The Complete Guide to iPod, iPhone and Apple TV Video Conversion (Windows)
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Converting Standard Digital Video Content
In the context of this article, Standard Digital Video Content refers to the various types of digital content that can be stored on a computer, such as that obtained from web sites and already pre-extracted from DVDs into other non-Apple-ready formats.
Formats that are normally encountered in this category include Quicktime movies (MOV), Windows Media Video (WMV), DivX, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 content, although there are a host of other formats that you may also encounter.
With the exception of content in these formats that may be protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions, the conversion process is relatively straightforward, and there are a number of different tools and methods to handle this process.
The first and most obvious tool for video conversion is iTunes itself. As of iTunes 6.0.2, the option to convert videos into an iPod-ready format from directly within iTunes became available, and this was expanded in iTunes 7.1 to include a preset to convert videos into an Apple TV ready format. Any video that can be imported into iTunes itself can be converted in this manner simply by clicking on it from within the iTunes library and choosing either Convert Selection for iPod or Convert Selection for Apple TV.
Note that these options may not appear in some cases if the target video is already in the selected format, and will definitely not appear for iTunes Store purchased content, as these videos cannot be converted due to the DRM protection on them.
For the most part, iTunes itself can import and play any content that is supported by Apple’s Quicktime application, although it does not necessarily support formats that are only playable via Quicktime plugins, such as WMV or DivX.
Unfortunately, this approach also has some additional limitations: The conversion time is extremely slow compared to third-party options that are available, and if you are converting MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 files with “multiplexed” or “muxed” audio tracks, the resulting iPod and Apple TV format track will have no audio. This second issue is in fact a standard issue with Quicktime itself and affects most of Apple’s video conversion and editing applications. Further, there are no advanced conversion options available when using the iTunes method—iTunes simply converts the track into what it deems is the most appropriate format.
While this method may be fine for the occasional video clip downloaded from the Internet for casual use, users looking to convert any serious content will likely prefer to use another tool for all but the most basic conversion tasks.
|The Great Equalizer - Hardware Encoding If you’re planning to do a lot of video encoding and are using a slower PC, you might want to take a look at a video encoding hardware accessory such as ADC’s Instant Video To-Go unit (see iLounge’s review here), which can accelerate video conversion on just about ANY PC to near real-time performance or better by offloading all of the conversion processing from the PC’s own CPU to this external USB-connected device.|
|Quicktime Pro http://www.apple.com/quicktime Mac, $30|
Even though iTunes uses the Quicktime encoding engine, it does not provide support for importing files that can be rendered with the various Quicktime plug-ins available that provide support for other formats. Formats like WMV and DivX will be flatly refused by iTunes, even if Quicktime itself can handle them.
Since Quicktime is the official Apple solution for video encoding, it is included here for the sake of completeness and a proper comparison. However, with a $30 price tag, very slow encoding performance, and the inability to encode video formats such as MPEG-2 without purchasing additional plug-ins, we feel that Quicktime Pro should not really be somebody’s first choice for video conversion unless they have very specific requirements where it might be of benefit.
To convert videos using Quicktime Pro, simply open them in Quicktime as you normally would. You will see the standard Quicktime playback window, and from here you can preview or do basic editing on the video.
You can export a Quicktime video simply by choosing File, Export, which will prompt you for a location to save the resulting file and a format to export it to:
From the list of formats, you can choose presets such as Movie to iPod, Movie to iPhone, or Movie to Apple TV.
Note also the Movie to iPhone (Cellular) option. This produces a smaller format 3GP video file in 176 x 132 resolution at 80kbps suitable for streaming or downloading across an EDGE connection. As an added bonus, the resulting 3GP file can be played on most other phones that support video playback.
The performance of Quicktime is nothing short of abysmal when compared to the other options out there, especially considering its $30 price tag, and the bottom line is that this performance will probably be unacceptable for all but the shortest video clips.
Also keep in mind that Quicktime Pro, even with the separately-purchased MPEG-2 Playback Component from Apple, will still not render multiplexed MPEG-2 audio output properly, meaning that such files will be lacking an audio track. Since this is the standard audio configuration used by most commercial DVDs, this makes Quicktime Pro completely unsuitable for converting ripped DVD content.
|Videora Apple TV Converter http://www.videora.com Windows, Free|
Since the release of the original 5G iPod in the fall of 2005, Videora has been one of the more ubiquitous conversion tools available. While the full version of Videora is a commercial application, they offer a basic “Videora iPod Converter” package which converts videos for the iPod easily, and now a “Videora Apple TV Converter” package which provides support for the higher-resolution video formats available on the Apple TV. The Apple TV version will handle both iPod and Apple TV conversion in one package, making the separate “Videora iPod Converter” package redundant.
