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The Net Takeaway: iPod: Just Different


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iPod: Just Different · 11/09/2005 11:40 AM, Tech

As you might have heard in the background, Rio, the company which started the whole MP3 player movement way back when, is going under. The company had a gem in the Rio Karma which I loved.

However, with the company going under, the Karma never getting USB “Mass Storage Device” capability, and with my need to store more than 20gb of files, it was time to move up.

Thanks to some gifts and change from under the bed and sofa and the help of the Coinstar people, I recently purchased a black iPod 60gb Video.

Here are my observations, based on using with Windows XP.

Packaging was top notch… for paper. That is, great, semi-gloss paper box… but all just paper. A recent case for my Blackberry came in a gift box with accessories galore. The accessories for the iPod (the few they offer) are in a cheap plastic bag, the device comes with no accessories other than the bare minimum (a “case”, a USB connect-and-charge cable, and the dreadful earpieces… oh, and some stickers), and there are no preview songs or videos on the device. Not even a “welcome to Apple” or “Hi, I’m Steve Jobs. Thanks!”. For this much money, I expect something a bit more… more.

No base is included. No AC charger. Just the minimum. And featurewise, for all the cool stuff (do I really, really need to sync my calendar and contacts with this?), still no FM radio, still no ability to play anything other than AAC and MP3 (no Ogg, no Flac).

And yes, its already scratched. Photons of light touched it and the coating was immediately injured. I suspect that if I blow on it, it will warp. Yes, the coating looks great for the first 3 seconds, but like a new car, it quickly gets “brushed”. And you notice it since you are staring at the screen all the time. Sigh.

A more positive view on packaging at The Unofficial Apple Weblog.

The interface is quirky. You have a horizontally scrolling menu system, yet the left and right arrows on the circle do nothing. Instead, you have the Menu button at North, and a center button at center. Center button goes in, Menu goes out. Except that this is reflected on the screen as left and right. Very strange.

Lots of little options hidden here and there; lots of little options hidden in iTunes (more below) which have big impact. Cleverly, Apple ignores years of history and splits “Options” from “Preferences” in iTunes, making you have to hunt in two places to find what you want on the PC, and then look on the iPod as well.

Also, little tactile feedback when I move my thumb over the buttons. My rio had little ridges and bumps to make it easy to feel where you were in the dark. The iPod assumes you will turn on a light. Also, the volume is part of the circle, so if your thumb slips while you are pressing an arrow, be prepared to blast your ears.

But audio quality is great. The volume is lower than I want, but I’ll work on that later. Its dense in the hand, but thinner than most other players.

A bit more about the volume. iTunes has all sorts of “volume” adjusters and issues. For example, it can normalize all your files by adding volume information to the files. Other programs muck with the firmware. I did use the individual file volume “upper” to fix the movie file I stuck on there. Like everything else I dislike about iTunes (see below), the volume adjustment for the file is well hidden under the right click menu for the file, Get Info, Volume.

Yes, I could use MP3Gain and do similar volume muckarounds with my files. The real issue, of course, is that these files sounded great and loud with my Rio Karma, and I have to really ramp up the vol to be happy with the supposedly superior iPod.

I am sort of amazed that people like this so much. Its just awkward. Its as if the GUI drove the feature set and decisions instead of the other way around. The left bar lumps together playlists, “the store”, your ipod, everything. Complete lack of organization!

Oh, and the iPod has the same problem: no folders, no grouping, nothing. If your stuff isn’t fully tagged, you are out of luck.
I have heard good things about Musicbrainz for “autotagging”, but my favorite editor continues to be ID3-Tagit.

Lots and lots of things with the phrase “iPod” on them. But when I went to get a new cable (one for home, one for work), guess what I found? No one else makes a data cable. Well, that’s not fair; check out a froogle search for ipod cable. Its not that no one makes them, its that no legit store seems to carry them. Same for the iPod AC adapter. Oh, no shortage of FM tuners and broadcasters, auto adapters, and silly stuff. But useful stuff is a pain to find.

BTW, for my Rio, I used a cheap “camera USB cord” for 4 bucks, and a Radio Shack “all-in-one” ac adapter for $18, so $22 and change. For the iPod, I will likely have to spend $30 for the “iPod USB Power Adapter” and $19 for the “Apple iPod Dock Connector to USB 2.0”. Sure have to be rich to enjoy the iPod.

Radio Shack will now be carrying some accessories, and Best Buy has them as well. But both seem to carry 20 car chargers for every 1 ac adapter, and the ac is always the apple overpriced one. Crazy.

Oh, and I started to look for a case. 45 brands later, I am so confused that I will just leave it in a plastic bag rather than have to make a choice. Amazing post about a guy’s attempt to make yet another case, and how hard it is to be an independent producer in today’s world: Bull5hit’s Shufflicious

I have a whole ‘nother post on this. Suffice it to say, if you can pull the file off of your DVD or camera, Videora’s iPod Converter seems like the free and best way to go. Lots of good support at their forums.

