Master Your Media
I'm packing for a trip on short notice--loading my video iPod while frantically throwing jumbles of clothes into a suitcase. I already have 25GB of music loaded, but since iTunes doesn't import my DVDs, my iPod is "video" in name only unless I spend a bunch more money at Apple's online store.
Fortunately, just as Jack Bauer knows alternate routes through L.A. rush-hour traffic, I have a few tricks for get around iTunes and adding those movies to my player. I can even transfer my favorite viral videos from YouTube and copy commercial-free TV shows from my TiVo. I can improve my iPod's music playback, too, by ripping a perfect copy of a new CD or by downloading free songs from Internet radio stations.
I'll explain these and other tips for media conversion, portable playback, and related tasks--a trove of useful information, whether you use iTunes, Windows Media Player, an iPod, a Zune, or some other tool. My flight may be taling off in just 24 hours, but my iPod is going to be ready.
Rip a DVD to Your iPod
iTunes can't import movie DVDs in the same way that it captures audio CDs, but here's an easy method for converting such videos to an iPod-digestible format. These steps will work with your family's home videos, and they should transfer most of the commercial movie DVDs you own, too. (Ripping copyrighted movies raises legal and ethical issues that you and your conscience need to take into account.)
Rip video from the disc: First, use AnyDVD ($49) to move the video files from the DVD where they're stored onto your hard drive. Launch AnyDVD Ripper, choose a destination, and then click the Copy DVD button. Depending on your PC and DVD drive speeds, transferring the video to your hard disk should take about 20 minutes.
Prep the video for your iPod: Roxio Crunch ($40) compresses the videos into iPod-ready movie files. Though free alternatives exist, Crunch's simplicity and intuitive interface justify its price. Open Crunch, click the Add Movies button, and navigate to the folder on your hard drive where you put your ripped video file. Crunch shows you preview frames of each video file to help you find the one you're looking for--a big help, since many DVDs include multiple video files. You can also use the length information to help identify the main video: Look for one that's more than an hour long. Control-click to select multiple files if you wish. Click OK.
Choose the correct format for your player:
Pick the Best Format for Your Media Player
Different media players support different file compression formats for movies and video. (Click on image, at left, to see player capabilities)
Put each video in the right iTunes library folder: Once you've converted your videos to the desired format, add them to your iTunes library by dragging the files into the iTunes window or by choosing File, Add File to Library from the Application menu. Occasionally iTunes slips TV shows, movies, and downloads into the wrong library folder. To redirect such a video into its proper folder,
Take Commercial-Free TiVo on the Road
Advertising may be a necessary evil for free, over-the-air TV, but you don't have to put up with it on your personal media player. Here's how to transfer video from a TiVo, cut the commercials, and send the processed file to your iPod.
To get started, install TiVo Desktop on your PC. This free utility transfers recorded shows from a Series2 or Series3 TiVo to a networked PC. When the setup process asks for your TiVo Media Access Key, you can find this unique string of numbers in your TiVo's menus: Use your remote to select TiVo, Messages & Settings,
Once the shows are on your PC, you'll use a different program--VideoReDo Plus ($50)--to remove the commercials. In addition to its editing features, this program natively reads proprietary TiVo files, saving you another step in the process. (If you use another editor, it might not work with TiVo videos.) During installation, select the option to import TiVo files from the default My TiVo Recordings folder.
Launch VideoReDo Plus and open one of the shows. (When we posted this story, the program wouldn't work with HD files; look for a software update in February 2008.) Click Open Video, choose the My TiVo Recordings folder, and pick a file. Start the Ad-Detective scan from the Ad-Detective menu. VideoReDo will analyze and mark black sections--possible commercial breaks. Then click the red forward- and back-arrows to jump between those points. Find the moment where the show cuts to a commercial, and click the Select Start button. Fast-forward to the end of the commercial break, and click Select End. Choose Cut Selection. Repeat these steps for multiple breaks as needed. Choose Save As, and export the edited video as an MPEG Program Stream.
