Review: Video IPod

It's the best iPod by far, and comparatively inexpensive. But does it do a good job displaying video?

First it was music, then it was color photos, then podcasts. Now, Apple is at it again with the debut of its latest addition to the iPod family. The new iPod is thinner, lighter and boasts crisp video functionality that lets you watch TV shows on the go.

The new iPod is a replacement for all hard disk versions of the iPod. It comes in two different models, 30 GB and 60 GB for $299 and $399, respectively. It comes in any color you want, as long as you want either white or black. For this review, I am testing the 60 GB White iPod.

At first I was skeptical about the price of the new iPod. Its predecessor, the iPod Photo, also came in a 60 GB model, but retailed for $599 -- a full $200 more than the new model. Apple drove down the price in part by skimping on extras. The new iPod comes with headphones, USB sync cable, case, installation CD and quick-start guide. But alas, does not include an iPod dock, remote control, wall charger or audio/video TV cable. That "case" included in the box is extremely cheap. At most, it protects the iPod from being scratched but that's only if you can get the device into the pouch, which I had a hard time doing.

Physically, the new iPod is slightly lighter and much thinner than the iPod Photo, coming in at just over half an inch thick. The width and height are the same as the iPod Photo, although it looks wider. The screen is the most significant difference with its 2.5-inch viewing size and 320 x 240 pixel resolution. The old iPod featured a 2-inch screen, so the new screen is quite a bit larger. Also changed, but less noticeably, is the size of the scroll wheel -- now slightly smaller.

Syncing the iPod was a breeze. All that was needed was updating my version of iTunes to the latest release and connecting the iPod via the included USB 2.0 cable. (Note that the new iPod does not support Firewire, a compromise made apparently to help keep the device thin.) The new iTunes 6 features downloadable TV shows from ABC and Disney and downloadable music videos, all for $1.99 each. For the sake of testing, I decided to download the entire first season of LOST, which cost $34.99. Each episode is a 200 MB MPEG-4 file and took about 20 minutes to download over a DSL connection. The downloading process placed files directly into iTunes, ready to be synced automatically.

Screen quality is stunning. The display produces a crisp, bright picture that makes it surprisingly enjoyable to watch video on such a small device. After a couple minutes I actually forgot that I was watching it on a small screen. Playing the same video on my computer was less satisfying, because the picture appeared grainy and pixilated. Also, TV shows from iTunes skip commercials, which is nice. The convenience of iTunes and the absence of commercials makes the $1.99 a small price to pay.

The iPod, like the iPod Photo, has the ability to connect to a TV via an optional audio/video connectors sold at the Apple store for $19.99. After connecting it to my TV and enabling the "TV" mode under "Video Settings," I selected an episode of Lost. I was astonished by the high picture quality. The quality was somewhere between DVD and VHS quality, but closer to DVD crispness and clarity and at least as good as watching the shows live.

Apple claims that it increased the battery life by 5 hours providing a total battery life of 20 hours. In my tests I found this to be true enough.

Also new are three minor applications: a screen lock, world clock and stopwatch -- handy, but not earth-shattering.

The iPod is still the same great device. Navigation hasn't changed. You still use the click-wheel, but with the addition of a couple more menus. It still plays superb sounding music and displays fantastic pictures. The iPod is still a music player, with the added functionality of video.

If you're an iPod hater, and don't understand what all the fuss has been about over the years, this version won't convert you. But if you've ever liked any previous iPod, you'll love this one.

With the release of the new iPod, Apple has accomplished what iRiver, Creative and Microsoft have tried but failed to produce: A truly portable media player that's simple, powerful, usable and beautiful. All things considered, this is the best iPod -- by far -- ever put on the market, and the price ain't bad, either.

So stop anguishing over it and go buy one already.

Apple iPod (White/Black) 30 GB $299 60 GB $399

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