Complete Guide to Displaying Photos on iPod + iPhone (11/2007) | iLounge Article


Complete Guide to Displaying Photos on iPod + iPhone (11/2007)

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TV Output

The original iPod photo and fifth-generation iPod supported TV output via either the headphone jack or Dock Connector. Apple sold a video accessory cable that connected to the headphone jack to provide video output capabilities, and there were several third-party cables and accessories available as well which allowed either the Dock Connector or headphone jack to be used for this purpose. In fact, the original iPod photo models included the TV output cable in the packaging. There were no restrictions on enabling the TV output feature.

The 2007 iPod classic and iPod nano (video) models, the iPhone and the iPod touch no longer provide TV output via the headphone jack at all. Only the Dock Connector can be used for any kind of TV output.  Note also that firmware version 1.1.1 or later is required to enable TV output on the iPhone.

Further, these models require accessories that are specifically compatible to enable the TV output feature. The iPod classic and iPod nano (video) will support just about any Apple-designed accessory for this purpose, such as the Apple Universal Dock, whereas the iPhone and iPod touch require a video-specific accessory.

As of this writing, the only two video-specific accessories available for the iPod are the Apple Component AV Cable (iLounge rating: C+) and the Apple Composite AV Cable (iLounge rating: C), although new third-party accessories are likely under development and should be out later this year or early in 2008.

In short, with the iPod classic and iPod nano (video), the original Apple Universal Dock can be used for video playback, as well as the Apple-specific cables mentioned above. A few other Apple accessories can also be used to trigger these models into displaying video playback, although the majority of third-party Dock Connector video accessories that were designed for the fifth-generation iPod will not work directly.

On the other hand, the iPhone and iPod touch will require specific video-out accessories—at this time one of Apple’s two video cables mentioned above. There is no option to manually enable the TV Output on these devices. Rather, when a compatible video output accessory is attached, the iPhone or iPod touch will ask you if you want to display the output on the TV instead of the iPhone/iPod touch screen.


This is discussed in more detail in our reviews of these devices, as well as our 10-26-07 and 11-2-07 Ask iLounge columns.

Image and Output Quality

As we have already discussed, images are stored on the iPod/iPhone in significantly reduced resolutions from their original sizes—720 x 480 or less.  The following table lists the output resolutions stored by each model of iPod:


In the case of the iPhone and iPod touch, the same image is used for on-screen display as for TV output. A 640x480 image is used to allow the iPhone and iPod touch “zoom” feature to work effectively.  However, this is a lower resolution that that which is used by the iPod classic or even the original iPod photo.

In the case of the iPod classic and iPod nano (video), the full screen display resolution is oddly higher than the resolution of the screen itself, at 480x320. The reason for this is not entirely clear at this time, although it is likely that this has been changed to provide better on-screen output quality for higher-aspect ratio photos, since 480x320 represents the 3:2 aspect ratios used by most higher-end DSLR cameras,  thereby ensuring maximum possible vertical and horizontal resolution when viewing photos that don’t match the iPod’s 4:3 screen aspect ratio.  More discussion on this below.

All older models of iPod use a full-screen resolution that is equal to the actual resolution of the device’s screen.

The important question, however, is what this means in terms of overall image output quality, particularly when using the TV output capabilities of the iPod or iPhone.

Output Resolution

Firstly, the higher resolution format used by the traditional iPod models (classic, nano, 5G and photo) creates a noticeable quality difference over the iPhone or iPod touch.  Due to the nature of digital cameras and original photo resolutions, this often will create an even greater distinction than just the mere resolution itself.

The key issue here is the aspect ratio that your camera originally took the photos in.  The aspect ratio is simply the ratio of a photo’s width to its height, and obviously should remain a fixed proportion even when resizing the photo, otherwise you end up with distortion.  What many people are not aware of is that different cameras actually use different aspect ratios.  While many basic consumer-level digital cameras use a 4:3 aspect ratio to match the resolution of traditional computer screens, most higher-end prosumer and professional digital cameras use a 3:2 aspect ratio since this is more typical of traditional 35mm film-based cameras, and therefore what more serious photographers are going to expect.

