Top Ten Things Techies Wanted to Know About the 5G iPod

Top Ten Things Techies Wanted to Know About the 5G iPod 1

In our previous article, Top Ten Things You Wanted to Know About the 5G iPod, we looked at issues that were of concern to the “average” iPod owner. But as we’re keenly aware, iLounge also caters to a sizeable group of techies – audiophiles and videophiles – so we wanted to share some other details that are more of interest to such readers.

10. Noise Defect: Gone. In the first of three key audio improvements we’ve noted, the 4G iPod’s infamous hard drive and static noise audio defect is now gone in 5G. Initially obvious in black-and-white 4G iPods, the noise had become hard to notice in color 4G iPods unless using high-end headphones. Now, even using $900 Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pros, the noise isn’t there.


9. Bass Performance: Improved. The second of three key audio improvements is that the 5G’s bass response has definitely improved over the color 4G. Audiophiles have previously lamented a lack of “bass power” in earlier iPods, as well as readily apparent distortion when the iPod’s “Bass Booster” equalizer is turned on. In testing with a collection of lossless tracks and the UE-10 Pros, small but noticeable enhancements of the bass are definitely apparent, giving tracks an inoffensively warmer sound. With Bass Booster turned on, distortion is not absent in the 5G, but is definitely lower, and has a smoother, less mechanical edge.

8. Piano Solos: Clean. The third of three key audio improvements is what appears to be a complete fix for a “piano solo distortion” issue in 4G iPods recently identified by iLounge readers. Previously, in certain tracks, distortion (a light sizzling) could be heard around the silent edges of piano notes. Comparative testing with one of the sample identified piano tracks (“Bladiator”) shows that the distortion has been completely eliminated.

7. Video FPS: Over 30fps is Possible. Video playback appears not to be capped at 30fps (frames per second) as suggested by the new iPod’s technical specifications – rather, the iPod’s limitations appear to be bitrate and bandwidth. We were surprised to discover that QuickTime Pro 7 had taken a 50fps original video and created an “iPod ready” 46fps video from it. The video then played back on the iPod at something equal or close to 46fps – certainly higher than 30fps. How? It was formatted for 320×180 rather than the iPod’s 320×240, 30fps maximum, and QuickTime 7 Pro took advantage of its extra capacity for a higher frame rate.



6. 2 Hour Video Playback on 30GB iPod: Conservative Estimate, At Least Output to TV. We had our 30GB model play back loops of the movies Hero and House of Flying Daggers for 3 hours and 10 minutes before its battery died. We’ll see how the iPod does through on-screen playback, but so far, it’s doing better than it could have. Why is this? Quite possibly because there’s no need for backlighting during TV output. Regardless, it’s good news.



5. The iPod’s Screen: Comparatively More Detailed than Many Screens. Thanks to our own Jerrod H., we have a preliminary DPI table comparing the 5G iPod’s screen DPI (dots per inch) to that of other iPods and noteworthy devices. Why does this matter? It explains why the iPod’s screen looks so detailed by comparison with most other devices you’re accustomed to using. The higher the DPI number, the more detail is packed into every inch of screen size.

Apple Cinema Display 20”: 99.05dpi (20” screen)
Apple Cinema Display 30”: 101.6dpi (29.7” screen)
Original Black and White iPods (1G-4G): 102.4 dpi (2” screen)
Apple iPod mini: 105.7 (1.67” screen)
Sony PlayStation Portable: 128dpi (4.3” screen)
iPod photo/color/4G: 141 dpi (2” screen)
iPod nano: 147 dpi (1.5” screen)
iPod 5G: 160 dpi (2.5” screen)
Creative Zen Vision: 216dpi (3.7” screen)

Is detail really that important? Depends on your perspective, and other factors are important, too. For example, we feel pretty certain that the iPod’s smaller, lower-resolution screen will be liked by more people than the Zen’s bigger, higher-detail screen because of viewing angle alone.

4. 320 Is Better Than 480 – on iPod’s Screen. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, videos in 320-pixel MPEG-4 format are noticeably superior to ones created in 480-pixel MPEG-4 format when viewed on the iPod’s screen. Because the screen doesn’t have the pixels to display all the detail of the 480 version, the iPod scales it down, creating a slightly softer image in the process, and one that is not as smooth in frame rate, either. The 320-pixel versions look crisper because they have been optimized on a per-pixel basis for the iPod, and smoother because the iPod’s processor doesn’t have to waste power and time resizing every frame.