You now have a perfect copy of the original TiVo video, without any commercials. The free Videora iPod Converter will compress the video for playback on an iPod. Click the Convert button and the Video File tab. Pick Normal Mode, and follow the prompts to select the ad-free show. Set the quality level, and begin processing. When Videora is finished, it will have automatically added the file to your iTunes library.
Rip a Music CD With Pristine Fidelity
If the thought of losing any music quality makes you squirm, use a lossless format to copy CDs to your PC and music player.
During compression, MP3s and other condensed files lose some clarity.
In iTunes, you'll want to use the Apple Lossless codec: First choose Edit, Preferences, click the Advanced tab, and click the Importing tab. Then choose Apple Lossless Encoder from the pop-up menu, and click OK. Henceforth, all of your CD imports will be copied in Apple Lossless format, and they'll sound as crisp as they did the moment they were mastered.
In Windows Media Player, the appropriate codec to use is Windows Media Audio Lossless. To specify this format, right-click the Rip tab and choose More Options. Then change the selected entry in the
Record Music From Internet Radio
Internet radio stations easily trump terrestrial radio broadcasts, with virtually limitless listening choices and (depending on your broadband connection) perfect, antenna-free quality. With the right tools, you can record those broadcasts, too, slurping songs into a folder on your hard drive as easily as people used to record FM signals to tape in the 1980s.
Though it has a complicated interface, Radiotracker Premium ($25) gives you an impressive number of ways to record and cut songs from multiple stations automatically and simultaneously. (The $37 Platinum version even searches for specific artists and song titles.)
Launch Radiotracker, and click the Stations button. Browse the vast list of genres, or start typing the name of a favorite broadcaster. (To quickly find SOMA FM stations, for example,
In the main interface, uncheck the Genre button, and click the Favorites box, leaving only that option selected. Your stations should be listed in the window below. Click Start Autorip to begin recording from all of them at once, assuming that your bandwidth can handle the load. Radiotracker will tally the captured songs in the right side of the program, complete with tags for artist and title.
Radiotracker divides songs based on tags from the stations, which may differ from the actual beginnings and endings of songs by several seconds. This discrepancy can cause Radiotracker to pick up part of the neighboring tune by accident. If necessary, trim the beginning and ending manually by clicking a song and using the Cut button.
Radiotracker doesn't add music to the iTunes library, but you can automate that process by using a free utility called iTunes Folder Watch. Install and open this program, and select the Radiotracker audio folder. As you record Radiotracker songs, iTunes Folder Watch will import them into iTunes.
Convert DRM-Free Files to a Friendlier Format
Most portable media players handle formats beyond MP3. But a car CD player, home DVD player, or other straggling device may play MP3 files exclusively and be unable to handle other compressed audio files. As long as your songs aren't locked into a proprietary DRM format, use this tip to convert them into MP3 files.
In iTunes, choose Edit, Preferences. Click the Advanced tab, and then click the Importing tab within it. Confirm that MP3 Encoder is selected--and while you're there, raise the bit rate to a customized setting of 256 kbps to improve sound fidelity slightly
In Windows Media Player, the procedure is different in its details but produces a similar result. Right-click a song, and pick Send to, Windows Audio Converter. Change the file format from the format listed (probably WMP) to MP3, and boost the quality (that is, the audio bit rate) to 256 kbps. Click Next, and complete your instructions by pressing
Take YouTube Off the Intertubes
The iPod and other portable media players can play movies, but why not YouTube clips, too? Well, the reason is that YouTube normally doesn't play traditional video files for QuickTime and Windows Media. Instead, the site relies on Flash videos that aren't inclined to play outside your browser. Fortunately, two free tools permit you to download and convert such files for playback on an iPod.
Unlike pictures and most types of movies,
Now that you have a copy of the Flash file, use Videora iPod Converter to make the file iPod-ready. Click the Convert button, choose the Video File tab, and click Normal Mode. Click the Select File button, and choose the clip; the Flash file will likely be in My Documents, Downloaded FLV. Click Next three times, and then click Start Converting. Add the finished file to iTunes, and sync it over to your iPod.