iPod video Plugged into Your TV: Is It Good Enough?

by Derrick Story

Tons of possibilities raced through my mind when I first saw the 5th Gen iPod demoed. I know Apple prefers not to call it the iPod video, but how can you think of anything else when it's in your hands?

I have the 30GB model that's super slim and the optional AV Cable that enables me to connect the iPod directly to the TV via traditional RCA jacks -- two for audio and one for video.

As you may have heard other places, watching Lost or any other compelling production on the iPod's 2.5" screen is surprisingly satisfying. Certainly this device will improve train and plane travel for scores of techno junkies who would just as soon leave their laptop in the overhead compartment and watch their handheld devices while traveling. I know I would.

But my burning question was how well does video downloaded from iTMS fare when presented on a full-sized TV screen. After-all, the video's native resolution is only 320x240... half the size of traditional TV. The answer: It is amazingly good. I have the premier episode of Lost paused on my TV right now, and I'm impressed. In motion, it's even better. The audio is crisp and a few minor video artifacts only appear in underexposed shadows or large areas of solid color. I had to look to find them.

This means that I can download an episode from my PowerBook, load it on the iPod, and take it on the road, to a friend's house, wherever, and watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it -- a portable video player in my pocket.

For sometime I've recommended that any new TV you bring home should have the RCA jacks in the front. I'm hoping that hotels get with this program and provide us with TVs that connect easily to the iPod and other devices. Apple's video cables cost $19, but are high quality and open up a whole new world of entertainment. Job well done.


2005-11-03 09:39:26
Technically, 320x240 is 1/4 the resolution of TV, but I agree it looks good when scaled up. I watched Lost blown up to a 60" screen thru a projector. It was a bit softer than a DVD & had artifacting in dark regions just like you mentioned, but was completely watchable to the point of not realizing you were watching a compressed stream.

One really cool thing is if you have the new Universal Dock/Remote combined with the vPod. Now you can pause, fast forward, etc the video while it's playing on your TV. My only wish is that the menu was sent on the video out signal, so you could choose the episode you wanted to watch on the TV.

2005-11-03 10:14:00

I'm hardly the most knowledgable person when it comes to television technology, but it is my understanding that for 320x240 to be 1/4 the resolution of a TV, you must be talking about HDTV.

It is my understanding that the NTSC standard used on most analog televisions has a vertical resolution of 525 lines, with around 450-485 being employable, depending on the particular television.

Most analog signals used for today's television have around 220 (VHS) to 330 (analog cable) lines of horizontal resolution. For digital signals, the range is around 330-500 lines (digital cable) up to about 540 (films on DVD).

So, even a DVD playing on a decent television gets a max resolution around 540x485. 320x240 isn't quite half as good, but it's a bit better than what you'll get out of a VHS tape. Not bad for something less than half the size of a VHS tape with several times its capacity.

2005-11-03 10:41:48
RE: vPod
Yes, you guys are correct about the resolution thing :) And I think we all agree that the iPod's 320x240 resolution is surprisingly good on the big screen (TV that is). I just checked some music videos in letterbox format. Again... impressive.
2005-11-03 10:49:20
320x240 is generally accepted to be 1/4 the resolution of Standard Definition televions. Signal resolution aside, the pixel dimensions of SD NTSC are 720x480 (or 486 analog). Aspect correcting the vertical gets you to 640x480 (aspect-correcting the horizontal gets you 720x540). Also, VHS is dead. VHS VCRs are getting harder to find and the qualilty was horrible.

HD is significantly bigger and has many dozen accepted standards, 720p and 1080i being the commonly referenced, though both have interlaced and progressive options at various frame rates. Based on the smaller and widely supported 720p frame size, iPod video files are 1/12 the size of HD.

While I'm glad to hear the movies look good on SD TVs, I can't help feeling that this size and quality of video is somewhat pathetic for amost 2006. I hope future revisons get better and that the whispering about higher-quality movies working proves true. Otherwise, Apple is short-changing consumers and their video-authoring customers with a substandard video product.

2005-11-03 12:27:46
Hi Derrick,

According to the iPod specs, the little unit can play MPEG-4 files encoded at 480x480 pixels, which in technical parlance is 2/3 D1 resolution. This is also the resolution used for 'Super-VideoCD'.