The problem is that the 640x480 maximum image size of the iPhone and iPod touch is a 4:3 aspect ratio.  Images taken in the higher 3:2 aspect ratio will actually not meet the maximum resolution of these devices, since these images are effectively wider.  In reality, source images taken in a 3:2 camera will end up being resized to 640x427 on these devices.  Since vertical resolution is the more noticeable factor, this creates an even greater difference in output quality (effectively outputting only 427 lines—an output resolution that is actually below standard-definition TV quality.

On the other hand, the 720x480 resolution of the traditional iPod models, actually is a 3:2 aspect ratio.  It is therefore extremely unlikely that any photo would ever need to be resized below 480 lines of vertical resolution.  Very few digital cameras use an aspect ratio that is higher than 3:2, and any resizing for lower aspect ratios will reduce the horizontal resolution, rather than the vertical (so you could end up with a 640x480 image, but you’d still have the all-important 480 lines of TV output).  The only time this would become an issue is if you had digital photos that were taken in widescreen or cinematic format—frequently only an issue with certain video camcorder still photos rather than traditional digital cameras, almost all of which are either 4:3 or 3:2.

Ironically, this is a situation that will be the most noticeable for those users with higher-end DSLR cameras.  It is essentially the higher-quality images that therefore end up suffering the most on conversion to the iPhone or iPod touch.

Component vs Composite Output

The second factor involves the use of the component versus composite AV cables. The iPod classic and iPod nano (video) provide 480p output when using the component AV cable and 480i with the composite cable. The iPhone and iPod touch output a 480i signal with either cable.

With the iPod classic and iPod nano, the component cable interface produced a slightly crisper image and cleaner transition effects in slideshows, likely due to the 480p output. The color separation and depth was also far superior to that of the composite cable, which produced a slightly more “washed-out” image.

With the iPhone and iPod touch, the image quality from either cable was about the same, with images that were slightly washed-out in color and considerably more pixellated than those displayed by the iPod classic or nano. In fact, image quality from the fifth-generation iPod with the headphone-jack based video output cable was actually superior to the photo output from the iPhone or iPod touch.

Issues were less noticeable on a standard-definition 32” TV screen, although in this case the traditional iPod models’ 720x480 output still created a noticeably better picture in comparison to 640 x 480 output of the iPhone or iPod touch, due to the issues above. This was less pronounced with source material from 4:3 digital cameras, although still slightly noticeable.

Realistically, the photo output quality was not unacceptable, but on both a 62” DLP 1080p TV and a 32” LCD 720p TV, the lower image quality was very noticeable even in comparison to composite output directly from a digital camera. This makes the iPod and iPhone moderately suitable for casual slideshows on non-HDTV screens, but anybody hoping to use them for larger-screen display formats or to show quality pictures with high detail will probably be disappointed with the results.

It should be noted, however, that the Apple TV was the overall winner here by a huge margin, since it uses the original resolution photos, and displays them at a maximum 1280 x 720 resolution on a proper 720p HDMI or component connection (most actual photos will generally end up displaying at 1080x720 or 960x720 with pillarboxing, depending upon original aspect ratio).

Caveats, Problems, and other miscellaneous “Gotchas”

In addition to some of the limitations mentioned above, there are a few other important things to note about the iPod photo that might not work the way you’d expect.

