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 Problems that the Video iPod Will Face
With the recent release of Sony's PSP the debate over when Apple will release a Video iPod (ViPod maybe?) has been renewed. There have been many morons, er, pundits, like Mr. Thurrott who firmly believe that Mr. Jobs is an imbecile for not beating Sony to the punch in this new and exciting market. Yet, like most of his commentary, Mr. Thurrott ignores reality when forming his opinions. So, here I am to save you from bad commentary and explain, as I see it, the main obstacles that need to be overcome before Apple releases its ViPod.

In order of importance:

The Codec - Untill Apple releases Quicktime 7 this argument is moot. Unless Apple can show the industry that they have some type of scalable format for all of this video (meaning it can be watched on a 50" HDTV or a portable device) then we are just wasting our time. Once Q7 comes out then we can talk.

The Industry - Until Jobs gets the movie industry motivated like he did the music industry, then even with the codec, things fall flat. What's the point of having a ViPod if you can't watch anything on it? Now, this battle is going to become much harder than the MP3 battle because there was/is no real movie version of Napster. Yes, I know that there are plenty of P2P networks out there sharing movies but it isn't as big a problem as Napster was for the music industry. So because that pressure isn't there, the major movie houses aren't going to be as quick to adopt something like this. Several of them (read Sony) might think that they can do a better job (they can't) and make more money (they won't) if they do everything themselves. They will create buggy software with unfair DRM and high prices. The initial selection will be small and things will only get worse from there. So, until Jobs can convince everyone to come together under Apple's software/price structure/DRM then none of this will be very smooth for the user.

The Connection - Even with a new codec that drastically reduces the size of a standard movie, the file size is still going to be large. Very large. Large enough that trying to download it over a phone line will be beyond insane. In fact, even using broadband it won't be anywhere near as painless as downloading a song from iTunes. Also, for this to work well, a fairly large segment of the population has to have broadband in the first place. Broadband still isn't even offered everywhere yet and where it is offered, it's expensive. Not terribly expensive mind you, but it still costs more than many people are willing to pay for it. So, the connection needs to become more common and cheaper. Remember, it doesn't cost anything to walk into Walmart.

The Storage - Ever noticed how much data gets crammed onto a DVD? When you are watching Spiderman 2, did it ever occur to you just how big a file that movie is? Let's round to make the numbers easier and say that all of the stuff on your average movie DVD comes to 10 GB. Now, lets say that Apple's new codec shrinks everything down to 1 GB. So, go online to Apple's store and you buy 20 movies that means you need 20 GB of storage. Not bad right? 100 movies = 100 GB. How many DVDs do you have in your collectoin? My cousin has several hundred movies, not counting TV shows that have been rereleased on DVD. If we use the system I just mentioned he probably has close to 300 GB worth of media. Quick quiz: how many of you have 300 GB worth of storage lying around? Is it your main drive with all of your system files on it? Backup drive? External drive? RAID drive? See the problem? That huge amount of storage is going to cost a lot of money. And what about backing it up? You have 2 choices, some kind of RAID drive (how many average users know how to do that?) or burn it to DVD. But if you are just going to burn it to DVD again then whats the point of buying movies online?

The ViPod This part is actually going to be easier than most people think. If they were so inclined, Apple could just tweak the iPod Photo and turn it into a ViPod. It wouldn't be pretty but it could be done. No, if Apple is going to do it they are going to do it right. And by that I mean they will develop a product from the ground up with video in mind. What it will ultimately look like I have no idea. Here is a hint though, it will probably be white with a silver back to it, have a very simple and intuitive interface and as always, it will be stylish in the extreme.

The TV This is the last main hurdle to jump. The question of how to easily get your movies from your computer/ViPod into your new 50" HDTV. People are going to want to watch a movie they bought on their TV at home. And on the TV at their friends house. And their computer. And their friend's computer. And their ViPod. And they only want to buy one copy, not 5 copies. So, Apple needs to figure out how to make that possible without encouraging piracy. Trick, I know.

The Microsoft - Nothing specific here, just the general clamour/FUD that you can expect from MS if Apple starts heading in this dircetion. I don't think they will be able to seriously stop or hinder Apple but they certainly won't sit back and take things easy.

There you go, 7 things to think about the next time you hear someone complain that Apple isn't moving fast enough.

April 12 2005, 8:59 AM EDT, by

wannabe 4/12/05, 9:28 AM EDT
This kind of fits in with "The Industry" but it seems like the biggest thing holding portable personal video back is the lack of support for DVD ripping. People would be more open to a device that would allow them to take their existing movie collection with them the way the iPod did with music.

DVD ripping is technically a simple operation, but The Industry has used legal methods to prevent companies like Apple from selling software that can do it. While lots of people will ultimately be interested in purchasing movies online like they do now with iTunes, it seems like the initial draw of the iPod was the ability to load your existing music from CD.

