iPod Basics and Purchasing Guide
So, you are looking to purchase an iPod? Please take the time to read this brief article which will at best help you get the most out of your new iPod, and at the least, help you avoid mistakes and misconceptions. This article is written out of my personal experience with iPods.
1. What is an iPod?
An iPod is a MP4 player, not a MP3 player. Basically, the MP4 format is a proprietary format only recognized by Apple products, such as iPods and QuickTime(TM). In order for music to play on an iPod, it must be in MP4 format. Apple’s music download site, iTunes(TM), offers music only in the MP4 format. The iTunes(TM) software which comes with an iPod will convert MP3 music files to MP4 format, so they will play on your iPod. An iPod will not play MP3 files, neither will Windows Media Player play MP4 files. Both the Nano and Video iPod will store and display photos, but a video iPod is needed to play video files.
2. What is iTunes?
® Apple hosts the world’s largest music download site called iTunes(TM). As of March 2006, over 1 billion files have been downloaded for use in iPods. Pretty amazing. This site offers music files for 99 cents each, and you need not download an entire album, but can select only the music files you want and download it into your computer. The iTunes(TM) software in your computer is the vehicle by which files are loaded into the iPod. Simply place your iPod into its dock (which is attached via USB to your computer), start iTunes(TM) and your iPod is updated automatically with new music, playlists, Podcasts and so forth. I have tried other music download sites and have not found any which I like as well as iTunes(TM), even though they may offer music cheaper than iTunes(TM). A basic search will locate alternative music download sites.
There are a variety of other files available on iTunes(TM) called Podcasts. These are audio or video files which include news broadcasts, informational programs, comedy programs and many others. The great majority of Podcasts are free, and others are not.
3. What You Get
iPods come with the following:
iPod with battery
Earphones (called “earbuds”)
A generic pouch for the earbuds
A docking station (to transfer files and charge the iPod)
iTunes(TM) software CD
That is all.
4. What You will Need
Every iPod user will need a case, and we strongly recommend a screen protector.
Both the iPod Nano and 5th generation (5G) Video iPod are susceptible to scratching, and the black units seem to show scratches worse than the white ones. This is true of both the iPod housing AND the screen. Nothing is worse than having your iPod blemished with unsightly scratches, especially when it is easily avoidable by using a case and screen protector. Having your unprotected iPod floating around inside your purse or in your pocket will absolutely cause your iPod to quickly accumulate scratches both on the housing and on the screen. Be warned! This is not really a defect, but just the way it is.
5. Using iPods in your Car
Most people quickly realize that it would be great to be able to have their iPod play music through their car stereo. No longer would they have to mess with CDs or tapes. How many CDs would you have to carry to have your entire music library with you in the car? You can take it all in the palm of your hand with an iPod. So, how does one play music through their car stereo? There are several options.
First, there are cables available for most car stereos which plug into the iPod and the other end of the cable plugs into a port on the back of the stereo. Removal of the stereo is usually required to accomplish this task. Also, the wire used to connect your iPod is exposed. It does, however, sound great! Some car stereos have a line input on the faceplate. In this case, all one needs to do is use an adaptive cable from the headphone jack of the iPod to the input on the stereo. In both of these scenarios, the iPod will run on its internal battery unless a car charger is used as well.
Second, (and by far the most popular) method, is to use an FM transmitter to transmit a signal from your iPod to your FM radio and play it as if it were a radio station. There are a variety of FM transmitters from several manufacturers. We recommend using a unit which is a dock and not a plug into the iPod port. The plug-in units consume power from the iPod battery and seem to produce a weak signal resulting in poor audio quality. A docking unit (such as the Griffin RoadTrip(TM)) holds your iPod in place, charges the iPod and produces a strong signal. The RoadTrip(TM) also features a removable FM module which allows it to plug into your computer. You can therefore listen to FM radio through your computer without having to install software.
6. Using iPods at Home
iPods can easily play through your home stereo. One can simply use an adaptive cable which plugs into the headphone jack of the iPod and into the stereo input of your stereo. In this setup, the iPod is operating on battery power unless the iPod is also plugged into a charger.
Docking your iPod is the preferred method, and there are a variety of docking solutions available. The iPod docks into a base which charges the iPod, and an output jack on the base connects the iPod to your stereo via a cable. Some units offer remote controls for your iPod and others do not, but often these remotes are weak and have very limited range and field of reception. We have found that some television or stereo programmable remote control units can be programmed to work with certain iPod docking systems, while others work partially or not at all. It is worth trying if you have a programmable remote.
Some docking units also have a video output for use with the 5G Video iPod, which allows one to watch videos or photos stored in the iPod on a television. We have found that the picture quality is poor on large screen televisions, but OK on a smaller screen. Using a dock with S-video output will provide a far superior picture than units using an RCA connector. As of now, iPods do not support high definition.
There are speaker systems which contain their own amplifier and operate as a stand-alone unit with an iPod. These are not all created equal. Our testing has found that a high price does not always equal high quality. We have found $150 systems which in our opinion sound significantly superior to $400 units. It is best to listen to the various systems before making your selection; or if buying online, follow the recommendations of the seller IF they have tested the systems and can provide you with recommendations based on testing results.
There are alarm clock radios (such as iHome(TM)) which allow you to go to sleep listening to your iPod and wake up to it as well. We have tested the iHome(TM) and others, and found iHome(TM) to be our unit of choice.
7. Loading Movies into Your 5G Video iPod
When the Video iPod first came out, I gave it a high ranking on the “Dumb-O-Meter.” Who wants to watch a movie on a 2.5 inch screen? However, after having used one, I have recanted my original opinion. It is now my iPod of choice. Unfortunately, iTunes(TM) and other MP4 download sites usually have little to offer in the way of legal movies which are formatted to play on an iPod. ITunes(TM) does have some short films, music videos and television shows, but not much else.
An easy solution for this is to convert your own DVDs into a format that the iPod can play. This can be accomplished by means of a software product called a DVD to iPod converter, such as Cucusoft, Lenogo and others. It is a simple process. Put a DVD in your computer, start the converter program and let it convert the movie to iPod format. Then, move the converted file into your iTunes(TM) video list. The next time you dock your iPod to your computer, it will load into your iPod. Some converter programs will also convert AVI, MPEG, MPG, WMV and other computer video formats for use on an iPod. This can allow you to convert your family videos and view them on your ipod. IPod movies are great for entertaining children on the road, for the business traveler stranded at an airport or for long airplane trips.
DVD converters we recommend are available here.
8. iPods and your PC
The music files for your iPod are stored in two places: in your PC in the iTunes(TM) program, and in your iPod. If your PC crashes and you loose your hard drive or have to reformat, you will loose EVERYTHING contained in your iTunes(TM) folder, including all of the songs you have purchased from iTunes(TM). Furthermore, iTunes(TM) does not offer the means to re-download songs you have purchased for free. You will have to buy them again. Neither does the iPod come with a means to load files into a computer. Fortunately, there are software programs which allow you to copy the contents of your iPod into a PC or from one iPod to another. These programs are usually titled “iPod to PC”, or something similar. If your computer crashes, you will kick yourself for not having this program to restore your music files back into your computer.
IPod to PC programs we recommend are available here.
We hope you found this article helpful.