iPod Video a Flop? Plus, Our Field Test on Tiny Video Watching

Nielsen Media Research, that company that watches the TV watchers, did a study last month about Apple's iPod and the amount of video that people are actually watching on it. The result? People are listening to a whole lot more music than they are watching videos on the portable players. Less than 1% of content played on iTunes or iPods were videos, and even among those who own a video iPod, only 2.2% of the content consumed was video. What does this all mean? According to the Hollywood Reporter:

Worst-case scenario: The panel is an early indication that TV and movies have limited appeal on iPods. Best-case scenario: While adoption of video may be proceeding more slowly than the hype suggests, there is tremendous upside ahead.
We're thinking that people are using iPods so much, 2.2% of the huge amount of time spent with the things is still a significant number. But then, isn't watching video on such a tiny screen a huge pain in the ass? I just spent over 50 hours in various airplanes watching all kinds of video on tiny screens, so let me tell you what I think, after the jump.

My impression of watching video on a small screen? It depends on how small that screen is and how desperate you are to be entertained. I've noticed that I have a personal threshold for the smallness of video that I can still enjoy. I tried a few different screen sizes in my informal field test, traveling half-way around the world and watching a lot of video. Along for the ride I had a Motorola Q which has a 2.25-inch 4x3 screen, an Archos 404 with a 3.5-inch 4x3 screen, and a Sony PSP with a 4.25-inch widescreen.

iPod Video a Flop? Plus, Our Field Test on Tiny Video Watching

On a screen the size of the Motorola Q's, it's extremely hard to enjoy any sort of cinematic content, because it's just too damn small. Trying to watch a football game in Los Angeles that I was receiving via EVDO using SlingPlayer Mobile was an exercise in futility, where the players all looked like tiny ants running around on the screen. About the only thing a screen that size is useful for is getting some talking-heads news information or something very simple. Either way, it's hardly worth the trouble.

iPod Video a Flop? Plus, Our Field Test on Tiny Video Watching

Moving up to the next larger-size screen, the Archos 404's 3.5-inch 4x3 screen was almost big enough for watching 4x3 content, but still leaves me wanting when watching letterboxed movies. It just seems like a waste of perfectly good video content to watch it on a screen that's just 3.5 inches diagonal. The Archos screen had an unusually shallow viewing angle, not good if you want to watch a video with a friend. But this could have an upside, too—you won't bother your prudish seatmate if you want to pull out that porn vid you've been meaning to watch but just haven't gotten around to.

iPod Video a Flop? Plus, Our Field Test on Tiny Video Watching

The Sony PSP is a different story. Its 16x9 screen is exceedingly sharp and is just big enough to enjoy movies. Of course, if you get suckered into buying a movie on the brain-dead UMD format, there is an upside to that: its video is exceedingly crispy-sharp. Even ripped movies from DVDs look like HDTV on this beautiful little screen. Watching movies on the PSP was far more pleasurable than with the other two examples I tried, and the audio sounds great with a decent pair of earphones, making me almost forget I was flying in a pressurized tin can six miles above the planet.

I did notice that the more desperate I got to be entertained on these interminably long flights (one was 18 hours long), the easier it was to tolerate the smaller screens. Plus, if the movie I was watching was really good, I could get so absorbed in the content that it didn't matter much that I was only watching on a small screen. But this is only true with the PSP. Anything smaller than 4 inches, in my opinion, gets to be annoying to watch after a while, no matter what.

One other note: I found myself constantly wishing for some sort of stand or easel that could hold up each of these players on the tray table, because it gets tiresome to hold a player in your hand for hours on end while watching long movies.

Plus, when loading up the players with video, it's quite an arduous process to convert a DVD into a movie that can be viewed on them, but that's getting easier all the time, too.

Summing up, I believe there is a big market for location-shifting using portable video players, because people are sometimes desperate for entertainment. Plus, the threshold of pain varies from user to user; your mileage may vary.

Study: iPod video yet to play big [Hollywood Reporter]