Until the industry comes around to the 21st century and stops blocking the "one sale, any format, any device" model that customers want to buy, there is no purpose for a video iPod.

rlhamon 4/12/05, 10:47 AM EDT
You also forgot two simple factors
Movie Rentals a billion dollar business .... How many of use rented a movie and found that I would never watch this again they will fight for this not to happen.
Second there is a Technology called TiVo that you can record movies TV shows etc. form your cable company.
The movie industry will not go through a major change like the music industry has too many companies that makes the movie industry a challenge.

Jack 4/12/05, 11:33 AM EDT
Your storage argument is flawed.

Although your average dual layer DVD runs about 8.5 GB, not all the space is utilized. Futher, not all that space is strictly for the movie (bonus features, for instance)

Truth is, a 700 MB file encoded with DIVX, while not perfect, looks reasonable on television (I watched a movie yesterday which was 686 MB on my television - looked great) If H.264 is as good as Apple claims, it's quite possible they could shrink a video file down enough to make it a reasonable download (via broadband) and have decent results for playback.

I would be happy to pay 3.99 for an iTunes movie, delivered via one of Apple's servers (fast bandwidth) with a decent resolution to not look horrible on an old, standard television.... If I'm interested in the movie, I'd go out and buy it on DVD.

As far as the viPod goes, I wouldn't waste my time trying to watch a movie on the screen. However, I would love to be able to truck around home movies, or small snippets of video... :)

nhmacusr 4/12/05, 3:00 PM EDT
Don't be so sure that the movie industry is not watching P2P and thinking it is insignificant. I read somewhere that they estimate that 400,000 movies a day are downloaded via P2P and that number is growing. I guarantee the MPAA is watching.

I think your argument on delivery is spot on. Especially since most of the broadband networks (on the cable side) don't even deliver a steady service. Bandwidth is dependant on the number of simultaneous users on your node and it goes down hill fast during high traffic times. Most of the comparisons I have seen deal with streaming media. To stream HD video it takes about 50 - 60 MB per sec of bandwidth. H.264 cuts it to about 8 Mb per second.

rlhamon - I listened to an interview with the CEO of Blockbuster a while back (even reported on it for this site) where he stated that the (as he saw it) the biggest competitor to the movie rental business was low end retail (not video on demand and not services like netflix - they were discussing the possible buyout of Hollywood video by Blockbuster). He stated that 2 out of every three dollars spent on video movies last year went to sales not renting to the tune of 16 billion dollars. Your argument is not too far from the truth.

Apple has already unvieled the device to play the movies on your TV. It's called a Mac mini. The pieces are there, just wait. It is small enough to transport anywhere you want to go.

Don't let Sony fool you. They may ultimately fail in this video venture, but it won't be for lack of content. Don't forget, Sony is the largest distributer of movies in the world. They own MGM studios. They will have plenty of content. However, your argument about whether they can face the technical challenges and whether or not they look at the needs of the users are other matters that they have shown to fail miserably on in the recent past.

Hoby 4/12/05, 6:37 PM EDT
Well, apart from the odd desire people seem to have with watching feature films on a 2 inch screen, what I've been looking forward to a Video iPod becoming a cheaper, friendlier Quickstream DV. With that functionality and a color screen to preview / delete clips, it would be the PERFECT addition to any DV camcorder. Tape is great for a backup footage source but I've always despised having to capture/transfer from it just to get my primary material from the camera. Random access, file based video clips are the way video cameras need to move. A Video iPod should be billed as that, in my opinion.

Keith Simmons 4/13/05, 4:55 PM EDT
You relies the psp plays the .h264 codec apple is pimping in Quicktime 7, right?

jstoup 4/14/05, 8:42 AM EDT
To Jack:

Ok, I don't think my arguement is that far off because of the simple fact that people want all of the extra's that come with a DVD. I want to see the extra scenes, interviews, games, bios, pics, quizes and anything else they can throw at me. I want to see how they made the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, I want to know how they made the Alien move in AVP. In short, I want it all.

Also, I don't want to buy a movie online, download it, waste all of that effort if its just going to look "resonable". I don't want "decent". I want something that is going to look stunning on my new 50" HDTV. I want the same quality that I can get when I go to the store and buy the DVD. Why waste the effort to buy it, watch it, and then say "that was so good I think I will go buy it for real this time."?

jstoup 4/14/05, 8:59 AM EDT
To nhmacuser:

I agree that the MPAA is watching P2P networks but I don't think it has gotten bad enough to motivate them, yet.

Also, I agree with what you said about Sony. My concern with them is that they will forget that they are a hardware company and try become a software company. If they try and do everything themselves I have a feeling it will suck pretty bad.

jstoup 4/14/05, 9:01 AM EDT
To Hoby:

Right on. I would love that. My wife and her father (both of whom are videographers) could really use those capabilities.

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