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Getting the Video out of Your New iPod--for Cheap!

by Erica Sadun, author of Modding Mac OS X
11/18/2005

So I buy a video iPod, figuring it would be a cool toy. (Gotta get those toys.) It arrives and I'm ready to give it a whirl. I pony up my two bucks, download the pilot episode of Desperate Housewives, insert a standard A/V-to-RCA cable into the earphone jack and try to play it back on my TV.

Run Windows on your Intel Mac

No Luck. Damned Apple.

I'm here to tell you not to worry. You don't have to fork out for an outrageously priced "proprietary" Apple video cable. You don't even have to buy an expensive dock. You can connect your Video iPod directly to a TV, and you can do it with the ordinary camcorder A/V-to-RCA cable you probably already have lying around your house.

You just have to be tricky.

Here's how.

What You'll Need

In order to get your iPod connected properly to your TV, you'll need the following items on hand:

figure 1
Figure 1. A camcorder A/V cable has a three-plug RCA connection at one end and a three-banded 1/8" plug at the other

Setting Up Your iPod Video Options

Setting up your iPod video options lets you control how you export video. The iPod Video Options screen selects how your iPod handles video file playback.

To open these settings, choose Videos -> Video Settings from your main iPod menu. This screen offers three settings: TV Out, TV Signal and Widescreen. Adjust to produce the video playback style you need.

figure 2
Figure 2. Videos -> Video Settings controls the way your iPod plays back video files

TV Out

Whenever you play a video file, your iPod must make a choice. Video iPods either play video on the built-in screen or they transmit a video signal out of the microphone jack. They don't do both. The TV Out option controls which behavior occurs.

Use this setting to choose from:

I always use the Ask option. Yes, it does add an extra step whenever I play a video file, but it gives me the flexibility to choose playback behavior on a case-by-case basis. I like that.

TV Signal

European and Australian television sets use a different signal standard than those used in America and Japan. If you live in the U.S., your TV works with the NTSC standard. European countries mostly use PAL. Make sure you've selected the correct signal for your country.

Widescreen

iPods can play back widescreen video, if only on exported video. The built-in screen uses a traditional 4:3 screen ratio, rather than widescreen's 16:9 proportions. Choose Yes to produce a widescreen signal, or No to export the traditional TV output.

Cult of iPod

Related Reading

Cult of iPod
By Leander Kahney

Connecting the iPod to Your TV

It takes a few steps to connect your iPod to your TV. Start by inserting the A/V cord's eighth-inch plug into your iPod's earphone jack. In it goes, schnickt. Couldn't be easier.

Here's where it gets a little tricky. In order to make your TV play back the iPod signal, you've got to redirect the outputs. You can't just plug the yellow RCA plug into the yellow RCA jack and the red into the red or the white into the white. No. Those geniuses at Apple send the video signal over the red RCA output. (Normally it arrives on yellow.) The sound comes through the white and yellow plugs.

I ended up going to an Apple store and testing this on iPod after iPod. They all have this quirk. It was intentional. But hey, it's proprietary. Woohoo. So here's what you have to do:

figure 3a figure 3b
Figure 3. Left: TV jacks, unplugged; right: TV jacks, plugged with A/V cable

After making all of these connections, you're physically ready to begin playback.

Playing Your Video

On your iPod, navigate to the movie you want to watch and select it. Your iPod prompts you to choose whether to play the video with TV Off or TV On. (You set the TV Out option to "Ask," remember?) Choose TV On.

figure 4
Figure 4. Choose TV On to redirect the video through the earphone jack

As your video starts, a status screen appears on your iPod and the video plays back on your television. The status screen tracks playback progress, just as it would in iTunes.

figure 5
Figure 5. The iPod video status screen shows playback progress.

Leave the television volume control at normal levels and use the iPod volume control to adjust the audio. The audio and video should both sound and look excellent.

figure 6
Figure 6. Success! The video plays back on the TV

Final Thoughts

Don't feel pressured to buy Apple-branded add-ons, particularly when there are workarounds like the one shown in this article. Here, you've seen how to use a cheap off-the-shelf product to bypass that whole high-priced white-colored gear thing. Shiny and white doesn't necessarily make it right.

Erica Sadun has written, co-written, and contributed to almost two dozen books about technology, particularly in the areas of programming, digital video, and digital photography.


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