Last week, I bought an iPod touch, with the intention of using it to test video formats for SciCast. I’m trying to produce ‘one download to rule them all’ – a file that will play on an iPod, but will also project up onto a classroom wall and still look pretty good, and can be converted to a DVD and work OK. Ambitious.

The touch is an amazing piece of kit. It’s an iPhone without the phone; you get the gorgeous touchscreen, the media player functions, and web browsing over WiFi (Mobile Safari rocks – quick enough, sharp text, works well). Unfortunately, in my testing I managed to produce files that looked great on the touch, but didn’t play on a chum’s video iPod. Apple’s specs say they’ll play the same formats, but… that’s not what we saw. Merde.

So I booked a ‘personal shopping’ hour at the local Apple Store, Buchanan Street in Glasgow, and left a note to the effect that I wanted to assemble a bunch of iPods and throw a range of files at them, because the published specs don’t seem right.

That’s what we did today. Credit where it’s due, the Glasgow store staff were terrific. Informed, interested, patient – an absolutely first-class experience that fell somewhere between ‘personal shopping,’ technical support, and web media business consultancy.

It’s hard for me to do justice to them, actually. They were great, to the point where I’ve ended up keeping the Touch and not even minding that I’ll be shelling out another £12 for the latest software for it. It was, I think, the best ‘shop’ experience I’ve had since the days of family-run bicycle shops, which of course have all gone bust now. They’ve saved me a day of farting around, basically.

Remind me – Apple kit is expensive because… ?

(For the geekily interested, the bottom line is:

  • Apple’s published specs for iPod video support are wildly conservative. The current models will handle bitrates far beyond the quoted limit.
  • The exception is the older 5G iPod, which won’t play some files that appear within spec.
  • The Classic and Nano allegedly share a hardware platform, including video decoder chip. The touch and iPhone are different again, however – though I’ve yet to see a difference in practice.
  • I’m now working with tech support for my chosen video compressor, trying to resolve a couple of issues I’m seeing with it. )