Video iPod: First Impressions

January 15th, 2006

2005.10.12-14.52.24/ipod.jpgA couple of months ago, Wendy bought me a video iPod for Christmas and gave it to me early. I’ve been using the iPod almost daily since then and love it. It’s fair to say that I like this new 5th-generation pod better than my 2nd-generation pod. I’ve been keeping notes on what I do and don’t like about the new iPod, and now it’s time to share them.

First of all the obvious: this new iPod is sleeker and lighter than my first one. It weighs less and is only about half the thickness of my first one. Its display is larger and brighter than the old iPod, and of course the new iPod has a beautiful color display. The main reason I chose the 60GB version of the new iPod is because my old 20GB iPod just didn’t have enough capacity to contain my entire record collection. I have about 30GB of music, most of which was ripped from my CDs, the rest of which came from download services like Rhapsody and iTunes. With the old iPod I had to select what music to sync to the iPod, and what not to. With the larger capacity iPod, I don’t have to choose; I can simply take all my music with me.

Things I like, in no particular order:

  • I like the way the iPod can be used while plugged in, after ejecting it from the desktop. The old iPod couldn’t be used until it was actually unplugged from the computer. The advantage to the way the new iPod works is that you can charge the iPod off the computer while using it at the same time. That wasn’t possible with my 2nd-generation pod.
  • As a corollary to the above, I like the way the backlight comes on when the update (sync) is finished.
  • I like the display of album art alongside the album title, and I like the “big art” display, ratings display, and the lyrics display.
  • I like being able to rate songs from the iPod, and to build on-the-go playlists.
  • I like the way the iPod comes on when you take it off hold. (Although it doesn’t always do this, and I haven’t figured out why. Perhaps it only occurs when you have a song or video paused.)
  • I like the little plastic slider on the headset. Slide it to the earphones, and it reduces tangles when the cord is rolled up and tucked into a pocket or backpack. It doesn’t 100% eliminate tangles, but it makes them much less likely.
  • I like it that the hard drive seems quieter and seems to run cooler than the hard drive in my older iPod.
  • I like the way the iPod remembers what was playing, even after the iPod had been put into sleep mode. The old iPod would forget what it was playing in sleep mode.
  • I like the nice touches in the on-screen displays when videos are playing. For example the volume control display is slightly transparent, and when it disappears it fades away. These touches are also visible when the TV output is turned on.
  • I like being able to edit the top menu.

In contrast to all the niceties of the iPod, it also has some irritations.

  • I don’t like the user interface; it isn’t as easy to use as the old iPod’s, and in some respects is downright confusing. For example, there are Settings menus for audio playback, for video playback and for photo slideshows, but these menus are in different places. The menu that controls settings for audio playback are in the top Settings menu, but the menu that controls video settings are under the Video menu, and the menu that controls photo settings are under the Photos menu. I think it makes sense to have the video and photo settings where they are, but then why not move the audio settings so they’re under the Music menu? Probably to keep things where they used to be, but I get confused at one kind of setting being at one level, and another kind of setting being at a different level. To add more confusion, some of the Video settings also affect Photos – this fact might argue for putting all settings under one top-level menu.
  • I don’t like the lack of nested playlists (playlist folders). iTunes has nested playlists, but when synced to the iPod, the playlists aren’t nested. I make a lot of playlists, and I like being able to use folders on iTunes to organize them. I wish the iPod preserved the folders for playlists.
  • I don’t like it that Sound Check is ineffective on video playback. I bought a few old music videos from the iTunes Music Store, and found that some are significantly louder than others. Turning on Sound Check doesn’t equalize the volume.
  • I don’t like the cube transition when viewing slideshows on a TV. It’s jerky and unattractive.
  • I don’t like the iPod’s speed, or lack of it. Slideshow and video startup is extremely slow.
  • I hate not having the wired remote any more. I liked being able to tuck the iPod into my backpack, route the earphone cable through the backpack’s little earphone hole, and control the iPod with the wired remote. This was especially handy when flying with the iPod because I could use it and control it while keeping it safely in my backpack. The new wireless remote doesn’t work without the dock, and I don’t see carrying a dock around in my backpack.
  • Oh, by the way, I don’t like the cost of the Apple accessories, and I don’t see why an A/C adapter can’t be included with a $300 or $400 gadget.
  • I’m going to save my biggest iPod gripe for its own post. It’s a minor problem, but one that causes me almost daily irritation, and it’s been there since the first generation iPod. (No, I’m not talking about Digital Rights Management here.)

