Two-Wednesday-Ago Analysis: A Hands-On Perspective
Continued from 'Two-Wednesdays-Ago Analysis: The Bad and the Ugly'….
I'll go the extra mile for you, dear readers. Literally. Two nights ago, I strolled ~3 miles from my hotel to the Apple Store in downtown Portland, to check out Apple's latest offerings. Finding the store was the first problem; I guess I'm used to standalone, ostentatious retail buildings such as the Apple Store in San Francisco. The downtown Portland Apple Store, in contrast, is buried deep in the bottom level of the Pioneer Place shopping mall….next to the food court.
Of the several dozen iPods of different shapes, sizes and colors displayed there, only six were the latest fifth-generation video-augmented flavour. Three of the six were nonfunctional. Strike one. Two of the three functional units had no video content on them whatsoever. Srike two. The remaining unit had only one video clip on it; a low-quality old Apple commercial, probably from macTV. Foul tip. Sorry for the baseball analogies, but the White Sox are in the World Series. I grew up only about 2 hours' drive from Chicago, and although the White Sox aren't the Cubs…..
Fortunately, the sales staff (to whom I did not identify myself as a 'press guy'; they were genuinely friendly, helpful and, most of all, low pressure) brought out a 30GB 5th generation iPod from the back. It had an episode of Lost, along with a Pixar film clip, loaded on it. While I'm not prepared to upgrade my prior 'good' rating to a 'great', I'll bump up my grade on the new iPods to a 'very good'. The screen's definitely smaller than the one on my PSP (roughly half the total area), although let's keep it in perspective; I can't fit the PSP in my shirt pocket, either. Speaking of fitting in shirt pockets, these new iPods are incredibly thin, both absolutely and relative to their fourth-generation predecessors. Hitachi and Toshiba did an amazing job of minimizing the HDD height. And the video display was crisp and bright; definitely tolerable for sub-hour long viewing (note: most of the reviewers' writeups which I've scanned have been critical of the unit's ~2 hour battery life when playing video).
I also briefly played around with Front Row on one of the two new iMacs at the store. There might be a way to access it from the keyboard and mouse, but if so it wasn't obvious from my quick inspection; Front Row isn't even listed in the Applications menu. Which meant that I couldn't figure out how to run it until, you guessed it, a sales representative brought out a remote control from a back room. In this first-generation iteration of the concept, Front Row is (as I'd earlier indicated) simply a stripped-down interface to music, photos and videos, although I'm sure Apple has bigger plans for it in the future. I suspect the company will eventually bundle Front Row with the remote control, for folks to buy and load on a broader range of already-purchased Macs; some enterprising hackers have already figured out how to get it (sorta) running on the Mac mini.
The one thing I wasn't able to do during my Sunday evening visit to the Apple Store was to view 320×240 pixel iTunes Store video content on a Mac's LCD, because none of the computers there had video clips stored on their HDDs. However, if you peruse this posting on the Unofficial Apple Weblog site, you'll see some example screenshots. Remember, artifacts are much more noticeable when you're able to stare for long periods of time at a single video frame, versus when watching a 30fps video stream.
p.s…Regardless of what your personal ethical stance is on the topic, don't underestimate pornography's ability to jump-start the portable video market (then again, maybe not). We all know how it influenced the VHS-vs-Beta wars, and what it did for the streaming-video over-Internet industry, right?
p.p.s….And for a bit of fun nostalgia, click here to watch the original iPod promotion video. Reportedly, by the way, iPod-formatted copies of movies and television shows beyond those offered on the iTunes Store are already showing up on Bittorrent.