Apple has updated their iPod line to include video capabilities in their large capacity models. Available in 30GB and 60GB sizes, the new Apple iPod hopes to introduce you to the company’s new video library, available exclusively through iTunes 6. The 30GB model sells for $299 while the 60GB version goes for $399. But are music videos and television shows enough to convince you to upgrade? Read on to check out our impressions.
Apple stays true to their design heritage with the new iPod. It looks similar to previous product offerings, but with a slim new build and look. From a design perspective, the new iPod succeeds in some aspects and fails in others. It’s truly remarkable that Apple can manufacturer a player this thin considering its large storage capabilities; it’s a cue that others in this market can learn from. Yet on the other hand, Apple took the easy way out by widening the existing screen rather than invent a whole new design concept. For video playback, this form factor just isn’t ideal. We would have preferred a horizontal screen like the Creative Zen Vision, with the controls on the side. The headphone jack should still be positioned in the center of the player too; we always thought it added to the uniqueness of the iPod. Overall, the latest iPod is still one of the best looking players out there. When we first got our hands on the new iPod video, we thought it felt wider than it should have been. But after comparing it to the Cowon iAudio X5, it turned out to be the same width. Its slim design just fools you into thinking this player is wider than it really is.
So what makes the new iPod better than previous versions? Well for starters it includes a larger 2.5-inch QVGA color screen and is capable of video playback. The player is slimmer as well, measuring in at less than half an inch thick – that’s 45 percent slimmer than the previous model. Despite its thin size, Apple has added a larger battery to this years model which promises five more hours of playback when compared to last years. That means up to 20 hours of total audio play time before this baby runs out of juice. Available in 30GB and 60GB flavors, you can store up to 150 hours of video, 15,000 songs, and up to 25,000 photos (all on the 60GB version) – that’s a lot of media. Included with the new iPod is a set of ear buds, the latest iTunes (version 6) and a USB cable for charging and syncing the iPod with your PC. Apple decided to cut some costs by leaving the wall charger out which really puts a cramp on things when you are traveling. You can buy a wall charger, but it will cost you $29 dollars. Other accessories which are worth mentioning include the A/V cable, which will run you $19 dollars and lets you output photos and video to your television, and the Universal Dock which doubles as a stand and lets you output photos and videos to your television. One of the coolest accessories available is the $29 dollar Apple Remote which lets you control your iPod without getting up from the sofa; great for slide shows while the family or friends are over. The remote control requires that you also have the Universal Dock before you can use it though.
The 2.5-inch screen that’s on the new iPod is capable of displaying photos and video at up to a 320×240 resolution, either on the iPod’s own LCD or when output to a television. The touch-sensitive click wheel we have all come to love is still present to ensure easy and intuitive navigation. Mysteriously though, there are no contrast or brightness controls on the player. The new iPod can play podcasts, music videos, audio books, and display photos in addition to simply playing music. Other features include a built-in calendar and contacts list, world clock, stop watch, notes, and a few games. With all of these cool features, the iPod stays a dear companion for your everyday journeys.
As with every good partnership, the new iPod is helpless without its companion; Apple’s iTunes software. Announced at the same time as the new iPod, iTunes 6 allows users to download music videos from a library of more than 2000 titles. Apple has also partnered up with Disney and ABC so you can download your favorite television shows to your iPod – commercial free. Both the music video and television shows currently cost $1.99 per video. We’ve heard rumors that some folks in Hollywood are upset with Apple over the price of their television downloads, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see in the future either the iTunes video downloads increase in price, feature some sort of timed playback, or include advertisements. Television shows available for download as of the time of this review include LOST, Desperate Housewives, Night Stalker, The Suite Life and That’s So Raven. You can also download some Pixar short clips and movie trailers, making for a well-rounded collection of video content. We expect to see a lot of video podcasts, or vodcasts if you will, hit the web with the introduction of this new iPod; so this should enlarge the number of content available for your new iPod.
We installed the latest iTunes and prepared ourselves for rich video goodness. Before we proceed, we just want to warn you that these video downloads, especially of the television shows, are large in file size. Don’t even think about attempting this with dial-up. First, we downloaded the pilot premiere of Night Stalker and prepared ourselves for an evening of mini-madness. Since Apple takes the commercials out of these shows, the run length is about 45 minutes. It took us about 30 minutes to download the show when connected to the Internet using a cable modem, but that could be due to demand, this is the new iPod introductory week after all.
