Sometimes, you just don't want to miss your favorite TV shows on the go. The urge to flip on the telly might hit when you're waiting in a long line, killing time between meetings or taking your lunch break at work. With the $99 Belkin Dyle mobile TV dongle, you'll be able to tune into live programming via your iPhone or iPad. The Dyle device doesn't use a single byte of data, relying instead on over-the-air signals, so worries about data caps or Wi-Fi strength are a thing of the past. Is the Belkin Dyle the right device to get your TV fix?
The Belkin Dyle mobile TV is roughly the shape and size of a matchbox, albeit with rounder edges and a 30-pin adapter for the iPhone or iPad sticking out of the right side. The entire device is a matte-black plastic, except for the front panel, which is high gloss, and has a subtle dotted-blue pattern and the Belkin logo in gray.
The top right of the device has an extendable titanium antenna, which is 4.5 inches long when fully extended. There's also a microUSB port on the bottom of the device, allowing for pass-through charging of your iOS device.
A small, black-and-gray neoprene carrying case is included with the Dyle mobile TV device. The dongle fits perfectly inside the pouch, which can then be closed shut using a small Velcro strip. The front of the pouch has a small Belkin logo on the front.
We were prompted to activate Dyle when we first launched the app, although registration isn't required to use the mobile TV dongle. Activation requires a user's birth year, ZIP code and gender, and also requests an email address and a current television source (although the latter two are optional). We then had to allow the app to use our current location, and then enter our location manually, before we could see the listing of available channels.
We again needed to manually choose our location from a dropdown list every time we launched the app, which is annoying.
Availability and Selection
Dyle is currently available in 37 markets in the United States, most of which are major metropolitan cities. According to Belkin, these markets currently cover 57 percent of the U.S. population. Though there are plans to add additional network programming and hardware in the future, there isn't yet a set roadmap for these expansions.
A coverage map on Dyle's website shows details of channel availability and supported zones based on address or ZIP code. These maps show that city centers have the best coverage, with only spotty coverage as users get further out in the urban sprawl.
Channel selection varies from market to market, with most supported cities receiving between three and five different channels. In New York City, we were able to get NBC, FOX, Qubo and Telemundo.
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The Dyle coverage map showed a fifth channel, WNYE, but this station is marked as unaffiliated, so we weren't surprised that it wasn't available when we scanned for channels.
According to the Dyle coverage map, Dallas is the city with the most channels, with six affiliated stations: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Qubo and Telemundo. Other cities had significantly fewer stations, such as Pittsburgh, which gets only NBC.
Although it's only available in New York and Boston, Aereo greatly overshadows Dyle in terms of channel selection and services. Aereo currently offers 31 channels -- a far cry from the six, at most, offered by Dyle.
The Dyle app has two main screens: a list view that shows current channels and the full-screen video player that shows the live stream. There's a navigation bar along the top of the app, which has tabs for Home, Live TV Listings, Help and Program Search.
The home screen seems largely unnecessary, as it only has the Dyle logo and Watch Now button that jumps to the TV listing screen. The Help tab shows information such as the About screen, a FAQ and the license agreement, as well as a way to manually scan for channels or change your location.
With the Program Search feature, we were able to find individual shows on those stations available in our area. We did a search for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and could see the date and time of the next episode, as well as view the episode details.
In the Live TV tab, we could see a logo of the station, as well as the title of the current program, its broadcast time and a little green dot that showed that the channel was available at that time. We could view episode information by clicking a small "I" icon next to the green dot, manually check the signal, or view which shows were coming up next. Unfortunately, we couldn't browse more than one show ahead of the currently playing show.
Overall, the app has a slightly antiquated look and feel, which made us wish for a sleeker interface, such as Aereo's mobile site. The logos were not Retina ready, so we could easily make out the individual pixels. And tabs such as Home and Help, though prominently placed, didn't provide much value.
TV reception using the Dyle mobile TV dongle was hit or miss. When we launched the app, it immediately performed a channel scan to check the signal availability of the four stations in our area. We were able to watch live TV in our New York City office around 70 percent of the time; we had to go onto the roof of our building to get service the other 30 percent of the time.
After we selected NBC, the "Today" show started between 3 and 5 seconds later. We could pause and play the live stream without any delays.
The over-the-air video is broadcast at a bit rate of around 400 Kbps or higher, which creates video quality similar that of Netflix or Hulu over Wi-Fi. Although we twisted the Dyle's antenna -- just as we used to adjust the rabbit ears on our TV in the good old days -- picture quality did not change.
For the most part, video quality using Dyle wasn't as high as when we watched live television with Aereo, which can manually or automatically adjust the video quality to match the signal strength. When we set our signal strength to medium on the Aereo, the video quality was roughly the same as when we watched the "Today" show using the Dyle, with slightly blurred images that were occasionally blocky.
Features are fairly limited on the Dyle mobile TV; it's simply a device that lets you watch live television on your mobile device. Dyle's main advantage over the competition is that it uses zero data and doesn't require a Wi-Fi connection.
Since the Dyle mobile TV dongle grabs channels over the air using the ATSC-M/H standard, there's no data actually traveling through the traditional mobile data routes. This is a huge benefit over such services as Aereo, which stream content through either Wi-Fi or a cellular connection. We were able to put our iPhone into Airplane mode and still watch TV using Dyle.
However, in addition to its larger channel selection, Aereo includes cloud-based DVR capabilities.
The Dyle mobile TV dongle connects to iOS devices using the older 30-pin port, rather than Apple's newer Lightning connector, making this accessory incompatible with newer products. Currently, the Dyle supports the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad, iPad 2 and third-generation iPad. Left off this list are the iPhone 5, iPad mini and fourth-generation iPad.
Although it's not officially supported, we got the Dyle mobile TV dongle to work with our iPad mini using a 30-pin-to-Lightning adapter. Everything worked normally, except the dongle now protruded even further away from our tablet, but this is an inconvenience that plagues any 30-pin accessory plugged into a Lightning port.
The Belkin Dyle mobile TV is aimed at people who want to watch their favorite shows during their work break or while killing time away from home. While we like that the Dyle mobile TV doesn't need a data connection, a paucity of channels, an antiquated user interface and a lack of advanced features put this device well behind the competition.
The $99 spent on the Belkin Dyle mobile TV can get a little over a year's service with Aereo, which has 31 channels and DVR capabilities, and can run on any smartphone, tablet, notebook or even the Roku set-top box. However, if your city isn't yet supported by Aereo, or if you want to watch TV without worrying about your data plan, the Dyle mobile TV is worth a look.