If you’ve been reading the specs on the recently launched iPad 2, you’ve probably already heard about its improved abilities of outputting multimedia. Plug in the Digital Video Adapter (DVA) that Apple has started shipping recently, and you can show movies saved on your iPad (or iPhone 4) on your HDTV.
But what if you’re not up with the times and still have an old model iOS device or a TV that doesn’t have an input for the high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cable the DVA uses? You needn’t feel left out. There are options for you, too. Scosche Industries has a range of composite and component video cables that work with a wider variety of iOS devices and televisions than the DVA. Limitations in the specifications of older devices mean that there are fewer apps you can output from and the video resolution is not as good as on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4. The results are still watchable, however, and can be surprisingly decent given the lower specs of earlier devices.
Scosche manufactures numerous accessories for iPads, iPhones and iPods. The focus of this review is the company’s sneakPEEK range of audio/video cables. These include two grades of composite cable sets (sneakPEEK and sneakPEEK Premium), a component cable set (sneakPEEK HD) and a switchable combo (sneakPEEK II) that includes both composite and component cables. The sneakPEEK II was tested for this review.
For the benefit of anyone not familiar with video cable classifications, composite cable sets include a yellow cable that carries the video signal and red and white cables for stereo audio. Composite cable inputs are ubiquitous. They can be found on many old style cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and HDTVs.
Component cables split up the video signal between three cables: one red, one blue and one green. Scosche’s sneakPEEK HD component set also includes the red and white audio cables that are supplied with the composite sets.
All other things being equal, video quality is generally better with component than with composite cables. This is why the former are often referred to as being ‘HD’ capable. Depending on several factors, including the resolution of your television and what you are watching, the results from component cables can be largely indistinguishable from what an HDMI cable would produce. Component video cables have been superseded by HDMI partly because the latter are less bulky and able to transmit surround sound audio and video signals encoded with high definition copy protection (HDCP).
Oddly, the arrangement of the component cables on the Scosche set that I tested did not match that of the inputs as commonly found on the back of TVs, DVD players, set-top-boxes and other devices. In terms of operation this made no difference other than slightly complicating the connection process. I had no complaints about the physical build of the sneakPEEK II set, though. It felt solid and the plugs fit snugly and securely into the back of the TVs that I tried them in.
The cables that go into the TV join up with a single cable that connects to the charging port on the bottom of an iPod, iPhone or iPad. These cables are long enough to give you flexibility in where you leave the device when it is playing. Note, too, that if you are using an iPhone in a case, you might have to take it out in order to get a secure connection to the charging port. On the subject of charging, all of the sneakPEEK sets come with a USB cable that can be used to charge the iOS device while it is in use.
If you hook up an iPhone 3GS to the CRT TV in your spare bedroom and play back a video from the iTunes app, you’ll get an image that is only slightly lower in quality than what you should expect from a DVD. The native resolution of the iPhone 3GS is lower than that of a CRT but the difference isn’t likely to be enough to spoil the entertainment.
You will notice a bigger drop in quality if you try to display a video from the iTunes app on a large flatscreen TV. This is because the output from this app matches the native resolution of the phone. The relatively low number of pixels that make up the image will get blown up to fill the screen. The result will be blocky and blurred. If Blu-ray is HD and DVD is SD (standard definition), this could be called SSD (substandard definition). Newer generation iOS devices have a higher native resolution and can output higher quality videos in iTunes.
Something else that users of the iPhone 3GS and other previous-generation iOS devices should realize is that these are not capable of outputting from as many apps as newer devices. It is safest to assume that anything that predates the iPhone 4 or iPad will only be able to output iTunes videos and movies that were shot with the in-built camera. The best advice is to check your device’s specifications or buy these cables from a store that allows you to return them if you are not satisfied.
If you only own a flatscreen TV, you might be wondering at this point why you would bother, especially given that both the sneakPEEKs and the DVA can set you back by around $50. Well, for one thing, if you are somebody who uses iTunes to download films and televison programs, Scosche’s cables can be a cheaper alternative to Apple TV and less cumbersome than a laptop for getting those videos onto the TV.
Apple’s recent upgrade of the iPhone’s operating system to iOS 4.3 also introduced Home Sharing. This allows for wireless streaming from an iTunes library on a computer to an iPhone or other iOS device with the iTunes app. If you can get this to work, you can stream videos from your computer to your iOS device and then relay the signal to the TV via a set of sneakPEEKs with little drop in quality. This is true even with HD videos, particuarly if you are using component cables (although playback may end up stalling if your wireless network is not up to the job of streaming a large amount of data). The sound will only be in stereo but you can’t have everything.
The other situation in which I’ve found these cables useful is when I’m travelling. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel and been dissatisfied with the offerings on the in-room television, you’ll understand how nice it is to have easy access to your own movie collection. If you load up iTunes on your iOS device or laptop before you leave, the sneakPEEKs make it a breeze to play a movie on the hotel room’s TV (assuming you can access the cable inputs and successfully negotiate the TV’s Input Select menu). The image quality limitations discussed above still apply but at least you can choose what you watch without having to fork over Pay-Per-View charges.
Overall, Scosche’s sneakPEEK cables provide a simple and – depending on your needs – potentially useful means of getting video from an iOS device to a television. They are not cheap but given the good build quality the cost is not out of line with similar products in the generally overpriced cable market. They could be particularly useful if you want to stream iTunes movies and TV shows that are saved on a laptop or a PC in another room. Users of older iOS devices might find the low number of output options and reduced video quality frustrating but this is due to limitations imposed by the iOS devices themselves rather than the cables. Scosche’s sneakPEEKs will do a decent job of getting anything onto your TV that Apple allows.
(Note that sneakPEEK cable sets can also be used to output stereo audio from an iOS device but cheaper alternatives are available if that is all you need.)