Video-On-Demand Enters a Whole New Realm

If you’ve been working crazy deadlines and have somehow missed Apple’s recent media blitz, here’s a bit of news: The company’s latest iPods now offer video support. Right after the initial launch in October, the critics laughed and quickly pointed out that no one wants to watch video on that tiny little screen. As of this writing, Apple has sold more than two million dollars worth of video content in barely three weeks. You think the critics are still laughing?
The new iPods are available in 30 GB and 60 GB models. The 60 GB version is slightly thicker and has a larger battery, but both models are smaller than previous generations. In addition to being thinner, the new iPods’ color screens are larger, measuring 2.5 inches on the diagonal. Either model can store hundreds of hours of video, depending on compression settings, making it a portable library of video information.
The iPod plays video encoded to MPEG-4 or H.264, at 320 x 240. Sound is encoded using AAC at up to 160 KB/sec at 48 kHz. The result is a QuickTime movie that looks and sounds amazing.
You can playback your content on the screen of the iPod, or use a cable to plug the device into a TV or projector. Output on a 21-inch TV looks good, but not great, a quality level somewhere above VHS but not as good as DVD. NTSC (or PAL) output also exists but it’s not a selling point.
The bad news is that Apple has dropped FireWire support. This iPod syncs via USB 2.0 (it supports USB 1.1, but that’s painfully slow). The battery can last for 12 hours when listening to music, but a fully charged battery will barely last two and a half hours when watching video content. In the near future, we’ll likely see some nice external snap-on batteries that fit this fifth-generation iPod.
What this Means for Video Pros
You can probably guess why I’m so excited by this product: In addition to having an easy and portable way to view video, I’ve now got a brand-new distribution channel that involves no physical media (unlike the disc-based Sony PSP) and thus minimal cost. Even if you don’t sell your media directly to consumers, now your sales team, or the head of business development for your studio or anyone in your facility who needs to share your content with clients and customers can walk around with hundreds of hours of your video content in their pockets. No more reprinting or duplicating CDs or DVDs, or making sure older versions are discarded. Students, who likely put this new model on their holiday gift lists, can subscribe to their favorite video podcasts and watch and listen to last night’s lecture from a university anywhere in the world. Manufacturers of complex equipment could issue video training manuals and keep them right next to the equipment on the shop floor, ready to be viewed by employees at a moment’s notice and updated whenever there is a change. The list of potential uses for this device goes far beyond viewing this week’s episode of Lost.
Windows or Mac, with iTunes 6 (free) and USB 2.0 port