Although the Microsoft Zune announcement threw a wrench into a timely iTunes 7 review, the delay allows for more time with the intriguing jukebox/movie store application (as well as allow more of the reported bugs to seep out). So far, we've heard of some nasty problems with Windows versions (such as crashing, some audio sounding choppy, and refusal to recognize the new iPod Nano), but I've had mostly excellent results on both platforms (a tired old PowerBook G4 and a Dell XPS P4 desktop). I spoke with Apple to clarify some things, mainly about purchased movies, and here's what I came away with:
As of September 12, all movies and TV shows have a general resolution of 640x480. This includes TV shows that were available at the then-standard 320x240 even just a few days ago. You will have to purchase a new version of the same file if you want to standardize your library. Predictable, but too bad. Apple likened the situation to upgrading to DVDs from VHS tapes, though in this case, the buying cycle is much shorter. So what happens if and when Apple decides to offer movies in DVD resolution (720x480) someday? Probably the same thing.
Many movies are available in wide-screen format. Sweet. But we were wondering if there any letter-boxing was going on since the movie files are 640x480. It turns out that wide-screen movies will have a resolution of 640xX, or in the case of The Incredibles, 640x272. That's fine on a computer, but on a 2.5-inch iPod, that's pushing it.
Good news for owners of "older" 5G iPods: Software update 1.2 allows for compatibility with the new games, compatibility with 640x480 video content, and the cool quick-scroll letter indicator feature. Gapless playback and search are not supported.
iTunes transfers the original 640x480 file to your iPod--no transcoding. The iPod simply plays back VGA content at 320x240. So you'll need a little more space on your iPod today for the same video you may have purchased preannouncement. Also, when you pipe video out to a TV, it will of course be shown in full 640x480.
iTunes' neat Get Album Artwork just isn't working too great for most users. The feature in theory helps both Apple (makes iTunes more attractive) and users (makes iTunes more useful and attractive), but if the "service" doesn't work well, why bother. Apparently, Apple is continuing to tweak some algorithms and back-end stuff to make this work properly, and I believe them. It's possible that you could use Get Album Artwork twice in within 10 minutes and get different results. Searches are done by scanning for Gracenote serial numbers and by scanning existing metatag data. By the way, the available album art is based on what's in the iTunes Store's existing library, though art for Nirvana's Nevermind and Elton John's Madman Across the Water was M.I.A.
When you first install and run iTunes 7, the app automatically analyzes your tracks for gapless playback. It's not actually seamlessly bridging gaps as I'd thought; rather, it is figuring it out based on format and bit rate, the best method for ungapping songs. If you turn Cross Fade off, all tracks will be played gaplessly. If not, you'll have to multiselect all tracks in a gapless album, Get Info, then indicate that you want the selection to be part of a gapless album. So far, gapless playback works very well on both iTunes and the iPod Nano. Now that Apple's in the gapless game, it's a must feature for the competition (though the Rio Karma introduced it, and Archos 04 players already have gapless).
Look for our full review of iTunes 7 tomorrow. In the meantime, let us know what you think about iTunes 7.