• Newsletter Issue #310

    November 7th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Quite some time ago, industry analyst and columnist Rob Enderle suggested that Apple was going to switch to Intel processors. Many of you thought he must be crazy to make such an outrageous suggestion, and I got a few letters in advance of last week’s show suggesting I shouldn’t take him seriously.

    On the other hand, Enderle was right on the money, and when I interviewed him during an extended and enjoyable session, I found him calm and reasonable in every respect. No wild-eyed radical by any means! He also made plenty of sense when he began to speculate on how Apple would change its products as it began to put Intel parts inside, and he mentioned some potential pitfalls along the way. You are perfectly free to disagree with him, but listen to what he has to say first, because he makes a lot of sense.

    Last week’s show also featured an iPod update from mp3.com’s Eliot Van Buskirk, whom I’ve named the “Dean” of digital music columnists because of his great work and the fact that he got there first. We also heard from Lucius Kwok, author of one of our favorite sound editing programs, Sound Studio.

    On November 10th, we’ll be joined by Leander Kahney, author of the new book, “The Cult of iPod.” Other guests will be announced shortly, and expect some surprises.

    And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, iPod accessories, memory upgrades, network music players, software and books. More great prizes will be offered in the weeks to come.

    If you haven’t heard our program, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives or download the Podcast version. Enjoy.

    THE NIGHT OWL REVIEW: THE IPOD WITH VIDEO

    Just to make things perfectly clear, it is not the Video iPod. It’s just an iPod that happens to play videos. Some of my radio show guests call it “ViPod,” but that sounds a little too much like a certain high performance auto to me. Regardless, it is, like previous iPods, brilliantly packaged. As far as anyone is concerned, it’s just a new iPod with more storage capacity and a somewhat thinner form factor. Only the larger, 2.5-inch screen, which displays 320 x 240 pixels, hints at its new capability.

    The 5G iPod, as some call it, comes in either 30GB or 60GB capacity, and list prices remain at $299 and $399. This is in keeping with Apple’s policy of piling on the features and keeping prices pretty much the same. This time, like its tinier family member, the iPod nano, you can buy one in either white or black.

    The rest of the specs are reasonable for the storage capacity. The 30GB model can hold approximately 7,500 songs, and offers a battery life of 14 hours with music and two hours with video. You can store up to 15,000 songs on the 60GB version, and its slightly thicker form factor contains a battery that runs up to 20 hours with music and three hours with video. The smaller version is 45% thinner than its 4G predecessor, and the latter is 10% thinner.

    This review covers the 60GB white version.

    If you don’t put them side-by-side, of course, you probably won’t notice much of a difference between this season’s standard iPod and the previous version, except for the larger screen. As you might imagine, I didn’t pay an awful lot of attention to its music playing capability, other than to confirm that file transfer speeds and sound quality were in the same range of other iPods.

    Instead, I focused on video, and made a quick trip the iTunes Music Store to order the premiere episode of “Night Stalker,” the latest series from “X-Files” alumnus Frank Spotnitz. Yes, I paid the full $1.99 price; no freebies from Apple. Blessed with a broadband connection that approaches nine megabits, I retrieved the 209MB file in a few minutes. If you have dial-up, just forget about putting video on your iPod. Even if you can sustain a connection long enough to get the file, you’ll find it a frustrating experience. Clearly Apple is envisioning the day when we’ll all have speedy Internet connections.

    Picture quality on the iPod was surprisingly bright and crisp, though you’ll want to put on a stand if you plan and watching a show for any length of time. Otherwise, expect your hand to get real tired. But the picture really isn’t DVD quality. It’s 320 x 240, similar to VHS video, and the image doesn’t seem quite so stellar on a large monitor. Pixelation is obvious, but if you sit back a foot or so, it looks decent enough. After all, you did tolerate videotape for years, right?

    In passing, I do hope Apple will consider the higher resolution version for folks who want to play them on a large screen TV. It would probably be worth $2.99 apiece, but file sizes are apt to exceed 1GB, and that’s going to be a real problem for folks who lack the speediest broadband hookups.

    While I’m quite pleased with the iPod with video, I can see a few negatives. Imagine filling up your iPod with a few TV shows to take with you on a cross-country flight. Unfortunately, the unit will run out of juice after little more than two or three episodes, depending on which iPod you have, so consider an add-on battery pack when it’s time to stock up on accessories.