  • It is still possible to find digital photo import accessories on the market such as the Belkin Media Reader and Digital Camera Link, as well as Apple’s own iPod Camera Connector. These devices are intended to allow the user to import photos directly onto a hard-disk based iPod, allowing it to essentially be used as a portable storage medium.  There are not compatible with any of the current 2007 model iPods. Further, the Belkin devices were only ever compatible with the fourth-generation iPod photo, due to the fact that they were FireWire-based. At this time, there are no known accessories for the iPod classic, nano, iPhone or iPod touch that will allow photo import directly from a digital camera or media card.
  • Remember to allow yourself extra time and disk space when synchronizing a large photo collection to your iPod. Faster computers have dramatically improved the performance of this optimizing stage, however some time is still required, and it is not unreasonable for a large photo library to take an hour or more to process your photos. For example, a 5,000-photo library on a MacBook Pro 2.4GHz took approximately an hour to optimize and transfer to an iPod classic. Optimization and transferring will depend on the format and size of your pictures. Transferring Full Resolution photos should naturally take a little bit of extra time.
  • If you change your photo source (from Adobe Photoshop to My Pictures, for instance), your entire photo collection will be removed from your iPod and re-synced from scratch, regardless of whether these photos have been transferred to your iPod before.  This includes the optimization stage.
  • In some cases, larger photo albums may load and display more slowly.  For best performance, individual photo albums should contain no more than 200-300 photos.
  • There is a hard limit of 25,000 photos that can be stored on the iPod, which has nothing to do with disk space (on a 160GB iPod photo you should be able to hold quite a bit more), but is rather based on the maximum size of the Photo Database on the iPod itself.
  • Unlike music, there is no manual synchronization of photos at this point.  You either have to synchronize your entire photo collection, or selected albums, and you can’t really manage the individual photo content through iTunes. But as noted, additions/deletions made in your photo library will synchronize to your iPod. The downside is that you need to keep all of your photos on your hard drive in order for this to work properly.
  • The iPod and iPhone also store and display album art.  However, these images are stored in a completely different location from the photo library, so you can’t view them directly unless you’re listening to the associated album.
  • You can export Keynote and PowerPoint slideshows to your iPod or iPone by saving them as JPEG files and syncing them to your iPod as you would any other photo album.  They can then be displayed in slideshow mode, making the iPod or iPhone a handy solution to give basic presentations.  Note, however, that any audio, animation, and transition effects will be lost, since all you’re doing is syncing a bunch of raw JPEG files.
  • You can use a remote control with the iPod classic or iPod nano to control a photo slideshow. However, this does not presently work with the iPhone or iPod touch—the remote will simply stop the slideshow and bring up the iPod application to begin playing music.


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I have the new Universal Dock and the new composite cables that I bought for my iPod touch. I can display photos on the TV using the dock and the cable (and also just using the cable).

Last night I brought the dock and cable to a friends’s place so that she could display her travel photos from her 80GB iPod Classic onto a projector for friends. The TV Out setting could not be changed from Off when the iPod Classic was in the dock. We had to use the cable plugged directly into the iPod Classic and ignore the dock (I was hoping to try the remote for photo viewing as it doesn’t work with the iPod touch). Would this be a faulty dock or a faulty iPod Classic (I’ll contact Apple as well, but I was curious if anyone else had the same problem)

Posted by KerryC in Toronto on November 10, 2007 at 4:45 PM (CST)


I read the entire article and followed the steps to the word.  When I hit the “apply” button I was full of hope, but now looking at the order of the photos on my iPod, I am near to a mental breakdown (for about the 100th time). 

I have put each month of photos for the past 6 years into their own individual folder.  I load each of the folders from my external hardrive.  The problem is, the photos do not sort themselves within a given folder chronologically as has been indicated in the article.  This is really driving me nuts. 

All of my photos have the original date stamp intact and untouched, yet they seem to sort themselves in a fairly random order within each of the predetermined month folders. 

This has to be a bug in either the iTunes software, or the ipod software. 

I am ready to abandon my iPod. 

Someone, please help me solve my problem as I would like to remain an Apple customer. 



Posted by shunter in Toronto on November 29, 2007 at 7:07 AM (CST)


I am trying unsuccessfully for the last 5 days to:



Posted by aditdave in Toronto on December 25, 2007 at 3:05 AM (CST)


KerryC:  The video-out feature on the new iPod models requires a specifically compatible accessory, and some of the older iPod docks do not allow you to enable this function.

shunter: There seems to be a problem in the current version of iTunes for Windows with regards to photo sort order.  This is a bug that Apple will hopefully fix in a future version, but I would recommend reporting it to them at

aditdave: The iPod Camera Connector is not compatible with the 2007 model iPod classic, and unfortunately there are no other accessories that will facilitate this transfer.  You will either need to use a fifth-generation iPod, or transfer the photos via your computer.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on January 4, 2008 at 1:41 PM (CST)


Great article.  I have a little problem I was wondering if anyone had any ideas on.