3. Brightness. The iPod’s lack of an adjustable screen brightness level has two consequences: it looks highly viewable at all times (except when the backlight is off) by comparison with other handheld devices, and it also drains more battery power whenever the light is on. Sony’s PSP, by comparison, can use 4 different brightness settings – the maximum only if the unit’s been plugged into wall power – and Creative’s Zen Vision can go through 10. In the video era, an adjustable brightness setting may be an appropriate addition to the iPod’s settings menu.

2. Hard Drive and Power Management. Even more than in the past, the iPod’s hard drive appears to be very aggressively trying to manage power consumption by turning on and off only as absolutely necessary. You’ll hear physical clicks when this happens, as with earlier iPods, but not in the headphones. It’s unknown what impact, if any, this will have on the drive’s longevity, or whether Apple worked with its hard drive supplier to anticipate this, as constant running of older iPods’ hard drives was said to be an easy way to burn them out. On a side note, video playback from the hard disk is not instantaneous: it takes around 5 seconds from the initial click of your button to start a clip playing.



1. Easter Eggs. Hidden at the bottom of the iPod’s Legal screen is a tiny icon of a snowman. Apple reps tell us that it’s an insider reference to one of the iPod development teams, which wanted to leave its mark someplace on the iPod. That’s where it is.

  1. BTW – Gap lengths of the X5 are as follows and curious how Ipod compares – particularly on MP3

    (Was posted on iaudiophile forums with an attachment to listen to)

    Gap lengths:

    Wav – 0.002
    Flac – 0.044
    WMA – 0.061
    Mp3 – 0.098
    Ogg – 0.689

  2. The owners at Small Dog indicated early that the 5G iPod can record in 44.1 stereo. I’m not seeing that anywhere else. Was he wrong? Or is this just something that Apple’s not saying too loudly?

  3. i would also like to know more on cubeXpert’s question… how good are the ipods videoprocessor at presenting video on external screen?? what is the best “pixel” size for viewing the movie on a tv?

  4. I’ll third the request for info on how video looks through the tv out. This had to be pretty high on the list of things people wanted to know.

  5. Video through the TV-Out is acceptable but not great. If you’re expecting a DVD transferred to iPod format to then look DVD quality, you’ll be very disappointed. We’re in the process of comparing the various types of output and will have more to say soon – we encoded the same footage in different ways to see what the differences are.

    One thing to note: we are seeing video tearing (or something similar) on the 5G during certain fast-action scenes in House of Flying Daggers. It appears to be happening during 320 pixel-encoded video but not 480 pixel-encoded video. Stay tuned.

  6. Good Article.. I guess I want to know more details like, what is the ipod using as a DAC (wolf ?) and there a new portaplayer chip used? I guess I want to see what is going on inside.

  7. Thanks for the extra video info. Are you saying that you haven’t been able to encode your own content at the same quality level as itms tv shows? So do itms tv shows then look fairly acceptable?

  8. this techie needs better info on what you mean
    by “480-pixel” video — would that be
    480×360 at the same aspect ratio, which
    would make a big difference for the interpolation?

    is it apple .mp4, better apple .mp4 in a .mov container,
    or arbitary 3ivx / divx. what settings?

    is the source pristine RGB animation
    with fine lines (or text movie credits, known
    difficult material), resized by good rescalers
    like QT pro or photoshop, or some
    non-square pixel YUV DVD stuff randomly
    output by a non-apple codec?

    the devil being in the details, all i see from
    the description is that resizing yields something
    “softer”, generally true of bilinear/bicubic
    downsampling — at least it doesn’t seem
    yucky like nearest-neighbor or just throwing
    away pixels.

    humble suggestion — stick with line-art-based
    apple QT-pro output at “best” settings,
    resized only once, for the initial resolution testing.

  9. hmm, since a teardown shows a broadcom 2722
    chip jammed in there, the specs only hint at
    “pixel-level interpolation”.

    if the video-out is done *after* the rescaling,
    it may be amazing to see 480×480 anamorphic
    material letter-boxed correctly on the ipod
    and nicely expanded on a tv at wide-480p,
    probably the best that analog S-video can do.

  10. More questions:

    1. So, is the headphone output = the shuffle?

    2. Do videos encoded with Nero Recode with the PSP preset playable?

    3. Does it have the infamous VBR MP3 problems that was known on the 2nd gen minis and nanos?

    4. How good/bad is its bettery draining? (how fast the battery is drained when the unit is not used? Can it retain juice for not being used for 3 to 5 days?)

