Rumours of Apple introducing video playback on the iPod were circulating for quite some time before the launch of this fifth generation (5G) music player, the iPod Video. With this release, Apple has further enhanced its reputation as the leader in portable music, although the video capability is far from perfect.
The 5G iPod has undergone some slight physical changes, with a thinner and lighter design than its predecessor and boasting a smaller click wheel. Measuring 104mm x 61mm x 14mm and weighing 156g, the iPod is still quite large compared with most other MP3 players on the market. Previous iPod owners will also notice the absence of the smart headphone jack, which was used in tandem with remote control accessory devices.
Like the iPod nano, Apple has decided to offer two colours for the new iPod - the original white and a new black version. The chrome back finish (a magnet for fingerprints and smudges) remains, as do problems with screen scratching which first surfaced on the nano. With a larger 2.5-inch screen on the new model, scratches and smudges are even more difficult to control and are especially noticeable as the screen is used to watch videos.
The iPod video quality is excellent for such a small screen and the videos we watched were bright and clear throughout. At no stage did we experience any performance issues with the video playback itself, but we did encounter a three-second delay when selecting a video to play which soon grew irritating. While we can't fault the display for its quality, those who want to watch full length movies should probably look elsewhere, as the small screen is not conducive to long viewing stints.
The iPod plays videos encoded in H.264, which means only MPEG-4, M4V and MOV video files will be compatible. The specifications are commendable for a video device this size, with the iPod playing videos up to 769Kpbs, 320 x 240 pixels and 30fps. Unfortunately, because iTunes does not contain a built-in video converter, those wanting to transfer their video collection from their PC to their iPod will have to go through the tedious process of converting each file into an iPod compatible format using QuickTime Pro 7. It took us nearly 20 minutes to convert a 2 minute WMV file using Quicktime. Luckily, the recently launched Australian iTunes Music Store stocks music videos that can be purchased and downloaded directly to iTunes for easy iPod interaction.
The 5G iPod allows you to adjust settings such as switching between NTSC and PAL or viewing video in widescreen, but there are no options to adjust brightness and contrast of the display. We were also disappointed to learn that the iPod does not have an external speaker. As a music player, the iPod is almost exactly the same as its predecessor.
Unfortunately, the 5G iPod continues the Apple tradition of poor battery life. We were also frustrated to discover that Apple has failed to include a power adapter in the box, so the iPod can only be charged via USB connectivity with your PC or Mac. We think the Apple iPod Video is best suited to watching short music videos rather than movies.