I had great luck with my Itouch and Elements.  However in the process of making room on my disk I deleted something I should not have.  Since then I can not get the Elements catalog to work.  It shows I have 56 pictures however they are not part of any collection.  If I add collections they have no pictures in them.  I switched back to a plain old folder again which is working but the Elements catalog was so much nicer.  Any Ideas other then uninstall and start over?

Posted by Steve D in Toronto on January 7, 2008 at 10:20 AM (CST)


My apologies if this has been discussed elsewhere. 

I have lost the ability to sync photos to my iPod.  I have a 5g 60gb iPod, and am running WindowsXP.  I have the iTunes set to sync a certain subfolder of the MyPhotos folder to the iPod.

During the sync process, an error message appears that says the iPod can’t be synced due to a missing file.  Other content, music, video syncs just fine.

any ideas?  Thanks.

Posted by MMills3874 in Toronto on January 8, 2008 at 11:06 AM (CST)


Good article.

I just synced my photos from a MacBook Finder Pictures folder and all was ok initially. Now I have 2 questions as one may not be an issue:

1. After subsequent syncs, I have a “Photo Library Album” in addition to my sync’d folder say “Cool Pics”. The “Photo Libary Album” appears to hold either copies or references to my “Cool Pics” folder. Is this Library album automatically created on the Touch?

2. Will iPhoto definitely solve the sorting issue?



Posted by morefonez in Toronto on January 28, 2008 at 1:44 PM (CST)


hi I don’t know why. but when I’m syncing the photos it works fine until the point where it saids “syncing photos to JDH nano”
like it even optimizied the photos then it just says “sync complete” and there would be no photos on my nano or itouch. -happened with both so its really werid =S!!!

Posted by xinfatuatedx in Toronto on February 4, 2008 at 2:20 PM (CST)


I want to crop my photos for the ipod so that they take up the whole screen. What dimensions should I use? Is it the same as a TV screen 4x3?


Posted by Gordon in Toronto on May 15, 2008 at 8:18 AM (CDT)


A tip, especially for those with large iPod storage capacities:

Set the iPod to disk mode and create a Photo folder inside the iPod. Then sync the iPod with the folder inside itself. Granted it will take up more space than syncing with a folder in your computer, but it’s the closest to Drag-N-Drop you can get. You will be able to add photos to the iPod from any computer.

Posted by Voh Poh! in Toronto on May 16, 2008 at 12:48 PM (CDT)


I have got a IPOD Classic 160GB that I want use as a backup to my Epson P5000 on a holiday through africa. Is there a way I can contect the IPOD to the epson or is there a compatably card reader for the classic.

Posted by matti in Toronto on May 21, 2008 at 1:30 AM (CDT)


Unfortunately, no.  The iPod camera connector that was previously sold for the fourth-generation color iPods and the fifth-generation iPods is not compatible with the iPod classic or any other 2007 iPod model.

The iPod classic basically does not contain the necessary software support to import photos.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on May 21, 2008 at 10:19 AM (CDT)


Regarding the iPod photo sorting issue, I had this problem myself using iTunes on Windows XP. I don’t know if Apple has fixed this issue in newer versions of iTunes, but here is what I found on that version.

The ideal thing would be for iTunes to sort the photos in creation order by using either each photos’ internal timestamps, or by using each photo files’ creation dates. But it looks like iTunes is using neither.

Instead iTunes appears to be using the Windows file system’s “native sort order”, which is typically the order that files are placed into the file system. Due to quirks of how the file system operates, this order can change for various reasons, depending on what operations are performed, which explains the randomness of the sorting. This native sort order is not visible without the use of specialty software, and different file systems may behave differently with their native sorting. I’m using Fat32 on mine.

