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