The Complete Guide to iPod, iPhone and Apple TV Video Conversion (Mac) | iLounge Article


The Complete Guide to iPod, iPhone and Apple TV Video Conversion (Mac)

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Recorded TV Content

Another type of content that many iPod and Apple TV users will want to convert is content recorded from broadcast television sources, such as over-the-air, cable, and satellite programming.

This content can come from a digital video recording software installed directly onto a Mac, or from an external DVR such as a Tivo, and there are solutions that allow for the handling of either.

EyeTV Mac, bundled with many TV Capture Devices by Elgato and others

EyeTV is probably the most popular solution for recording TV content on a Mac. The software itself normally comes bundled with a TV hardware device from companies such as Elgato, Miglia and others, and these TV hardware devices vary in design from being able to capture standard over-the-air analog TV content right through to digital and HDTV capture devices.  The content you are able to record will therefore be dependent upon the hardware itself, rather than the EyeTV software.


Presently, EyeTV includes presets for conversion to Apple TV and three iPod formats: 640x480 H.264, 320x240 H.264, and 320x240 MPEG4. Conversion to an iPhone-specific resolution is not supported at this time, although of course 640x480 iPod videos will work fine on the iPhone. The choice of iPod preset is selected in the EyeTV preferences, and all other “iPod” conversion operations will simply use this preset.


Unfortunately, the fact that this is a global setting means that it is not possible to have different videos encoded using different iPod formats in a single conversion operation.

Once the EyeTV software has been installed and configured along with your choice of video capture device, you’re ready to start recording and converting content. If you live in one of the countries with an online TV guide service that is supported by EyeTV, you can schedule recordings simply by selecting them from the program guide.


Selecting a show from the online TV guide will have the advantage of ensuring that the particulars of a given recording are already filled in for you, and as an added bonus these will be added to the tags of the destination video file so that when it’s converted and added to iTunes it will be properly labeled and catalogued with at least the basic show, episode title, and description information.

You can also schedule recordings manually, but would of course need to fill in any program information yourself:


When scheduling a recording, you can also tell EyeTV to export to an iPod or Apple TV format immediately after it finishes the recording. The converted video will also be automatically imported into iTunes with the correct name, description and show tags filled in from the TV guide information, ready to be synced to your Apple device.

A summary of scheduled recordings is shown on the “Schedule” listing, and from here the various automatic export options can also be reviewed and changed simply by clicking the in-line drop down menus:


From the recordings listing, videos can also be converted to iPod or Apple TV format simply by selecting the videos you wish to convert, and clicking either the iPod or Apple TV buttons found at the top of the screen:


Conversion of the selected recordings will begin in sequence and progress will be indicated in the main recordings window:


As with scheduled conversion, once the conversion has completed, the converted files will be automatically added to iTunes with the correct tag information taken from the recordings themselves.

Naturally, EyeTV also supports Elgato’s own turbo.264 hardware accelerator, and will simply use it if its connected when starting EyeTV. You can tell the turbo.264 is being used by the red-colored progress bar in the conversion summary and the four throbbing dots that appear immediately beneath it:


Note that if you did not fill in the program information when originally scheduling a recording, or you want to edit it for some reason, EyeTV also allows you to do this simply by highlighting the recording and choosing the “Info” button, which will bring up a summary of the recording information. The “Edit Info” button shown will bring up a dialog box that will allow you to edit or fill in the show name, episode name, and description.


One final useful feature in EyeTV that is worth mentioning: If you prefer to record video for archival purposes, you may want to remove the commercials from the video clips before converting them for your iTunes library. In addition to the obvious benefit of not having to watch or skip through commercials, this will also result in more efficient file storage, since commercials generally account for about 25%-30% of most TV shows. The good news is that EyeTV makes this relatively simple, although of course you won’t be able to take advantage of automatically scheduled conversions if you want to do this (since the process requires manual editing of the recording prior to conversion).

To edit a recording, simply right-click on it in the source list, and choose the “Edit” option. You will be presented with a preview window of the video clip in question, with a navigation drawer at the bottom of the screen:


From this window, you simply mark the beginning and end points of the sections that you want to trim out of the recording. The frame preview can be set to either “Normal” mode which provides a preview clip at major breaks in the recording, or “Fine” mode which will provide a filmstrip view approximately every two frames. The slider is simply positioned with the mouse, and the large button in the bottom centre is used to add markers for in and out points which can then be dragged around the navigation bar.

Simply mark the sections you want to remove from the video, and then choose “Compact” from the drop-down menu in the bottom-right corner. EyeTV will compact the video clip to remove the marked portions, a process that should take no more than a few minutes. Once this has been done, you can then convert the video as you normally would, and have a nice compact commercial-free version in your iTunes library.

What of EyeTV’s conversion performance?  Obviously if using a turbo.264, the conversion performance will be in line with the numbers quoted for Quicktime above—near real-time. Fortunately, even without the turbo.264, EyeTV’s conversion process is significantly better than Quicktime’s. For the comparison chart below, a similar 90-minute video clip was used, but in this case a clip recorded from TV—a two-hour movie with the commercials removed:


It should be noted that EyeTV does support additional export formats, and in fact the internal EyeTV recordings are stored natively in an MPEG-2 format. If more advanced video encoding is desired, the File, Export menu can be used to export an EyeTV recording using the “MPEG Program Stream” setting, which will simply export the standard MPEG-2 video file that can then be fed into a standalone video conversion tool such as MEPG Streamclip or iSquint.

