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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Home Movies

The final type of content that many people will be converting involves home video content, either from a digital camcorder or older analog video tape.

DVD Home Movies

Naturally, if your home movies are on DVD, the conversion process for these is essentially the same as the process for commercial DVDs discussed at the beginning of this article.  Tools such as Handbrake or MacTheRipper can be useful at extracting this DVD content into a more usable format. While your own home movie DVDs will not likely be protected by CSS encryption, the normal layout of a DVD may make specific VOB files difficult to locate on the DVD, and longer content may even be split up into separate VOB files. Handbrake and MacTheRipper can both sort this out by ripping content based on title and chapter, saving you the trouble of having to wander through your VIDEO_TS folder for the right VOB file.

VHS Home Movies

For older VHS video tapes, the conversion process will generally require a video capture device to digitize the analog signal from your VCR into your Mac. Many of the Elgato EyeTV-compatible devices can be used for this purpose, and in fact if using a device with built-in MPEG-2 compression such as the EyeTV 250 or Miglia TVMax, EyeTV actually offers a “VHS Assistant” that will take you through the steps of connecting your VCR and recording content into your Mac. Since EyeTV is bundled with most Mac video capture devices, this is the logical choice for converting old VHS tapes into your iTunes library.

This option can be found under the “Help” menu in EyeTV, and will present a step-by-step wizard to guide you through the process of connecting your VCR and starting the recording.

The initial dialog box asks you to give the recording a name and specify an approximate duration. The duration setting is used to provide an estimate of the disk space required by the EyeTV recording (not necessarily the disk space used by the converted file), and provide an option to auto-stop the recording at the end of this time interval.

The next dialog box will provide a preview window and a choice of input selection (for hardware devices with more than one video input). Selecting the appropriate input should display the output from your VCR.


The third step allows you to confirm that your audio cables are connected properly:


The next step prompts you to start the recording process. You can choose whether or not you want EyeTV to automatically stop recording after the preset time that was specified in step one, and then just click the big red button to start the recording process.


The button will change to a blue “Stop Recording” button that can be used to stop the recording at any time. Once the recording has been stopped, the “Continue” button should become available to allow you to move on to the next step and decide what to do with the resulting video:


From this last step, you can choose to burn a DVD using either iDVD or Toast (if installed) or export your video to iPod-ready format. The iPod export will use whatever preset has been specified under EyeTV’s preferences. Clicking “Finish” will show the new entry in your recordings listing and the conversion process will begin:


When the conversion completes, the resulting video will be added to iTunes, ready for transfer.

Although you’ll note that this method does not offer an “Apple TV” export option, since we are recording analog content from VHS video tapes, the higher quality and resolution settings offered by the Apple TV would be of little to no benefit. With the EyeTV preferences set to “Best” iPod quality, the “iPod” export setting in this case will produce the best possibly quality of video for the source material: a 640x480 1500 kbps H.264 video file that will be playable on the iPod, iPhone and Apple TV.

Digital Camcorder Home Movies

Converting home movies from most digital camcorders is best accomplished through Apple's iMovie HD application included in iLife '06. For any digital camcorder that uses a FireWire connection and records video in Digital Video (DV) format, the iMovie process is incredibly simple -- simply connect your digital camcorder to your computer, open iMovie HD, and click the "Import" button that is displayed in the video frame:

iMovie offers a number of advanced video editing features, including transition effects, sound effects, titling, editing, etc. These are all well beyond the scope of this particular article, and there are many useful tutorials and handbooks available already on getting the most out of the iMovie HD software.

Once you’ve imported your video into iMovie HD and edited it to your liking, simply select the “Share” menu to export it for iPod, iPhone or Apple TV use:

One very important point to note here, however: The “iPod” preset in iMovie will create a 320x240 video, as shown in the dialog box that comes up when selecting “iPod” as the format preset:

Unfortunately, iMovie does not provide any additional default presets for higher-resolution iPod, iPhone or Apple TV formats, but these can easily be accessed through the “Quicktime” export tab in the same dialog box:

Simply choose “Expert Settings” from the “Compress Movie for” menu, and click the “Share” button. You will be presented with the Quicktime export dialog (similar to the one found in Quicktime Pro discussed earlier in this article), and can then specify any of the standard Quicktime presets:

Since iMovie uses the underlying Quicktime engine, conversion times will be quite slow compared to using other solutions. Fortunately, the turbo.264 is supported for this form of encoding as well, and users looking to encode a lot of home video content may want to consider this. Bear in mind also that since the original stream from a digital camcorder is usually DV, it is generally more efficient in terms of both time and resulting quality to allow Quicktime to encode this directly to H.264 rather than using an intermediate format such as MPEG-2 and another third-party tool.

It should also be noted that some newer digital camcorders, particularly models that use internal hard drives or DVD media, actually now store videos in MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 format directly. When converting videos from these formats, the standalone conversion tools discussed earlier can easily be used in lieu of iMovie, unless the advanced video editing features of iMovie are also desired.

Getting it all sorted out

Once your videos are converted and imported into your iTunes library, the next step is to tag and catalog them. This is particularly important for TV shows, which also require fields such as show name and other episode information to be completed before they will properly display in the “TV Shows” section on the iPod or Apple TV. Some tools such as EyeTV and TiVoDecodeManager handle this for you, which in other cases you’ll simply end up with an untagged file in your “Movies” section in iTunes.

Our Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos provides detail on the best way to get your video content tagged, sorted, and synchronized properly to your portable device or Apple TV.


With Apple’s new line of consumer media devices, the number of options and conversion tools continues to evolve. We have already noticed some very significant changes in the number of products and tools available since the first fifth-generation iPod was released almost two years ago, and the newer devices such as the iPhone and Apple TV have created additional challenges for third-party software developers to keep up with the different resolutions and encoding formats that are now available.

This article is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to every single possible tool available, but simply to provide some information on the more popular tools that are used for the various types of content and video conversion projects and provide some guidelines on the methods for obtaining the best results from these.

In our next article, we will be covering the tools and options available to Windows users for converting video from various sources into an Apple-ready format.


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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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