By Rick Broida  |  Posted 2006-09-15 Print this article Print

Like most of the geek world, I spent September 12 watching with giddy delight as Apple honcho Steve Jobs unveiled new iPods, new media, and a new version of iTunes to corral them both. Although the long-rumored widescreen video iPod was a no-show, the rest of the goodies provided plenty of excitement. As expected, Apple finally added feature-length movies to the video store, though I suspect their high prices will keep buyers away in droves. Apple also enlisted game developers to engineer iPod-friendly versions of popular titles, including Web favorites Bejeweled and Zuma. Finally, iTunes itself received a major overhaul, adding new features and making much-needed improvements to iPod connectivity. For the most part, all these additions and changes are for the better, but iTunes and its embedded store havent reached perfection yet.

Although all eyes were on the introduction of downloadable movies, I was holding out hope for a music-subscription option like the ones offered by Napster, Rhapsody, and other Windows Media-based services. Alas, music remains an à la carte, 99-cents-per-track proposition—a major disappointment. Hey, Apple: I have $15 per month set aside just for you. Come take it!

What I cant see is spending $9.99, $12.99, or $14.99 on a movie I can watch only on my PC or iPod. Thats what Apple charges, respectively, for "library" titles (older releases), preordered new releases, and new releases. iTunes 7 launched with more than 75 films in its library, including a good helping of family-friendly fare from Pixar and Disney. But I found few current titles; most of the selections are at least a year old. As a result, I had a hard time finding anything I hadnt already seen, wanted to see again, or didnt already own on DVD. I settled on O Brother, Where Art Thou? , which, with its killer soundtrack, seemed a natural fit for the iPod, and the Pixar smash The Incredibles for, um, the kids.

It took about 30 minutes each to download the 1.3GB, 640-by-480-pixel movies. That resolution is a bit below what you get from a DVD (720-by-480), but the films looked good, if a bit soft, when played full-screen on my 19-inch monitor. They also looked quite dazzling on my 5G (fifth-generation) iPod, though the 16:9 aspect ratio of The Incredibles left me squinting.

Indeed, the big question is whether anyone wants to watch an entire movie on a 2.5-inch LCD. I find TV shows better suited to this format, as theyre more digestible and less likely to be letterboxed (which makes for even smaller images). Two hours is a long time to stare at such a teeny screen. Whats more, the 5G iPod lacks the battery power to play much more than one feature-length film—hence the introduction of the new "5.5G" iPods and their superior batteries (which promise 3.5 hours of video playback on the 30GB model and an impressive 6.5 hours on the 80GB model). I managed to get through the Pixar flick, which clocks in at just under two hours, but had little juice left for anything else.

Like, say, Tetris. Games arent new to the iPod—Apple usually squirrels a few away in the Extras menu—but the newcomers are definitely a step up. Priced fairly at $4.99 apiece and compatible with any 5G iPod, theyre full-color, full-featured replicas of their Web or arcade counterparts. I tried the spin-and-shoot puzzler Zuma, a natural match for the iPods scroll wheel, and found it just as entertaining as the original—though the iPods small screen made for decidedly squinty game play. Mini Golf, Pac-Man, Mah Jong, and Texas Hold Em are among the nine currently available titles. Unfortunately, you cant play the games on your PC—theyre iPod-only—nor can you try before you buy.

Read the full story on PCMag.com: Apple iTunes 7 Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on Apple in the enterprise.


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