Sunday, January 01, 2006

iPod Video Review

My wife was kind enough to give me a 5th generation iPod as a Christmas gift; black, 30 gig model to be precise. I've had a chance to play with it a bit and thought I'd post a mini-review and a few additional thoughts on where things are headed in the digital media space. I've been acutely interested in these developments since co-founding a media integration company in 2002. (I found a mockup of our web site still floating on the Web recently.) We pulled out when it became clear that funding was going to be problematic: a good thing, I think in retrospect. None of the pure-play media middleware companies appear to be in business as far as I can tell: Agari seems to have disappeared and Oracle recently picked up the assets to ContextMedia. But back to the iPod...

Impressions: the video iPod is sleek, light and for all intents and purposes as convenient as the Nano: it's unclear to me that the Nano is any more durable -- it looks to me like it would be easy to bend or break, despite no moving internals. The sound production seems sharp, though I do not have the disciplined ear of an audiophile. The color screen and album shots for music are attractive and the video imaging is sharp. iTunes is a moderately convenient management application for music, though it seems strained using it for video content. Having said that, it is trivial to add video content to the iPod once it has been encoded properly (more on that later). I would say its feasible to watch 20 minutes of content at a clip before some eye fatigue sets in -- Steve Jobs is correct to downplay the video capabilities. I have not tested playback on a full screen TV (which is trivial with either s-video off a universal adapter or using the iPod AV cable, but I'm told quality degradation for DVD content is typically comparable to VHS: not to shabby, but hardly good enough for a large HD TV set.

Within a week, I've added about 4 gig of content, including several full length movies, a jiu jitsu training video, a number of anime videos, about 12 albums, and 1400 digital photos. Its clear that the iPod video cannot be a content library for video at this stage due to quality and space considerations, so most of the video content is intended to fill up some airplane downtime. For that, I'd say that iPod is almost perfect.

There are two negatives for the iPod video. First and foremost, battery life absolutely stinks when doing video playback. I have not yet taken a long trip and put it through its paces, but I would be shocked if it lasted for more than 2 hours of playback before needing a recharge. I started to suspect that my iPod might be defective, but for music playback, there is very little battery drawdown: I assume that I will get in excess of 12 hours of music between recharges. This is a major problem, since, as I say, the primary utility of this gadget's video feature will be for travel: in particular, where power is not likely to be available for long stretches of time.

The other minor complaint I have is that the wheel is too sensitive to the spin function: it's very easy to over shoot a selection.

As for scratches: I have not removed the plastic protective cover from the face. One I pick up a skin, I will remove it and skin the iPod: I have no intentions of testing out Apple's claims to have eliminated the scratching problems that have driven Nano buyers berzerk.

Be warned that the universal adapter doesn't come with a power source. Apple charges an enormous sum for power adapters ($40 bucks for a usb adapter). I recommend going third party for this type of accessory.

Would I recommend one? Yes. But be aware that the limitations for video are severe enough that it will be a matter of time until the iPod video is entirely outmoded. Apple or someone else will make DVD quality playback on a slightly larger screen in the next year or two. While I strongly urge you not to use pirated content: I have no compunction calling it theft, but for content you have actually paid for, it's simple to rip DVDs. The downside is that it takes a long time. However, it does not take a long time to load the content to the iPod: a full length movie will transfer in 20 seconds or so. This leads me to conclude that we are a few short moments away from the video content arm of the E&M space experiencing at least as disruptive a challenge as the music industry has faced with digital content. Rather than recoiling in fear, the industry would be well-served to rapidly get ahead of this trend. Partnering with Apple on iTunes is one possible approach: if they don't do something quick, there will be a sea of ripped mp4s trading around with no DRM at all.

Update: I wanted to specifically recommend the Klipsch speakers that are being sold for desktop use. You won't quite feel the bass like you might like, but they are very, very good -- in the judgement of many superior to the equivalent Bose. Second, for an alternative power charge for the iPod standalone or with the base station, Griffin makes a power adapter that is significantly less than Apple's and more functional. Lastly, if you intend to run video on your iPod, here are the supporting encodings:

File formats: .m4v, .mp4, and .mov
Video: Up to 768 kbits/sec, 320 x 240, 30 frames per second (fps), Baseline Profile up to Level 1.3.
Audio: AAC-LC up to 160 kbits/sec, 48 Khz, and stereo audio.
File formats: .m4v, .mp4, and .mov
Video: Up to 2.5 Mbits/sec, 480 x 480, 30 fps, Simple Profile.
Audio: AAC-LC up to 160 kbits/sec, 48 Khz, stereo audio.


Greg Pavlik said...

As an addendum, I took the iPod on a cross country flight: battery life appears to be about 2 hours for video. Less than impressive since that hardly covers a coast-to-coast flight: in some cases, it doesn't cover a full-length movie.

Lynne said...

Hey, Greg. I found your blog when you linked to my site for the old mediagroks mock up. Hope all is well.

Like you, I recently purchased the 60GB video iPod (of course, in basic black). I'm not usually one to make impulse purchases, but when I saw it in the Mac store, the next thing I knew I was walking out the door with it.

Having used it for a couple of months, I agree with all of your comments - particularly your criticism of the fly wheel.

Upon using the iPod for the first time you must immediately set your language. The flywheel was so hypersensitive that I accidentally set it to Japanese! Given that I don't speak the lanugage, I was completely stuck. Resetting the device didn't do the trick. I had to go to Apple's site and completely update the software. I was ticked!

Hope everything is well with you and your family.

Take care,