of the AVi with a co-ax connector.  I connected the antenna, extended it to its full 3-feet length, and sat it on the night table near the AVi.  Before watching TV, I had to go through some OSD (on-screen display) setup options.  

Channel setup. Click to enlarge.

First I had to scan for channels.  I used the auto-scan option, and only one station was found.  I moved the antenna closer to the outside wall and ran the auto-scan again.  This time 10 stations were found, and all of them were clear.  I didn’t find the local NBC station, which is located in a nearby city.  Instructions say to put the antenna in a window for best results, but the antenna wire is too short to reach my window.  There is a signal strength display that can help you find the prime location for your antenna.  You can also manually add or remove stations from the list of available stations.  

If you haven’t already set the time, the DTV station will set it, but you must properly set the time zone.  The time zone information is necessary for the television guide and station banner to work properly.  You’ll also set the default aspect ratio, language for the menus, audio language, closed-captioning format, and choose options for the V-chip before you’re finished with setup. 

TV transmission. Click to enlarge.

Once that was done, I tuned to the local CBS station.  The picture was crystal clear.  The colors were bright and true.  The sound was great.  Most of the stations were crystal clear, but there was one little independent station that showed some infrequent pixelation and sounded a little static-y sometimes.  I think I’ll go shopping for a different antenna this weekend.  The Chinon AVi is definitely a permanent fixture on my night table, and I’d like to have as many channels available as possible! 

Program guide info. Click to enlarge.

Program detailed information. Click to enlarge.

You change the channels with the CH+/CH- buttons.  You can also use the number keys and the dash key to directly tune a station.   A variety of other buttons let you control the display or get information while watching television.  Many of the buttons have two functions.  You select which function by using a “long” press or a “short” press.  You can change brightness/contrast/color, aspect ratio, digital audio, or closed-captioning on the fly.  You can view a programming guide for the current channel (what’s on now and what’s next) or get details about the program you’re currently watching.  If you’re having viewing problems, you can even view the signal strength.  Of course there are volume adjustment buttons and a mute button. 

Signal strength. Click to enlarge.

The only slight problem I’ve had is with viewing angle.  My bed is a little lower than the night table top, so I’m looking up at a slight angle when I watch the screen.  This results in the picture looking a little dark or gives it a slight “negative” appearance that disappears as soon as I lift my head higher.  I just need to pile my pillows a bit higher. 

And remember that AV cable that was included in the box?  If you have an old TV that’s not connected to cable and for which you don’t have one of those converter boxes necessary to receive over-the-air digital signals, you can use the AVi as a converter box for the old TV.  I don’t have an old TV, so I wasn’t able to test out that option. 

Conclusion
I cannot tell you how much I’m enjoying the Chinon AVi – it’s a great addition to my bedside table.  In an area only slightly larger than my old alarm clock (no radio even), I now have an alarm clock, an FM radio, iPod speakers, a video playback unit for my iPod, and a digital television.  All these functions work wonderfully, too.  I didn’t have any trouble setting up the AVi, and I haven’t had any problems using any of its functions.  I think the Chinon AVi would also be a great addition to a kid’s room, a dorm room, or even your office.  It would work as a video player in the car, and it would be great for camping – if you don’t like to get too far away from your gadgets.  At $199.99, you get a lot of bang for your buck!

 

Product Information

Price:$199.99
Manufacturer:Chinon
Pros:
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Works as a clock radio with alarm
  • Has a bright, clear screen and good speakers
  • Lets you watch videos or digital TV
Cons:
  • Restricted viewing angle for best picture
  • Remote layout is a little cramped
Posted in: Audio, Video, TV Gear, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Reviews

1 comment… add one

  • troy March 2, 2010, 9:12 pm

    Features seems great.. almost exactly what I’ve been looking for. However..
    1) it looks like a 10 year old piece of electronics
    2) for a bedside, clock radio replacement, where the bloody headphone jack. so many of these systems lack very simple, mission critical features. I’d buy this despite the dated look if it had a headphone jack.

    FAIL

Leave a Comment