This review appears in the February 06 issue of PC Advisor, available in all good newsagents from 15 December 05
Given the brouhaha surrounding Apple's latest player, one might assume its name is the Video iPod. Think again: this is simply an iPod. And rather than a dedicated video player, it's really just an audio player – albeit a very good one – that can do video.
Don't get us wrong, though: this is an impressive release. The 2.5in screen on our £219 black 30GB unit (Apple also offers a white 30GB version, plus 60GB flavours in both colours for £299) is absolutely beautiful. The 320x240-pixel screen is bright and sharp, and videos look great on it. In our hands-on tests it offered crisp playback with very smooth movement. The unit played back videos at roughly 30fps (frames per second) - the same quality as a broadcast TV signal.
The only complaint with the image quality was that details - especially in shadows - were often hard to see. Unfortunately, the glossy surface of the unit's faceplate is very reflective, so you have to watch it at an angle to avoid your own reflection. Despite the top-notch screen, it isn't as big as those of some of the portable media centres we've tested, so you have to hold the unit fairly close to your eyes, and this gets a bit uncomfortable.
In the States, videos can be downloaded from the iTunes store - a new feature of iTunes 6.0, which offers episodes of several ABC television shows, as well as of music videos, at a cost of $2 each. However, at the time of going to press, Apple hasn't finalised or announced any licensing agreements with potential content providers in the UK.
We were able to view some video podcasts with iPod-specific feeds. However, you can't grab just any video podcast and drop it on your iPod, and iTunes 6.0 won't convert videos to the right format for the new device. In fact, iTunes' inability to convert existing video into an iPod-friendly format is its biggest failing. To make existing video into something you can play on the iPod, you have to convert it using either Apple's own £20 QuickTime Pro application or another video encoder that can work with the H.264 and Mpeg4 formats the device employs.
This latest iPod is a masterful piece of design. (It seems odd, though, that Apple doesn't supply a black pair of earbuds if you go with the black version; you still get white ones.) The 30GB version is small, light, and easy to use. The click wheel makes its return, and is the only control except for a hold button on the top. It remains exceptionally simple: click on the marked spots for play, fast-forward, rewind, and the menu, and scroll the wheel around to control volume and navigate menus.
The battery life gave us two and a half hours of video playback - less than some dedicated players, but long enough for most commutes. Audio playback yielded 10 hours and a full recharge took around four hours.
This is the BBC
One potentially significant problem for users in this country is the lack of UK-specific video content. At the time of writing, Apple has not announced video downloading licensing agreements for iTunes 6.0 in the UK, and the British market is based on a very different model from the one in the States.
There is, however, a sugggestion that the BBC and Apple Computer are trying to thrash out a deal. And the BBC is operating a Windows-only trial of releasing TV content over broadband to a selected group of users.
The potential snag here is the difference between the BBC's strategy and the one implemented by Apple and ABC. While ABC TV downloads are permanent to keep for a fee, the BBC employs a free-to-download model but with a seven-day time-out on such transmissions. In other words, you get to watch it for a week, but can't keep it forever.
While the BBC hasn't made any official statement on the situation, it's rumoured that the Beeb is looking at a payment model for content through iTunes. Given the success of the iPod, it could be a lucrative revenue stream. But the BBC may well offer only limited video podcasting at a future point to complement its already heavily downloaded audio BBC radio podcasts. Watch this space.