Showtime: Apple’s New iPod Page 2

0601_video_showtime_ipod200After hooking up the iPod to my TV (Apple sells an A/V cable for $19), I compared the downloaded Lost with the real McCoy - a broadcast-quality recording on my DVR. I immediately noticed that the iPod's video had significantly higher contrast (which would also contribute to the lack of shadow detail). But the resolution actually looked pretty decent - a bit more pixelization was visible from the iPod, but only if I looked closely.

Those visible pixels are due mainly to the lower resolution of the iTunes Music Store's M4V-format downloads, which match the iPod's 320 x 240-pixel screen exactly (though it also supports files up to 480 x 480 pixels in MPEG-4 format). In fact, the new iPod is pretty damn picky about the formats it plays (see below). I can imagine what it would say at a dinner party with other personal video players: "You play DivX? How ... common." But if you have a bunch of vids you're dying to move to your iPod, any number of freeware programs can help. Google "convert," "video," and "iPod" to start.

Once you have videos in your iTunes library, they're listed right along with everything else - my Desperate Housewives downloads were sandwiched between Dar Williams and Don Henley. Fortunately, your iPod knows what's what, and any files transferred over show up neatly in proper folders, like TV Shows, Video Podcasts, and Movies.

MUSIC AND OTHER FEATURES As a music player, the new iPod is . . . well, an iPod. Which is to say this is what it's designed for. It's functionally identical to the iPod nano (see review), complete with viewable album art, a folder for podcasts, and a learning curve appropriate for music lovers aged 8 to 80. The sound is excellent - even at high volumes, the earbuds delivered clean, undistorted sound.

Apple clocks the built-in battery life of the 30-gig model I tested at 2 hours, but I found that to be a bit generous. On a full charge, I almost got through two full episodes of Lost (about 43 minutes each), pausing playback now and then for interruptions. Plus the battery meter appears wildly inaccurate. After just a couple of minutes into a video, the full-charge green bar dropped to almost half. It always seemed to be warning me that I was running on fumes, even when it had decent reserves. Power is definitely an issue - especially when you're playing video.

BOTTOM LINE Want portable video in a bad way? There are a number of player options, like Creative's Zen Vision, that won't have you reaching for a magnifying glass as often. But if you're into music first and video second - and especially if you're never home for Lost - your inclinations are right in line with Apple's. The new iPod may be a little picky about the videos it will play, but being exclusive is what the iCrowd is all about.

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