As a free application, Videora tends to be a bit ad-heavy, particularly in wizard mode, but it does the actual conversion job reasonably well once you get it going. You can choose to run it either in an unattended “wizard” mode or customize the settings manually to get access to more advanced encoding options.
The automated “wizard” mode is extremely simple, requiring you to do little more than select the source file, select a name of the output file, and then hit the “Start Converting” button.
Videora will simply begin converting the selected file into a standard iPod-ready 640x480 video at an average 1000 kbps bit-rate by default, although this can be customized in the application settings.
Users wanting more control over their video conversion options can select the “Current Conversion” tab, which will reveal the ability to queue up multiple videos and select different conversion profiles.
The predefined profiles provide encoding using either H.264 or MPEG4 codecs, at either 320x240 (QVGA) or 640x480 (VGA) for the iPod, at a variety of different bit-rates, and with the option for two-pass encoding, which will select an optimal variable bit-rate based on a first analysis pass through the video:
To encode videos in higher resolutions specifically for the Apple TV, select “Apple TV” from the Device pull-down, and the video profile list will change to reflect profiles specific to the Apple TV, allowing for encoding in resolutions up to 1280x720 (720p HD):
If more advanced customization is desired, the “Settings” screen provides the ability to set default profiles for both the queue and one-click conversion modes, as well as create additional customized profiles:
To create a customized profile, simply click “New Profile,” ensuring that you have also selected the appropriate device you are creating the profile for. In the initial screen, you can give the profile a name, and select your encoder:
Most of the other relevant settings can be found on the “Video” tab, which contains several sub-tabs for general and advanced video settings. The first “General” tab allows you to specify the video codec to be used, as well as which profile to use in the case of the H.264 codec. The Baseline Level 1.3 profile is for 320x240 iPod videos, while the Baseline Level 3 profile is used to produce 640x480 iPod videos. If you are creating or editing a profile for the Apple TV, your options will also include the Baseline Level 3.1 profile and the H.264 Main profile.
You can further specify bitrate, framerate, aspect ratio, and input and output resolutions on this first screen.
The second tab, “General 2” provides cropping and padding settings. Cropping will allow you to trim the video to either change the aspect ratio or remove “hard letterboxing.” Padding is used to do the reverse, and can actually create a hard letterboxed video if you so desire (by padding the black bars into the top and bottom of a 16:9 video, for example).
Although these advanced settings in Videora can be used to push video encoding to higher resolutions for the Apple TV, Videora does not, however, support anamorphic encoding, nor will it push a video file’s resolution beyond that of the source file—so a DVD clip will still be set to a maximum of 720x480, for example.
|Roxio Crunch http://www.roxio.com Windows|
Another solution on the commercial software front is Roxio’s Crunch for Windows. Originally released as a Mac application, Roxio has recently ported this tool to Windows, and it offers a number of conversion options, including presets for Apple TV and iPhone, as well as for the iPod.
While Roxio Crunch is also capable of converting unprotected DVDs, this is not necessarily its primary feature, particularly since most users will not have a lot of non-copy-protected DVD content to convert. As a general video conversion tool, however, Crunch does a reasonable job, with a better user interface and options from some of the alternatives.
The conversion process itself is extremely simple: Select your videos for conversion, either from a file or by selecting a (non-copy-protected) DVD, selecting the appropriate preset, choosing whether to save to a file or import directly into iTunes, and then clicking the button in the top-right corner, which will be labelled either “Save As” (if saving to a file), or “Copy” (if importing to iTunes).
As mentioned, content can also be opened from a non-copy-protected DVD source, with an integrated browser for specific DVD titles. Attempting to do this with a copy-protected DVD, however, will show a small padlock symbol over the images of any protected titles:
This can also be observed by selecting the DVD properties:
The presets available include options for the Apple TV, iPhone and iPod, at various quality levels and speeds, and limited custom presets can also be defined:
The presets labeled “Fastest” provide MPEG-4 encoding, while the others encode using the H.264 codec.
The only particular oddity in the current version of Crunch is their choice of resolutions for the various presets. The “Apple TV High” preset, for example, encodes at 320x240—a resolution completely unsuitable for viewing on an Apple TV, and therefore the “Apple TV Highest” at 960x540 needs to be used to produce realistic results. There also appears to be no support for true anamorphic encoding.
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