I ripped Buckaroo Banzai last night. It took about 15 minutes to pull off the 01:45:21 movie file; that was a 5.8 gb file which required an NTFS drive, not my older formatted Fat32 drives which have a 4gb file limit. Then, using the free Videora iPod Converter and the guides at the Videora site, I converted the file to the default iPod format, which appears to be Mpeg-4/320×240/768kps Stereo/128kps, with some other numbers I didn’t fully understand. The H.264 format is supposedly smaller with similar quality, but lots of complaints on the forums that even this 0.90 version of Videora doesn’t generate compatible H.264 files. I suspect this will be fixed sooner rather than later so YMMV.

2 HOURS LATER, the file was completed. The mp4 file was about 600megs in length, or about 12% of the original file. This file transferred easily to the iPod by adding to the library in iTunes, and played pretty well. No “chapter jumps’ or other handy things though if you press the center button during playback, you can swirl the wheel to jump to a time point. Holding FF is not the way to go; it takes too long and caused “dropouts” where I found myself somehow back at a menu and had to start the movie from the beginning.

Videora is clearly a work in progress; it crashed multiple times during this process. In addition, it relies on ffmpeg to do its conversion; if there are bugs in that, then Videora will have them as well. Both Videora and ffmpeg fought for CPU during the process, making 100% CPU utilization and making it hard to use the PC for anything else during the process. Also, Videora’s progress meter implied that it was done after 2 minutes, when clearly we had a longer wait ahead of us.

Technically, the iPod plays H.264 video as well as MPEG-4 Part 2. It uses the H.264 Baseline Profile (vs. “High” or “Main”) with support for a bit rate of 768 kbit/s, image resolution of 320×240, and frame rate of 30 frames per second. I presume that if one chooses to do less than these, the files will be smaller but look kind of ok.

Some additional reading hints that perhaps the PSP format is now H.264, and that these files may work on the Video iPod. There is some interaction between MPEG-4 and H.264. One big clue, of course, is that some people are using Videora’s PSP9 instead of the Ipod converter and getting similar results.

After playing more with it, and following their forum religiously, I have successfully ripped and encoded a few of my movies into both H.264 and MP4. Its a pita, but Videora is pretty ok about it if you accept that its donationware.

Two lifesavers are “DVD Decrypter” and “DVDShrink”. (This last is really impressive: it takes a DVD which may be double layer and have more than 4 gigs on it, and figures out the proper compression to get it back under 4 gigs. Yes, you get a lesser quality movie… but you can keep the menus, extras, whatever, while dropping off extra language tracks, etc. This won’t help the iPod, but it is great for making backups of discs to leave in the car for the kids to destroy.). With these and various tutorials and understanding lots more about video digitization than I ever expected to, its getting easier to do cool stuff.

More as I find out more.

I still think this whole podcast thing is a joke. I can read faster than anyone can speak, and the last thing I need are inexperienced broadcasters fumbling on the air and wasting my time. I’ve listened to everyone’s “favorite this” or “you gotta hear that” and each time, its been a disappointment. The only good thing has been exposure to new music, but for the rest, my ears are bleeding.

That being said, using RSS as a link to recently updated files to download which are done by people with talent (note that this excludes 95% of the podcasts I’ve listened to, sorry) is a good idea.

The Yahoo Search Blog shows how to add recent video links to an RSS feed, treat that as a “podcast”, and add it to itunes to start adding publicly shared video.

So, am I happy with it? Well, it does feel all slickery and shiny and pretty, and as I get used to it, I suspect I will appreciate its quirks as cleverness instead of “different for difference’s sake”. But the real test will be my next trip… and I’ll update this post with more info then.

* * *


  1. Excellent analysis. I don’t know exactly why, but these things never appealed to me. I like music, but not enough to work at it. The only portable thingy that I own is a AM/FM Radio ONLY Walkman (try finding THAT nowadays). I like news and fresh things, things that by definition are not purposely loaded in a storage device. I guess it would be good for porn…

    That being said, I might look into portable XM or Sirius receivers. Having a lot of new news to hear sounds interesting…

    Maybe the next version of iPod should have an XM receiver in it. I’d buy that.
    andrew    Nov 9, 01:50 PM    #

  2. I haven’t had any trouble with the display. I don’t see any dead pixels, and other than the fun of figuring out the right settings for Videora, I don’t have much bad to say about the display. I can say that it all scratches very easily, though not so badly that I can’t see anything…
    Michael Wexler    Nov 12, 02:21 PM    #

  3. Apple Computer’s slogan should be “Products for the rich, tasteless, and easily amused” (apologies to Dilbert). I have never thought much of Apple products generally.
    Scott    Dec 27, 02:47 AM    #

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