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Beyond iTunes: Getting Video to the iPod

By Donald Baker MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jun 1, 2007 4:00 AM PT

iTunes may have a great selection of videos for sale, but consumers will always want more. Transferring supported media to the device is a very simple task -- just drag the files into iTunes, hit Sync and it's there.

Beyond iTunes: Getting Video to the iPod

However, a problem arises when you want to watch media not produced in MPEG4 format, the format favored by the iPod. Fortunately, there are several applications that allow the conversion of nearly any video to satisfy the insatiable urge to devour every TV show and movie you own with your iPod.

Free Stuff

The desire to get video to such a popular device should be so widespread that there must be a few freebies out there that will do the job, right? There are, but remember: You get what you pay for.

TiVo owners may find TiVo2Go helpful. TiVo2Go is a free program found on the TiVo Web site. If your TiVo and your computer are connected to the Internet, you can transfer shows from the DVR to your hard drive. The program even has automation features that will instantly begin downloading a selected show every time a new episode is recorded.

The files are stored in an encrypted MPEG2 format, making them pretty difficult for most third-party conversion apps to crack. They can be played as video files on the user's own computer. The catch is that these MPEG2s won't just play on an iPod; unencrypting and converting them to an iPod-friendly MPEG4 file requires the premium version of TiVo2Go, which costs US$25. The premium version can also convert to PlayStation Portable formats as well as those supported by certain smartphones. The conversion process is also automated, meaning a user can set up the system to have MPEG4 files ready to drop into iTunes shortly after they're recorded on TiVo without having to do a thing.

Even the premium service has its shortcomings. The conversion process is a real resource hog if you have even a slightly old computer -- don't expect to do much multitasking when it's busy. On the other hand, if you have a new computer running Windows Vista, the program won't work. Once a user has purchased the $25 unlock code for the premium version of the application, the controls to begin converting to MPEG4 are not easy to find. Several frustrating minutes may be spent hunting around the menu controls.

Buying the premium version isn't always necessary, though. Once a video file has made it to one's hard drive, via TiVo2Go's free program or any other means, it can be converted with Videora iPod Converter, an impressive piece of software with many of the options of its shareware counterparts. Be forewarned -- it is completely filled with ads that talk incessantly. I nearly ripped all my hair out while converting files to test it. It has a video wizard, which makes converting videos a breeze for those who are unsure of what quality and options they want. It is also compatible with many formats, including the non-premium TiVo2Go files. The speed is impressive, but not astounding. If you think saving the money now is worth the hours of therapy ahead, this is a great choice. Overall I consider this software very impressive. If not for the ads, I would choose this as my favorite.

For those who absolutely must have the latest episode of "Heroes" on their iPods, but are not willing to deal with the huge amount of advertisements included with Videora iPod Converter, I would suggest DirectShow Dump. This program converts the TiVo2Go files to a much easier to handle MPEG2 format. Of course this will not play on your iPod, but the conversion to MPEG4 format is easily performed by your favorite converting program. This process requires two conversions, so expect to wait a while.

Shareware Solutions

Avex DVD to iPod Video Suite is a fairly straightforward program with many features. The video encoding options are impressive. It is capable of encoding video with H264 compression, which decreases the size of the video file while maintaining the desired quality. This software is capable of converting MPEG, Windows Media, AVI, Real player and DVDs to the MPEG4 format playable on the iPod. While this does cover many of the most common formats, it certainly could use a few additions, like QuickTime movies and TiVo2Go's MPEGs. This software is $45 if you decide to purchase it.

M2 Convert for iPod is also rather simple. The first thing you may notice is a rather slim user interface. It appears aesthetics were not the designer's main focus. It does support many more formats than Avex DVD to iPod Video Suite, but it still lacks TiVo2Go compatibility. H264 is supported and the quality of video can be easily adjusted. This software seems a bit slower than Avex's solution to the conversion problem. Priced at $30, it is a little cheaper.

Xilisoft iPod Video Converter 3 has the benefits of all the features of M2 Convert for iPod without the speed decrease. This software is capable of converting almost any video you can find at blazing speeds. The converter supports the essential H264 format. It also has a sleek user interface with a breathtaking number of options. Unfortunately, this application does not support TiVo2Go either. Despite the lack of TiVo support and its silly name, I would suggest this product for converting your videos for your iPod. This software is also $30 -- a modest price considering its ease of use and capabilities.

Converting Like a Pro

These programs offer a wide variety of options that can become rather confusing. If conserving drive space is a high priority, consider using 320 x 240 resolution. It is unlikely that you will notice the difference on the iPod, and it creates a very small file. This is especially important for DVDs, which can run for hours and create massive files. If your iPod happens to have the larger hard drive and never seem to fill it, go ahead and choose the 640x480 resolution. Bit rate should be around 1,200. Again, this will change little of your experience while saving quite a bit in disc space. H264 compression will help a great deal.

When it comes to audio, do not get anything less than 96 Kbit/sec, though 128 Kbit/sec is preferred. Audio is a very small portion of your video, but any downgrade is likely to stand out. Be sure to select two channel or stereo as well. Bad audio could easily have you deleting your hard-earned work and starting over.

Splitting a file can be very useful for many applications, such as splitting a DVD to fit on multiple CDs. The MPEG4 format has a much better compression than DVD, with a dramatic scale down in resolution. This is unlikely to ever be a problem with the large hard drives on today's iPods. Most users will likely ignore this feature.

By optimizing your movies for the iPod you can drastically decrease the lengthy process of conversion. While staring at the desk waiting for your favorite movies to convert, remember that MPEG4 is an amazing format with great compression. If Apple chose the old MPEG2 format instead, you would be lucky to fit half as much video on your favorite portable device.

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