Friday, October 05, 2007

iPod Classic Verdict (so far)

[reading: Terry Pratchett, "Making Money"]

By dint of transferring many gigabytes of MP3 files from my Powerbook to my PC, I managed to get my new iPod working. Well, sort of.

Compared to my old 30GB second-generation iPod the extra new features of the latest model are:

  • Photo display
  • Video playing
  • Lyrics display
  • Cover flow
  • Much bigger disk
Let's take these one by one.

Photo Display

This mostly works, but doesn't seem to allow for much in the way of navigation or organization. Point iTunes at a directory and it will import all of the image files below that folder, but only the first level of subfolders gets reflected in the iPod organization. Given that I've got lots of photographs which are carefully arranged into a hierarchical set of folders, this destroys most of the organization.

There's a few other oddities. Firstly, when I select a particular picture on the iPod, sometimes I get a black screen; I have to press select again to actually see the picture. Secondly, the iPod display helpfully shows a date as you're navigating around the pictures, but this seems to be the date that the photo was transferred to the iPod, not the file date or the EXIF date. Finally, it's worth knowing that the iTunes import process creates an "iPod Photo Cache" directory under the place it imported from; for my data, this was about 15% of the size of the originals (and so is an issue if disk space is short).

So the net of all of this is that I won't be putting my photos onto the iPod (even after I get it talking to the Mac).

Video Playing

Drag an .MPG file into iTunes. Nothing happens. Drag a .WMV file into iTunes. Nothing happens. Drag a .MOV file into iTunes. Aha, it accepts it and will play it inside iTunes. Try to sync the movie to the iPod. No luck, just an error message saying the video is incompatible with the iPod. Hunt around in the manual to find out what's needed. Pause to hunt around for the manual, because the iPod didn't come with one. Eventually find out how to get iTunes to convert the video (right-click, Convert Selection for iPod). Wait a long time for it to convert. Look at the Movies tab in iTunes and realize there are now two identically named movie files, and there's no indication of which one is the original and which is the iPod-converted one. Run iPod sync and finally get a video running on the iPod.

Eventually, search the web and discover Videora.

To be fair, this is just a reflection in the small of the larger problem of video files. There are several different file formats (aka containers), but that's only the start of the problem—having different container file formats is like having different incompatible types of envelope. Inside the envelope, the contents can then be in many many different incompatible 'languages'—the codecs.

So if you've got a QuickTime format video file (, then Window Media Player certainly won't play it, but QuickTime may not play it either, depending on what codecs are installed. The only island of sanity in all of this is VLC, which has a good stab at playing almost everything. (Plus it's free-as-in-beer and free-as-in-speech.)

So I'm not convinced that using the iPod to watch videos on the move is worth the (considerable) effort involved.

Lyrics Display

I added lyrics to a song in iTunes, then synced and tried to view them on the iPod. "Lyrics detected, but unable to retrieve."

So it appears to be pointless to attempt to use the iPod to show lyrics.

Cover Flow

Shiny idea in theory; in practice it often can't keep up with even a slow scroll and just displays a placeholder for the album cover.

So I don't think I'll be using Cover Flow at all; I'll stick to plain text listings.

Much Bigger Disk

The first disappointment with buying a 160GB iPod is when you initially turn it on and it tells you that it has 150GB free. Hmm, where did the extra 10 GB go?

That's a comparatively minor disappointment compared to the discovery that turning on disk mode for an iPod in Windows does not mean that the iPod actually acts as a USB hard disk. That's right: if your iPod is set up in Windows mode, you can't read the disk on a Mac.

So the big disk's usefulness is severely limited. I can get all my MP3 files on it (unlike the old 30GB version), but I'm then left with 100GB that's of little use.

Other Impressions

When I bought my first iPod, I was impressed from the get-go. The box it came in was a feat of design; it came with a remote control, two different sort of cables, a docking station and a case.

Different kettle of herring this time around: bare bones for everything, from the packaging to the manual (er, there isn't one) to the cabling (FireWire is no longer supported or included, no docking station).


If you primarily want to play MP3s, the new iPod is fine. But don't be seduced by the suggestion that it does anything else.

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