Video iPod arrived today

Oddly FedEx didn’t make me sign for it. In fact the driver left it on my front step. Considering I had to sign for the $17 cable that arrived last week, and the $25 remote a few days after that, it seemed odd the $300 iPod was left on the stoop. So be it.

I had some video material waiting for it. I had purchased a U2 music video from iTunes and also compressed some client material and a bunch of stuff I captured from my DVR. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the user experience viewing video on the iPod. The image looked much better than I expected a 2.5″ image to look. The real test was hooking the iPod up to an NTSC monitor. Some had posited that the 320×240 image would look like VHS because due to the similar vertical resolution. It didn’t quite get there. The was blockier, but still acceptable for many uses. As expected full screen images shot with a locked down camera looked better than handheld material.

Cruising around the video section of the iTunes store I happened upon a Sub-Zero/Wolf cooking series. In iTunes the video looked like not very well compressed MPEG-4. The video wouldn’t transfer to the iPod because it wasn’t a valid .m4v file, though the Get Info window stated it was H.264. The content was available in the podcast section, but what good is a podcast that won’t play on a pod. At first I thought it was a terrible screw up Wolf’s part, but I’m not sure that’s their fault. Apple’s published specs don’t seem to be correct. It doesn’t appear that anything but 320×240 .m4v files gets uploaded to the iPod via iTunes. Maybe a future version of iTunes or iPod software will address this, Wolf should recompress it anyway. It looks terrible as it is.

It’s a shame. Here was content I was interested in having in a portable format. I could have the iPod with me at the grocery store, in the kitchen, or I could peruse recipes in the family room during half time during Patriots games. The one place I’m definitely not going to watch cooking podcasts is on my Mac or PC in the office.

The Sub-Zero content was subpar. The product tie-ins were exceptionally painful. “Now place the steaks in your Wolf broiling pan.” The stuff played like it was right out of Madison Avenue circa 1954. The company charges $6,000 for a fridge. It can afford a good media development firm. But somewhere I guarantee some analyst will herald this as the future of advertising. It’s not. The future of advertising is far more engaging. Madison and Vine is my favorite book on the topic.

Of course I had a discussion with a client about podcasting this morning. Since the Apple announcement I’ve approached babies in strollers to extol the virtues of video podcasting. Anyway, this client is an NPR producer who refuses to let his content be podcast. His case against NPR’s podcasting model boiled down to his belief that free podcasts lower the value of his content. He can’t repeat it as frequently, and it discourages listeners from tuning in to the broadcast. (What does it matter where they listen to it and when? As long as the underwriter gets its name out there everyone should be happy.)

My counterpoint was that in the age of TiVo and iPods and PSPs, people want content where and when they want it, and that he’s limiting his audience substantially. Ironically he brought up Desperate Housewives. “Folks have to watch it on Sunday so they can talk about it on Monday.” Of course, those who need to can catch up on Monday for $1.99 via iTunes, and watch it while on the treadmill at the gym. ABC seems to have decided that a podcast the day after air isn’t going to hurt ratings or future DVD sales.

We could have gone back and forth on this for a while, but I realized I ran the risk sounding like those arrogant dot-com kids in the 90s declaring, “You just don’t get it.” It turned out a lot of those old guys did get it. Maybe my client’s right, but somehow I can’t imagine that PSPs and iPods and phones aren’t going to change the media landscape forever.

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