The Apple iPod may know how to play video, but it's still a music player at heart, which is evidenced by its not-so-large 2.5-inch screen. Said screen might be sufficient for watching 30-minute TV programs, but what of the feature-length movies now for sale on iTunes? If you want to take these digital films to go without inflicting serious eyestrain on yourself, one option is to pick up Sonic Impact's Video 55, which adds external speakers and a 7-inch screen to your iPod movie-watching experience. Just be forewarned that the Video 55 isn't a cheap accessory--it'll set you back about $300. If you already own a laptop, that's a much more economical option (albeit a larger and heavier one).
If you can get past the price--because, after all, the Video 55 costs nearly as much as an 80GB iPod and more than a 30GB one--you'll be rewarded with a useful device boasting a sleek and compact design. The all-black Video 55 measures 8.7 by 6.5 by 1.7 inches when closed and weighs in at 2.4 pounds, which is significantly smaller and lighter than nearly all mainstream laptops. The portable DVD player-like unit flips open to reveal a 7-inch wide-screen display and a cut-out iPod bed with two strips of touch-sensitive controls on either side. The iPod slot features a rotating dock connector, which you flip up in order to connect the player. Then, once the iPod is in place, it folds down into the base of the Video 55 and rests flush with the edges (a 30GB iPod insert helps manage this for the smaller player; the standard cutout accommodates the 60GB/80GB version). This convenient design also allows you to carry the iPod inside the Video 55 for safe travel.
Video playback is largely handled by the iPod itself, but the Video 55 includes some basic controls: power, volume, and menu. The latter refers not to the iPod menu, but to the video settings on the Video 55 (brightness, contrast, and so on). There's also a remote that consists of those controls as well as a play/pause button and a mute key. A nifty spring-loaded slot on the front of the unit can store the remote during travel. Other extras in the box include a wall charger, a car charger, RCA A/V cables, a soft travel pouch, and a shammy. All of the input/output ports are covered by a flexible rubber flap on the left edge of the Video 55; a mini USB port is included for pass-through syncing. Sound comes through two speakers mounted in the hinge of the unit.
All in all, it's a well-designed device with convenient slots and port placement, but we do have a couple of gripes. The first is that the shiny black coating on the inside shell attracts a lot of fingerprints and smudges. Also, considering the size and price of the unit, we'd like to see a larger display--there's about an inch all the way around it to accommodate more screen real estate. That said, we appreciate the quality of the screen; the cheaper Memorex iFlip has a larger display, but videos don't look as good on it.
Performance in general on the Video 55 proved pretty good during testing. Videos lacked the color saturation that was visible on those that we played on our computer, but that's to be expected. Overall, movies and TV shows played back in clear detail with no artifacts, pixilation, or screen-door effect. Viewing angles were excellent; at least three people could comfortably watch at the same time. And the stereo sound was great. It wouldn't be a stretch to use the Video 55 for music on the go, though it's not at the level of $300 speaker sets. The unit is rated for just three hours of video playback, which is about on a par for the original 5G iPod, but might not last up to the updated version.