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Video iPod plus Front Row: Media Center killer, or shoulder-shrug?

Are you content with the content?

2) Low-quality and portable? That must beat actually being good, right?

If you've encountered a Sony PSP, you've seen how a handheld video player should look. It's luscious; it's big; the screen demands to be looked at. As it happens, I first saw one in May, when the Elgato team demonstrated how they'd figured out how to transfer video from EyeTV to the PSP; they showed me an episode of Desperate Housewives. It looked great.

Compared to that, the new video-enabled iPod is just not there. Sure, Jobs said when introducing it that "The screen is so large..." but that's 'large' when compared to something smaller. The new screen is barely larger than the old iPod: 320x240 pixels vs 220x176, 2.5-inch TFT. What's new is the video-decoding chips, from Portal Player, which makes the guts of the machine, giving 30 frame-per-second real-time decoding of MPEG-4 and H.264 video.

Having said a year ago, with the launch of the iPod Photo, that there wasn't any point doing video on a handheld - that it was "the wrong direction to go", "there’s no content," "the screens are too small" and that competitors to the iPod putting R&D into providing video were "digging in the wrong place" - what does Jobs go and do? Yup, unveil an iPod that can play video.

All Apple's rivals are going to say that they were there first, and they do it better. Only Sony, though, can legitimately claim to have the better experience. With the PSP selling at a rate that does challenge the iPod, it will be interesting to see how content sales play out in the next year or so.

3) Paid-for is the new free.

Have you heard you can turn on the TV and see music videos? There are whole channels devoted to it, you know. Or you can buy a CD single and they'll often come with a video. CD singles in the UK cost about, oh, £1.89 or so. Now, it was obvious from the moment in mid-May that Apple began offering music videos both to watch for free, or bundled for viewing on your computer, that sales of them would soon follow. Consider that record labels can spend upwards of a million dollars on a music video (muc of it on all that baby oil for the fit bir... skilful female dancers on so many rappers' tracks) and if they do they're still not on the top ten most expensive music videos list. There's a huge back catalogue out there, which even with multiple channels playing 24/7 isn't going to get aired.

But put the videos on an online store, where they can get bought, and you whittle away at the monumental cost of making them. Sure, it's good for the artist, because the cost of the video comes out of their eventual pay packet; more videos sold brings closer the day when they get paid again. It's even better for the record labels because it's money for free. And it's good for Apple, because it's more business coming through its video store. Madonna and Michael Jackson's works were quickly up on the site - and into the "top 100" videos listing.

Hang on, though. Remind me why I should be paying for a music video? Does it add a lot of value to the song? In most cases, no. And if you buy them from the iTunes Store, you'll not be able to burn them to a DVD your player can understand. "We don't think the customer expectation will be to back up and store iTunes videos on DVD," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's veep for worldwide iPod product marketing. The same is true for those buying the teeny-tiny (320x240) versions of the TV episodes they missed, if they're dim enough not to have bought a PVR or DVD recorder. OK, so the small versions are ad-free, but who's got the sort of commute that means sitting for 50 minutes (1 hour minus ads) able to watch something?

The fact is that most people might want to burn their online-bought videos and episodes to DVD and watch those; more people have a DVD player than have a computer. What he was trying to say was that Disney et al won't let that happen. It's a nasty little thin wedge-shaped instance. Yes, you do "pay" for TV shows through the adverts; you "pay" for music videos through the price of CDs, and the restricted range of artists. That's not a reason for me to want to buy them from the iTunes Store, though.

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