Playback on the new iPod looks fantastic; picture colors and contrast seem to be right on in terms of picture quality. The screen produces a little glare, but it’s not nearly as bad as the Zen Vision or Sony PSP. It’s also very easy to see the video being played from an angle, something the Zen Vision really struggles with. The new iPod supports the following video formats (and these are cut-and-paste from Apples website): H.264 video: up to 768 Kbps, 320 x 240, 30 frames per sec., Baseline Profile up to Level 1.3 with AAC-LC up to 160 Kbps, 48 KHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats MPEG-4 video: up to 2.5 mbps, 480 x 480, 30 frames per sec., Simple Profile with AAC-LC up to 160 Kbps, 48 Khz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats. The magic number here is the 30fps (frames per second) spec. This means that video looks fluid and natural when played back. Just to give you an idea of the competition, the Cowon iAudio X5 can play back video at up to 15fps. Video fluidity seems to be on par with the Creative Zen Vision which we reviewed a short while back. Creative has done a good job hiding this magic number from their website, although we suspect it is also near 30fps.
Shots taken from ABC’s Night Stalker
Those of you with a library filled of Divx or Xvid encoded movies are out of luck, since those formats are not supported; the Creative Zen Vision would be the product for you instead. If you want to try and move your existing video library over to the new iPod, you will have to find conversion software to do the trick for you. Apple’s QuickTime Pro software will convert some file formats for you, and would probably be your best bet. Another good bet would be Creative’s Media Source software which you might be able to download from their website. We got mixed results converting DivX files. We found that some of our DivX encoded videos (encoded in DivX 5 or earlier) would converted just fine, while others would not convert at all. The problem with converting video is that there are so many different formats, audio and video, and versions out there that unless you make your own DivX video files with codecs that you know will convert to play on the iPod correctly, you take a gamble each time. iTunes does not include any sort of video conversion features, but hopefully in the future there will in the future.
The Universal Dock and A/V cables let you output video to a television, but you are still limited to a 320×240 resolution which looks terrible on newer wide screen televisions. In fact, the videos downloaded from iTunes only looked good on the iPod’s screen due to its small size. This just solidifies the theory that Apple is not really interested in competing with Microsoft on the Media Center front just yet. Let’s hope that Apple decides to tackle that bear in the future.
It can be hard watching video on the iPod for a long period of time, so if you have a PC around, we recommend you watch the shows on it instead. Imagine having to hold a 2.5-inch screen close enough for you to see it, for a long period of time. It can be taxing on your eyes and your arms.
Audio quality is what you have come to expect from Apple. Nice crisp and clear sound is still being produced by this little wonder. The included ear buds do a great job for the casual listener, but for audiophiles, you will want your own set of golden cans.
Battery life on our Apple iPod was pretty good. During music playback we got pretty close to 20 hours of battery life. This dwindled though during our video playback tests and we were close to about 2 hours with our 30GB version, but that’s basically because the screen is lit up the whole time while the videos are playing. If you are experiencing different battery life rates, please post a user review, we would love to hear from you.
The new Apple iPod Video excels the evolutionary chain of the iPod to the next step, albeit a small one. The video playback looks very sharp, and although the screen is smaller than those found on true full-sized media players, it works great for short length content like music videos and television shows. If your primary purpose for buying the new iPod is solely for the video aspects, we recommend you look at the Zen Vision or the various players from Archos. The new Apple iPod is really a music player first and video player second.
Regardless of the players shortcomings, content is the name of the game, and Apple is covering their tracks. A closed system between the iPod product line and iTunes Music Store helps keep the whole experience simple to the end-user, and now with the addition of video downloads in the iTunes Music Store library, there is even more reason to switch to the Apple brand. There may be better video players on the market, but if there is not a lot of easy to purchase content, it defeats the purpose for the average user. Consider Apple’s latest product as an iPod that just happens to play video rather than a true “iPod Video”. For basically the same price as the previous model, you are getting a slimmer player with longer battery life and video capabilities; and if you ask us that’s a pretty sweet deal.