Rather than buy Apple’s overpriced dock, I bought a less expensive Memorex dock at Fry’s. It came with all the things you get when you buy Apple’s dock, plus some: a USB cable, a FireWire cable (the dock I bought was intended for an earlier generation of iPod), an audio line-out cable, and an A/C adapter.

I did buy Apple’s overpriced A/V cable, so I could display videos and photos on a TV. The cable is pretty, but pretty doesn’t justify paying $20 for a $5 cable. If I’d been sure that another brand of cable would work, I’d have bought something else.

I’ve heard people complain that the quality of iPod video playback on a TV can’t possibly be any good. To be sure, 320×240 pixel video doesn’t look nearly as good as a DVD’s 740×480 pixels, and the limited bitrate of the playback causes some artifacts on some types of scenes that can be slightly distracting. On the other hand, the quality of iPod video playback looks as good as VHS videotape, and we all rented and enjoyed a zillion of those before DVDs came along, didn’t we?

Wendy and I have downloaded and watched a few videos from the iTunes Music Store. We used the store to catch episodes of Lost and Battlestar Galactica that we missed last week, and we downloaded and watched a free episode of Monk. In the Lost and Battlestar videos, we did notice occasional video artifacts, but we were so absorbed in the shows that a few video glitches just didn’t matter.

In summary, although I have a few complaints about the new iPod, I love it and there’s no way I’ll ever go back to my old one. (No, kids, you can’t have it. To get something cook like an iPod you have to earn your own.) And I recommend the iPod to anyone who wants to be able to take a lot of music on the go.

Thanks again, Wendy!

2 Responses to “Video iPod: First Impressions”

  1. ChrisL Says:

    I’ll be the first to comment here… I got a black Video iPod 30gb as a gift a couple of weeks ago. I knew I could figure the iTunes music, TV shows, and Podcasts out, so I immediately went for the throat – figuring out how to rip DVD movies to the iPod – for FREE.

    After hours of scowering the internet, I found this site that points you to free software and works perfectly: Since then I’ve ripped almost 30 movies and put them onto the iPod, as well as my 10+ gigs of (legitimate, legal) music, the hilarious free episode of Monk, and a few episodes of The Office that I purchased off of iTunes.

    I’ve had a blast with the iPod and I haven’t had any problems so far. I’m super-glad I didn’t upgrade firmware when the newest release came out that’s causing so many problems for so many people. I didn’t even know you *could* upgrade the firmware until I read about the problems with the newest version.

    To be perfectly honest, not including the time I’ve spent synchronizing the iPod, I haven’t spent much time using it to fairly evaluate it: the pros and cons of it. So far I don’t see any cons other than knocks against Apple for not including an A/C adapter/charger with the $300 device. Unlike your review, I have been unable to use the iPod while it’s plugged in to the PC. When it’s synchronizing and says “Do Not Disconnect,” I can eject it, but then the battery icon doesn’t show that it’s charging. Bummer – I bought a non-Apple (Digicom) A/C charger today at Fry’s for $19. I think that will be all I need to get the most enjoyment possible out of the iPod because I will want to use it at work… and often.

  2. Jim Says:

    When I eject the iPod, the backlight comes on and I see the usual menus. The little battery icon in the upper right corner has the lightning bolt and it blinks green. If I wait a minute or so, I get the big battery with lightning bolt, blinking green. This happens whether I use the cable that came with the iPod, or use the USB cable that came with my dock. (By the way, someone told me, and I haven’t verified this, that although the new iPods don’t communicate over FireWire, you can still charge them with FireWire, if that’s an option on your Digicom dock.)