TiVoDecode Manager Mac, Free

For TiVo Series 2 owners, there are now some third-party options also available for the conversion of video content recorded on your TiVo via the TiVoToGo technology. TiVoDecode Manager is a free application that will quickly search out the TiVo devices on your network, provide a listing of the content stored on them, and provide a quick one-click conversion of selected content, including direct import of the converted files into iTunes, properly tagged with information from the TiVo.


To download and convert content from your TiVo, simply select the appropriate show, and click the “Download & Decode Show” button. The application will transfer the video content from your TiVo, convert it into a standard iPod-ready format, and import it into your iTunes library, properly tagged.

More advanced users can click the “Prefs” button found in the bottom-right corner of the main window. This will present a drawer that will allow you to select an output destination, specific format options, and whether or not you want the resulting file to be imported into iTunes:


The “Download Format” options include native MPEG-2 (download the file and save it with no conversion), Quicktime MPEG-4 for iPod (640x480 MPEG-4 at 1800kbps), and Quicktime MPEG-4 with customized settings, which will allow you to specify your own resolution and bit-rate.

It is important to note at this point that TiVoDecode manager supports only the MPEG-4 codec, and not the more efficient H.264 codec. This will generally result in converted files that are about 50% larger than comparable files created with a proper H.264 codec, and in fact will not necessarily take advantage of the Apple TV’s maximum resolution, which is optimized for H.264. However, since the maximum quality output you will get from a TiVo Series 2 is 640x480, this should not be a significant issue in real-world use.

It’s also important to note that Series 2 TiVo’s will record programs at odd resolutions by default: 352x480 and 480x480 being typical. You will need to set your TiVo to the “High” or “Best” quality settings to take full advantage of the default “iPod” setting in TiVoDecodeManager.

For those users who would prefer their TiVo content be H.264 encoded for whatever reason, or would like to take advantage of more advanced processing settings, the native MPEG-2 download format can be used to simply create a raw MPEG-2 file that can be fed back in to a standalone video conversion tool such as MPEG Streamclip or iSquint for further processing.

Converting from other DVR devices and Digital Receivers

Unfortunately, unlike the TiVoToGo technology, most other cable and satellite receivers and DVR devices do not provide any software or hardware solutions to actually facilitate the encoding or conversion of content from them.

EyeTV, discussed above, has recently added the ability to control an external cable box or receiver using an infrared transmitter, which can allow access to digital cable and satellite channels that are otherwise not accessible from a standard TV capture/tuner device. Unfortunately, as the connection and outputs from most cable boxes into your Mac will still be analog rather than digital, this would not be a solution for capturing high-definition content, but it can be a useful way of recording content from premium channels provided by your cable or satellite provider.

Another method that can work for the more adventurous Mac user is to simply connect a FireWire cable to your DVR or cable/satellite receiver. Most newer receivers have FireWire ports, although not all providers have enabled output through these ports. If these ports are in fact enabled, what you will generally get from them is an MPEG2 Transport Stream (MPEG2-TS) that can be captured by your computer with the right software.

Unfortunately, the lack of simple packaged tools that are available for this and the time and disk space required mean that this isn’t a canned “just works” solution for the average user. However, if you’re comfortable working with your computer and want to invest some time in getting it to work, it can certainly be accomplished, and isn’t an unreasonable solution.

Essentially, in this case, you would have to record and encode the content onto your computer first, either from a live stream or a pre-recorded show from your DVR, in much the same way as you would from a FireWire video camera. You could then take the resulting MPEG-2 stream and convert it into an iPod or Apple TV ready format, using a tool such as MPEG Streamclip discussed earlier.

The stream that comes out of the FireWire port on a cable or satellite receiver is the same raw MPEG-2 Transport Stream (MPEG2-TS) that is being received by the cable/satellite receiver itself. Unfortunately, normal video capture protocols that are used for camcorders do not normally work with cable/satellite receivers and MPEG2-TS streams, so you would need to obtain a software package that can specifically record this stream.

Apple provides some rudimentary tools that can be used to do this as part of the FireWire SDK available from the Apple Developer Connection site, although a free basic membership registration is required to download it. The AVCVideoCap and VirtualDVHS tools in this package should be all you need to get started.


The main advantage of this approach is that high-definition channels (HDTV) can be captured in their full 720p or 1080i resolution. Note however that channels that are encrypted by the provider will not generally be available via the FireWire port on the receiver, and many cable and satellite companies do transmit their premium channels in an encrypted form. Since the stream from the FireWire port is a raw transmission of what is coming in from the cable or satellite, any encryption on this stream will remain in place. The result of this is that while this method can be made to work somewhat smoothly for non-encrypted content, whether it is even practical or not will depend on the content you’re looking to record/convert.