Here’s what I did to correct my iPod photo sorting. In this example, we will assume that there is only a single folder of photos, with no sub folders, though I suppose you could use this same method on each sub folder as well.

Important Note: You probably should NOT use this fix on any Windows “system folders” like My Pictures or My Documents. You should ONLY use this fix on folders that you have created yourself.

For whichever folder is having the problem, the folder you want to sync to your iPod, here’s what to do:

1. Open the Windows file explorer and browse to your folder of photos.

2. View the folder in Details mode, and sort the photo files by Name or by Date Modified or by Date Picture Taken (if you have that column). Believe it or not, this folder sorting will determine the actual sort order on your iPod, as you’ll see below.

3. Right click the folder icon (on the left explorer pane) and choose Copy. Note: Do not use “select all” within the folder’s file list to copy the files, as the first file will be copied in the wrong order, at the end instead of at the beginning (a Windows quirk).

4. Paste this folder wherever you’d like, which will copy all of the photos to the new folder. For the new folder this causes the Windows file system’s native sort order to be identical to the sort order that you chose in step 2 above. Since iTunes uses that native sort order, this should cause the photos to be sorted the same way on your iPod after you sync it.

Note: I found that you cannot move the newly copied photos back into the original folder they came from, otherwise they will have the same sorting problem again. If you want the “fixed” folder to be the same name in the same location as the original folder, you must delete the original folder (assuming its not a system folder, and after copying the files from it) and then you can rename the new folder to whatever you like, and point iTunes at this new folder.

It’s an awfully quirky problem, very dependent on file system behaviors, so I hope this fix consistently works. It would be nice if there were a tool to update any given folder’s native sort order, but I haven’t found one yet.

The easy thing for Apple to do is to get iTunes to actually sort the photos by date, rather than leave them in a native order. The problem is, not all photos have internal timestamps, and the average user can’t easily change the Date Modified of their photo files, so maybe that’s why iTunes acts the way it does.

Posted by Darren in Toronto on May 24, 2008 at 1:43 AM (CDT)


Can’t sync photos unless I delete all and sync again which takes hours. Message: The IPOD jp is synced with another photo library or folder. Do you want to sync with the selected folder or replace all existing photos and albums on this ipod with those from the selected folder?

The only folder in the drop down menu is my pictures.

Any help would be apreciated, I have an ipod classic.

Posted by John Pope in Toronto on June 15, 2008 at 3:44 AM (CDT)


I have an iPod Classic syncing photos to Aperture on a Mac. The sort order is the version name (not the filename or any date at all).

This is very frustrating! And it is different to what seems to be the behaviour experienced elsewhere.

Any ideas?

Cheers, Paul

Posted by Paul Wilson in Toronto on June 29, 2008 at 5:33 AM (CDT)


I have just recently purchased the ipod classic, is there any way that i can set the main menu back ground to one specific picture rather than a slideshow?

Posted by Amy in Toronto on July 1, 2008 at 4:29 PM (CDT)


According to this article
you can copy as many pc pictures as you want on your ipod and iphone. It’s amazing! I just tried it out and it worked! I copied all my computer pics on my iphone right away! It didn’t erase my picture library and there was no need to previously sync the photos with a folder!
Cool app! Thank you!

Posted by Kahili in Toronto on July 15, 2008 at 10:13 AM (CDT)


I have a 16gb Ipod touch. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my Imac crashed after I had transfered my entire photo album (3700)photos to my ITouch.

How do I get the photos off of the IPod Touch and back onto my computer?


Posted by John in Toronto on July 25, 2008 at 9:11 PM (CDT)


John:  See our article on copying content from your iPod to your computer

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on July 26, 2008 at 1:17 PM (CDT)


Hi, i cant find any information anywhere, but when syncing music on my ipod classic everything is fine, then when i sync photos a message appears saying “The ipod cannot be synced. The required disk cannot be found”
Please help only i have tried everything!!

Posted by Lucie in Toronto on July 27, 2008 at 11:39 AM (CDT)

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