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Apple iPod video review: Apple iPod video

The 5G iPod also features all the little extras of new to the Nano, including the world clock (you can view four clocks at a time) and the screen lock, plus the tried-and-tested contacts, calendar, games, and other ancillary extras.

Now that the trailers are finished, we can get to the main feature. Videos of all types, except for full-length movies, are available in the new iTunes 6, which has been retooled to serve as an iTunes video store. Within this store, which is virtually guaranteed to explode with content, there are a couple thousand music videos, plenty of movie trailers, a handful of Pixar shorts (including For the Birds and Gerry's Game), and of course the highly publicized, commercial-free TV-show offerings from ABC (Lost and Desperate Housewives) and Disney (That's So Raven and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody). The 5G iPod is able to play video encoded in H.264, MPEG-4, M4V, and MOV up to 768Kbps, 320x240 pixels, and 30fps. What differentiates the iPod from video competitors such as Cowon and Creative is that legal video is easily available within a familiar interface, plus the fact that it doesn't take a genius to get them to play on the iPod; incompatible video files won't even get transferred to the device.


Of course, purchasable video is just half the story. The video universe includes home movies, content picked from P2P networks, ripped DVDs for personal use, and video podcasts. All but the last type will probably not play natively on the iPod, which means you'll have to painstakingly convert the video using a utility such as QuickTime Pro 7 ($29.95, Mac and Windows). The tediousness of this process has been a stumbling block for video players in general; iTunes simply can't rip a DVD like it would an audio CD. Now if iTunes had a built-in video converter, it'd be another story. As for legal full-length movies, they'll come but only after some serious legal dealings. Don't expect them soon, though that might be a good thing, considering the iPod's poor video battery life (see Performance).

Once there's video on the iPod, you have a full set of entertainment options in your pocket. We love the fact that the iPod will automatically bookmark any number of videos so that you can return to a show on your evening bus commute. We also like that you can assemble video playlists. While you can fast-forward or rewind using buttons or by scrolling, we'd prefer the ability to skip back or forward in 10- or 30-second increments. We've seen more advanced video options on portable video players such as the Archos AV500, which has the special ability to record video, but for an MP3 player, the iPod does a commendable job with the video experience.

Upon selecting a video to play, you will notice a 3-second delay, and the processor works overtime when you scrub through large chunks of video. But while watching an hour-long show on the 5G iPod's screen can get tiresome for your eyes and hands, we can only praise the screen's performance. It's lively, and it never skips frames. Plus, dark areas of video content (at least in H.264) are a rich black, you get instant playback after a pause, and viewing angles are decent. Basically, watching the "iTube" is the equivalent of watching TV in a typical bedroom--that is, from a 12-inch TV about 10 feet away. If you decide to pipe out the video to a TV (and you should), know that the 320x240 resolution will look compressed and grainy on a bigger screen.

The 5G iPod's processor performance for audio and photos is solid, with only occasional drive delays; this is typical across the MP3 board, though we've noticed that the 4G is slightly faster than the 5G when skipping tracks. Audio quality is quite good and probably better than the previous iPod's, with reasonable bass, distinguishable mids, and shiny highs, plus the audio-output power is quite good. We do wish that the equalizers had more extreme sound-shaping qualities or even offered a preview before selection. Audio is especially noticeable while watching video, as most people aren't used to hearing bassy passages in a show such as Desperate Housewives. They say if you have good audio, it doesn't really matter how small the screen is.

Transfer time for audio files is never an issue with the 5G iPod. Our transfers over USB 2.0 on a Windows computer was good enough at 3.52MB per second but not as fast as those of some iPods of past. Video, because of its sheer size, will take much longer than you're used to. Simply downloading a 43-minute TV show (193MB) from iTunes took more than 2 minutes on a corporate broadband connection; the same video file took 25 seconds to make it over to my iPod.

For audio, Apple rates the 30GB and 60GB iPods for 14 and 20 hours per charge, respectively. CNET Labs was able to muster 14.7 hours of audio-only battery life for the 30GB version. As for video on a 30GB model, we were pretty disappointed with the 2 hours, 31 minutes we got playing back an iTunes TV show. You should expect a video-only battery life of about 4 hours on the 60GB version; the extra battery life makes the 60GB version a coveted item, particularly because it's still slimmer than the 4G iPod. However, battery life will always be an issue with a video device. We watched the same show a bit more than two times; the $1.99 was well spent, but we'll probably never watch that episode again. Plus, DRM prevents us from copying the show to a watchable DVD. You'll barely get a movie in, and your audio battery life will sink if you watch just one music video; do note, however, that because the screen turns on by default when you control the iPod, and because the screen is bigger, your realistic battery life will seem lower than in our tests. Our advice is to disable the backlight completely when using it in daylight since it's not necessary for viewing the iPod inteface. Battery life will no doubt be improved in subsequent versions, so if you're eyeing the iPod as a video device, either wait or get an Archos or a Creative player with a bigger screen and better battery life.

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