    You’ll also find yourself frustrated by file transfer speeds if you happen to have an older Mac without USB 2.0. You see, these new iPods no longer sync files via FireWire. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but Apple sells more iPods to Windows users than Mac users these days, and FireWire is the exception on that platform. In its drive to keep costs down, Apple has catered to the majority, and you might feel a little shortchanged as a result. Yes, this iPod will work with USB 1.1, but it’ll take a lot longer to download your tracks and videos, so be patient.

    Or just buy a new Mac, which may just be what Apple would prefer.

    To be sure, I expect the iPod and iPod nano to be hot sellers this holiday season, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to reach that conclusion. At the same time, consider the 5G iPod version 1.0 when it comes to video. Apple will need to come up with a more power efficient video playback scheme, or higher capacity batteries, to make the feature practical for long trips. And even though one million videos were downloaded during the first 19 days after the product came out, it’ll take a while to determine whether anyone but early adopters want to join them. Of course, it’ll also help if there was more variety, but the merest hint of success should be enough to get all or most of the TV networks on board.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: SHOULD YOU BUY THE TELECOM BUNDLE?

    Ah, the good old days. You bought your phone service from the telephone company, your cable TV from your local cable provider and your Internet service from an ISP. The lines have long since blurred, and your cable and phone company both want all your business and will fight hard to get it. You can either embrace the joys of real competition and just shut your mind to the confusing state of affairs.

    Just the other day, the news came down that Sprint/Nextel had signed a deal with several cable companies to offer wireless phone service. You can bet that it won’t be long before you begin to receive even more enticing offers promising unheard of savings if you’ll just sign on the dotted line for a package that includes all the features you can imagine and then some.

    Now to be perfectly fair, you may not be able to get all these services in your neighborhood. Maybe the phone company can’t deliver it’s DSL service, and maybe the cable company can’t offer you broadband or telephone capability. Or worse, none of the above. So you have to look for more exotic online choices, such as the satellite-based DIRECWAY broadband.

    However, if you’re lucky enough to be fully immersed in the competitive environment, you have some decisions to make if you want to get the best value. Here in Phoenix, for example, Qwest, the beleaguered Baby Bell, offers you TV courtesy of either its own Choice TV service or by satellite, from DirecTV. Such companies as Verizon and SBC are busy laying fiber optic cables in various neighborhoods so they can provide their own TV and broadband services.

    I’m not about the tell you what the right option might be in your area, but I can give you some ideas of how to make a decision. Let’s say, for example, that you can get all the services you want from both the cable and phone companies. As a general rule, the more services you order, the bigger the discount. Assuming the features are equal, or close enough not to be significant, there’s nothing wrong in just going for the cheaper deal. But it may be a little more complicated than that, and it doesn’t hurt to read the fine print.

    Phone companies, for example, are notorious for offering ultra-cheap sign-up packages for DSL. Maybe it’s slower than cable, although Qwest offers a 5MB service in Phoenix that’s actually faster than the standard Internet package from Cox. But after a few months, or a year at most, the price may jump to its normal rate, and your savings will thus be temporary.

    When it comes to telephone service, check the packages to see if they have the features you need, such as Caller ID, Call Forwarding, Voice Mail and all the rest. TV? Well, they all offer similar station lineups along with the popular premium entries, such as HBO and Starz. But what about high definition? Satellite providers are still working on phasing in your local HDTV stations, and they may have to eventually swap out your receivers so they can switch to the more efficient MPEG-4 compression. That may or may not mean something to you, so it’s worth checking.

    Right now, the local cable providers seem to be doing a better job getting those local high definition stations to you, but that also depends on the services that are available in your area. Both cable and satellite provide digital video recorders with TiVo-like capability. It may not be the real thing, but it’s probably close enough for most of you.

    The ultimate decision may be a matter of weighing positives and negatives against the final bill, and it’s worth taking a little extra time to consider which service deserves your business. Here in Phoenix, by virtue of its superior high definition TV offerings and faster broadband, I’m subscribing to the Cox bundle. Their “digital telephone” service, which uses standard switching technology rather than VoIP is, in both features and performance, totally indistinguishable from the local Baby Bell. And, despite some early installation hiccups, customer service is pretty decent.

    Your mileage may vary, and it never hurts to shop around for a better deal.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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