  11. Here are better answers on video output. Can’t answer every question here, but we’re working on more.

    On the iPod’s screen, 320-formatted video appears to be the way to go. But as TV output, video encoded with Handbrake for 320 pixels in either MP4 or H.264 looks truly terrible – cubic. Video encoded with Handbrake as 480 pixels in MP4 is a step up for TV output, but still not acceptable by our standards when output from the iPod. As with 480 pixel output to the iPod’s screen, the frame rate takes a hit, but there is definitely more detail in the video.

    There appears to be more to this than just pixels, though. Just as we saw in iTunes 6’s preview window, there is a difference in apparent encoding quality (or something else being hidden from the user) between the 320 pixel music video we downloaded from iTunes, and the 320 pixel TV show. While supposedly the same dimensions and encoding standard (MP4), the TV show looks better as TV output than the music video, just as when watched through iTunes. It seems likely that better-optimized settings were chosen for the TV show, and that iPod and TV output quality would improve if those settings were also applied to both music videos and user-generated content.

    Our tests continue. 🙂

  12. i would like to know about pika2000’s #2 question. Would a program that lets me encode video to 320 x 240 in .mp4 format for a PSP work for an ipod too?

  13. any info on the new DAC used in the 5 gen ipod. WM8758. That is different then what was used in the Nano. Hoping for better SQ.

  14. 4th gen used the WM8975 Wolf DAC.

    Now 5th gen is using the WM8758. The Wolfson page doesn’t have either of the two listed. Nice. So I have no idea of the difference. I can only imagein the 8758 is better.

  15. So, with all these audio improvements I take it the 5G definatly doesn’t use the buggy decoder of the photo/colour? My photo is gathering dust at the moment because of the mp3 vbr bug.

    Has someone popped the lib on a 5g to find what’s inside, is it the rumoured Sharp chip?

  16. Nice to see the 480×480 MPEG4 issue I commented yesterday clarified. But what about quality when played through a big screen (TV)? I’m still curious as how good the iPods videoprocessor is at presenting video on an external screen. A comparison between an iPod and a regular Mac with video out on a TV would be nice to read about.

    Keep up the good work, lot’s of interesting stuff in this article…

  17. Oh well, from the specs out today it looks like the 5g has the same decoder as the nano, which I’ve just tested for the mp3 vbr bug and it’s as bad as the photo/colour. So unless they found a way round it in firmware the 5G will be as bad! 🙁

  18. Additional video tests are ongoing. Looks like the Handbrake videos we tested are less than ideal for a number of reasons, so ignore the video tearing and cubic comment above.

    In a separate surprise, at least one QT7P “Export For iPod” 2-hour video won’t transfer to the iPod. We have been creating another one for testing and will see how that one goes.

  19. I’m still surprised that the CD-quality audio recording, and when and how we’ll be able to do it aren’t on the top things (podcasting and would-be podcasting) want to know about the iPod.

    We DO know the 16bit 44.1 KHZ recording capability is there — just not how to get at it and do it and what kind of a hardware accessory and/or software will be required and whether or not Apple will leave it all to third parties.

    And what I haven’t seen addressed AT ALL is how to get the recorded audio (and in what format[s] back into your computer for rendering it into a podcast….

  20. The only thing I’m curious about is on the TV viewing. Since Apple sells the remote control, is the iPod menu screen reflected on the TV set (which would be cool, since then you could go back and forth and up and down and select the movie/whatever you want), or do you have to see the iPod screen to figure out what you’re selecting?

  21. johnhummel has an excellent question. I’ve been thinking about TV viewing for the same reasons. I want to buy a 60GB iPod, not so much for the video playing, but because I want it as a laptop replacement on my living room. I want to buy the new Apple Remote with the new dock to control the iPod while it displays the menus on the TV. I read somewhere that the TV-out feature is only active while slideshows or videos are showing. Could someone please confirm this? That would make sense for Apple financially, since the probably want to push that FrontRow crap, but for us Windows users that want similar capabilities, this would be a killer app.

  22. I was able to encode divx (avi), xvid (avi) and dvd (vob) to mv4 using psp video 9.

    Apparently, the psp video format is ipod compatible. 😛

    TV output was ok and depends on the quality of the original. DVD was best, but slightly washed out.

    switching from widscreen to 4:3 on ipod was smooth, if original movie was in widescreen.

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