Apple iPod 80GB

Wilson Rothman

This new 80GB version has a longer life and more space for movies

There were sexier announcements made by Steve Jobs last week, like the new line of nanos — super slenderized, brushed aluminum 4GB models that come in pink, green, blue and silver (for $199) and the bold black one ($249) with 8GB capacity. However, I thought the 80GB iPod was more situated at the center of Apple's big picture: movie downloads at the iTunes Store and a future in the living room. Once I had an 80GB iPod in my hand, I discovered that the wait for a living-room option wasn't as far off as Jobs had indicated.

It turns out, both movies and TV shows are being encoded in files that better suit TV screens. All of the TV shows on iTunes are now available in a higher-resolution format. Originally, episodes of The Office were around 110MB in size, and had pictures that were 320 pixels wide; the same episodes, sold at the same price, are now around 240MB, and are 640 pixels wide. (Note: while the files are 640x480 in resolution, widescreen movies and TV shows are letterboxed, so they actually have a height of something considerably less than 480 pixels.)

The new size can be a bummer if you already spent $48 buying the poorer-quality version of the first season of 24 And if you decide to repurchase, the new files take twice as long to download. The larger size also means more of a drain on older video-capable iPods. They didn't have terrific battery life for video playback before, and they do slightly worse with the new files.

But the larger-size video is still welcome news. The 80GB iPod can play six and a half hours of it (or more); the 30GB iPod has three and a half hours, up from around two. I connected the 80GB iPod to a dock with an S-Video output, and connected that to a 42-in. high-definition Panasonic plasma. I didn't expect a miracle picture, but I was happy to see that it was as good or better than standard-definition broadcast TV, if not as good as DVDs or HD broadcasts. I would not mind watching iPod-based movies on my TV, provided they weren't movies whose visual effects and subtleties were crucial. I used the $39 Apple dock, but you can also use other video-capable docks, like the one I recommended last spring from DLO.

The eagerly anticipated iTV (or whatever it will be called), slated to arrive next spring, will have an HDMI output for the simplest high-quality connection to newer high-def TVs. That bodes well for an even higher quality iTunes movie format that Apple might introduce in the future. However, I can't imagine how the current iTunes movie and TV show downloads will look any better when played through the iTV than they do today, with a docked iPod.

The movies have a memory of their own. I started watching a movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? on the MacBook then copied it to the iPod. When I queued it up on the iPod, it started exactly where I had left off on the MacBook. If you are going to watch movies on an iPod, Apple folks suggest that you turn off widescreen playback, to maximize the screen. But if you dock your iPod and plug into a TV, remember to switch it back.

The crazy thing about the 80GB iPod is that you can put even a sizable music collection on it in its entirety, and still have room for movies. The iTunes library itself has many new features, one of the most ambitious being that it adds artwork to music you may have ripped from CDs or downloaded from less legitimate sources. I found that the service worked well in most cases — even pulling up art for obscure albums in my collection like Midnight Star's 1983 No Parking on the Dance Floor — although it won't tag artists that haven't made deals with iTunes yet, like the Beatles and Dave Matthews Band. It's only available to people who have active iTunes accounts, and it's not 100% automatic. I recommend you switch to the album-art view, combing through and control-clicking on albums for which art might be available. I found that art was unavailable for some compilations and movie soundtracks, and in rare cases it loaded the wrong image. It is, of course, still possible for you to locate the album art on the web, say on, and then copy and paste it into the proper panel in iTunes.

The last new iPod feature appears on all models, from the tiny new iPod shuffle up to the 80GB warehouse of an iPod. I'm talking about the new earbuds. I have never been able to wear iPod buds before, having ears that just aren't predisposed to them. I switched from over-the-ear headphones, which are sonically unsatisfying, to in-ear buds like Shure's wildly expensive E series or Creative's slightly more affordable Zen Aurvana, but those require a suction-fit around the inside of your ear. Apple's new buds fit my ears without any fancy feats of physics, and for that I'm grateful.

While there's still plenty more I could say, the first thing iPod owners should do is download iTunes 7 and have a look at the new software. The new look and feel convey the broader options without sacrificing user-friendliness, and by spending some time just fiddling around, you'll learn quite a few things on your own.

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