Page four: Converting Home Movies…

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Wonderful explanation of complex situation, thank you!

but ... you missed one very valuable tool: it is easy to record CATV shows via the firewire connection with Ammesset Software’s freeware iRecord ( it turns your mac into a DVR, for pre-set timed recording of full definition Mpeg2 .ts files, including HDTV shows from your cablebox. then you covert it to the compressed file format of your choice with MpegStreamclip or other program and add to iTunes.

and what we need the most is for Elegato or someone else to produce a Turbo hardware converter that supports full HDTV, up to 1080p (720p at least as a good compromise). HDTV files of course take the longest to compress, by far. This is the future.

Posted by Alfiejr on July 16, 2007 at 10:56 PM (CDT)


Thank you for your comments and feedback.

We have looked at iRecord in the past, but unfortunately, our own experiences with it indicate that it does not work reliably with all hardware. 

Further, it is very much in beta form (being a 0.4 version), is not a universal binary, and has not been updated by the author in almost two years.

The pre-release version that is presently available from the author’s site has made some progress but still needs a great deal of work yet based on our own obserations.

It is certainly our hope that the author of iRecord will continue to actively update this product or that some other similar tool will become available to fill this gap.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on July 17, 2007 at 6:51 AM (CDT)


In handbrake there are presets for iphone and apple tv.  What if I want to create a video file that will be compatible with apple tv and iphone?  I currently use the apple tv preset but then the video won’t seem to transfer to my iphone.

Any help would be appreciated!  Thanks!

Posted by hobart on April 12, 2008 at 10:25 PM (CDT)


Seconding Hobart’s query. I’m looking to figure out a solution that will result in the best possible quality for my 20” iMac, while still being iPod touch compatible.  Currently I’m pretty comfortable with the quality of Divx files (at 700MB per hour average) on the desktop, but obviously not iPod compatible, and I’d rather not have the iPod file seperate… Any specific suggestions?

Posted by Brad on May 15, 2008 at 12:03 PM (CDT)


I also came here hoping to find an answer to the “compress once for all devices” debate.  Before I got a video i-pod, I had started ripping all of my DVD’s using the Handbrake Apple-TV preset, only to find out that these files wont play on my I-pod nano.  Currently I’m resorting to a custom Handbrake setting using the I-Pod (H.264 ipod) encoder, but setting the Bit rate to 2500 to keep quality high for when I eventually buy Apple TV - or whatever comes next.  Any other suggestions are greatly appreciated.  Compressing twice for different devices seems ridiculous.

Posted by Brian on May 17, 2008 at 10:06 PM (CDT)


I have successfully ripped DVDs using HandBrake and are able to watch them in Tunes but the movies aren’t transferring to my video ipod.  I’ve tried several times and am able to transfer itunes purchased movies so it works in general.  Am I missing any steps to make this work?

Posted by Kurt on August 20, 2008 at 2:30 PM (CDT)


I am confused which program to use, I have several avi, mpg movies that I can watch on my Ipod Touch 2G which program should I use and which preset?

Posted by David on September 29, 2008 at 12:24 AM (CDT)


So how is Apple encoding video for the iTunes store? I only download one video from the store and it plays on the Apple TV or the iPhone equally well.

Posted by Terry on November 15, 2008 at 3:16 AM (CST)


I record to DVD-R from TV then convert for my iPod Classic and iPhone.  Videora worked OK for awhile, but does not deliver outstanding looking files at the top settings my devices can handle. I’d love to be able to watch this stuff on a TV.  Is that just what I have to live with?  Only looking good on tiny screens? I’ve tried other converters and they are even worse.  Will my DVD-R’s ever look good when converted to play on a TV?

Posted by george on November 26, 2008 at 9:24 AM (CST)


Even when I’ve downloaded the 32-bit version handbrake 9.4 (the only version offered) for OS 10.5, it still gives me an error message that VLC is 32-bit, but handbrake is 64. VLC isn’t yet offering a 64-bit version. Can’t seem to track down the 0.8.5 version.

Posted by Nedlog on January 24, 2010 at 6:45 PM (CST)


If I use Handbrake to encode a USA DVD for an Ipod Classic or Touch, will it play thru “TV out” (with the Apple Cable), to a UK TV set if the Ipod out is set to “Pal”?

I wish to play my Ipod videos on a larger screen while in the UK this summer.

Posted by Ernie Wilson on January 27, 2010 at 7:16 PM (CST)


I’ve found the quality is terrible on all of these Handbrake, Streamclip.
I’m not sure why, but you left out the very best way to rip a DVD on a mac.  I’ve found this product to be much easier than any of the software mentioned.  It’s called DVDxDV and it’s all I use now.

Posted by Jhover on October 16, 2011 at 1:23 PM (CDT)


@12, Yes, it may cause quality loss problem on Handbrake,Streamclip,etc. But I finally found the one without this problem. It is kvisoft video converter for mac. It’s kind of all-in-one converter.I can use it to rip and burn CD/DVD, plus converting videos from one formt to others. I am hapy to share with people.

Posted by Kalitree on March 14, 2013 at 2:24 AM (CDT)

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