Much like the baby boom of portable PC handhelds – especially after the release of the Steam Deck – there’s also a baby boom of Deck accessories. In particular, docks are among some of the most common. I’ve reviewed a couple of them myself.
But as Hi-Tech Lo-Life brings out in his video, there’s a bit of a problem: docks really don’t offer much of a competitive advantage over the other. Many of them offer the same experience and the same type and quantity of ports. Even in terms of appearance and color, they’re pretty much the same. Cryobyte33 also got involved in the discussion, in terms of what needs to be improved with Deck docks.
Here are the things they mention. In their video they mention 10 ways, but I condensed it down to seven, since a few of their points are redundant:
1. Different Design⌗
Reason: “It gets kind of boring to look at.” HTLL says there should be different colors, RGB [read: the abandoned dock by JSAUX], maybe “some crazy design that’s never been unveiled before.”
Cryobyte mentions a dock that holds the Deck upside-down. It may look a little silly, but it’s brilliant: it’s almost a Switch-like experience, because when the Deck is connected, HDMI is immediately put out. No need to finger around for the cable. It also allows the Deck to “easily slip in and out whenever you need it.” A design like that could also make room for a fan “that siphons from the exhaust, similar to the JSAUX modular version, but with a larger, constantly powered fan.”
2. Add HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronic Control) Support⌗
Most, if not all docks are going to offer at least one HDMI port. So even though you can connect your Deck to your TV, that’s pretty much all you can do there. Without CEC, you can’t control the TV volume and input directly from the Deck. Cryobyte mentions there are “some really cool automations” that you can do with scripting, if CEC was supported.
3. Put the Ports in Front, Not the Back⌗
Got some wired controllers that you’d like to connect to the dock? Wouldn’t it be so much more convenient if the ports were located in the front? HTLL mentions that setting up fighting game tourneys would make cable management and inserting/disconnecting the cables much easier.
4. Add VRR Support⌗
Apparently there are plans to add VRR support to the DisplayPort on the official dock in an upcoming update, but no other dock has this advantage. VRR will make “a huge boost to playability at higher resolutions.”
Image credit: Cryobyte33
HDMI over USB-C doesn’t support VRR. But Cryobyte believes “that it could be done by tapping into DisplayPort’s alt mode and then converting to HDMI on the dock itself.” Again, Cryo emphasizes the importantance of VRR support since more and more TVs incorporate this feature, and with VRR over HDMI, “the Steam Deck could push 4K much more enjoyably and allow for a greater range of games to be played at higher resolutions in general.”
5. Add Different I/O and More USB-C Ports⌗
Your typical dock has three USB ports, a USB-C port, an HDMI port, and an Ethernet jack. Why not add things like a MicroSD card slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, more HDMI/USB-C ports, etc? Only thing that currently stands out is the JSAUX dock with the M.2 slot.
HTLL: “I’m a firm believer of USB type C-ing everything.” He argues USB-C is “just a better connector than any other type of USB,” so he wants to see more USB-C ports.
6. Make Room for Cases⌗
Say you put on the Killswitch or the ModCase as a way to protect your Deck. Most docks don’t have enough room to accomodate the extra space the skin takes up, forcing you to take the skin off in order to properly dock the Deck.
Image credit: HTLL
7. Modular USB-C Cable⌗
This is definitely something I can agree with. I’ve yet to see one dock that has a detachable USB-C cable. So, if the USB-C cable goes bad, well, you’re pretty much screwed, since all of the ports are powered by that one cable. On the other hand, if the cable was detachable, you could easily replace a damaged cable with a new one, thus extending the longevity of your dock. Cryo also argues this would make for a smaller box, avoiding “unnecessary e-waste in the event of a breakage, and even allow for aftermarket modifications that would otherwise need a USB-C extension cable.”
Yup, this all makes sense to me. That being said, JSAUX has a dock for their ModCase that I’m expecting soon. It looks like it has two USB-C ports, a DisplayPort, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a MicroSD card reader. Maybe that will offer some advantages…
Cover image credit: JSAUX