At the allowed bitrates and with the improved quality of MPEG-4, in theory the iPod video should be able to produce DVD quality output. I would say that we can look forward to this in the future.


2005-11-03 13:06:26
RE: 480x480
I'm glad you brought this up. One of the things on my todo list is to encode video at the 480 resolution. So far, I've just been using the preset export in QT 7.0.3 for the iPod. But I want to play with some of my own settings and see what happens.

If anyone has come up with optimized export settings for 480 resolution, I'd love to hear from you here.

2005-11-03 13:52:52
Use higher resolution MPEG4s on the iPod Video
Speaking of iPod resolution...


From MacOSXhints

2005-11-04 08:01:02
isight projector
what we need now is an isight projector for the ipod video/photo.

Steve and co! YOU CAN DO IT!

: )

2005-11-04 17:32:38
Digital Hub
I love Apple products as my 1-click account will prove. We have products for digital music, photos, video, but what about text. If Apple could come out with a e-book device that worked with ITunes, it could open up a huge revenue stream for Apple and complete the digital hub.
2005-11-05 02:20:29
Digital Hub
You can use the 5G ipod for text. See link below. But we do need a real electronic book. See the discussion about this on uk.comp.sys.mac that is linked from the text at the URL below:


2005-11-05 09:02:26
RE: 480x480
I've used 480x256 -- works well both on ipod and my TV screen
2005-11-05 10:58:22
reasons for low-def
I think that when the resolutions get up higher the files become prohibitively large. We have to remember that for these videos to be successful people will need to be able to store many on their iPods, in addition you cannot underestimate the instant gratification factor that, in my opinion, made dowloadable music such a success. after-all, if iTMS songs were encoded in apple lossless it might sound better but would it sound nearly as good?
2005-11-15 08:29:00
Help Needed
I just read your article about connecting the new IpodVideo 60g to the TV. I bought the same cable and the video did not work but audio part did. I thought the cable was defective so I tried a new cable at the store and still did not work (meaning there was no image but only audio). I called APPLE support and they told me that the cable needs to be plugged into a DOCK and not directly to the Ipod. I find it weird they say that since they advertise the cable on their site and say it can be plugged from the Ipod to the TV. Your article just confirmed that also. Do you think my new Ipod is defected? Note: we made sure the TV OUT was on, on the Ipod. Please help.
2005-11-15 09:03:22
RE: Help Needed
I think you're OK :)

First, you *do not* need the dock. Cable works fine plugged directly into the iPod.

Second, make sure you have the yellow and white plugs correctly connected to the yellow and white plugs on the TV. The colors are harder to discern on the iPod cable than most.

Third, and this is probably it, Make sure you've selected "On" for TV Out in the Video settings with NTSC as your signal if you're in North America.

Finally, check your TV that it's set to receive input from the jacks you're connected to.

2005-11-16 11:23:30
RE: Help Needed
Thanks Derrick,

However I did everything you mentioned before.
Last night I returned my Ipod at Best Buy and they gave me a new one. They agreed that my Video "output" was defected. I told them that now that I have a new one Id like to buy the cable for it. They told me they have no more left. So I went to a smaller store where I found AV cables but this time in a black box, I told them what is the difference between the AV cables in the white box and black box? They said the AV cables in the black box are for the Ipod with color video only and the white AV box was for Ipod Photo only. And Voila, this was the problem the entire time. The store had sold me the wrong AV cables for my Ipod this hole time. I guess this is a lack of knowledge since these 5th generation Ipods are so new. Problem solved. Thanks

2006-03-10 09:47:24
2006-04-10 10:07:56
I have the same problem that 'Help Needed' have. I have a video 30 gig color Ipod and purchased the cables in the black box yesterday and when I plugged in, it did not show anything. I was wondering if the TV needs certain settings or if there is some specific channel I have to set it on. Please, help.
2006-04-10 12:23:42
Why is it that Ipod can not show the screen menu on the TV it would have been really nice to be able to see the song name and album cover on the TV while the Ipod is playing away??? is there a work around for this? (im refering to normal mp3 playing)
2006-05-29 10:25:14
I used AVS Video Converter software to create a 512 x 384 (24 FPS)mpeg4 file that plays and looks awesome on my TV. This is close to laser disk quality (560 x 360).

File size was 86MB for a 17 min video.

Here's a good link that explains all: