The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos
In late 2005, Apple added video capabilities to the fifth-generation iPod - a long-awaited step for the world’s most popular music player. But with this change came a need for iTunes to manage video content, especially videos that users added by themselves rather than downloading from Apple’s international iTunes Stores. The problem was, and is, simple: many iPod owners outside the United States still have somewhat limited access to Apple-provided video content, so the best way to get video for your iPod or iOS device is to download it through the Internet, or transfer it into the appropriate format from other files already on your computer. Just like downloaded or self-ripped music, these videos don’t always arrive properly labeled in iTunes, so you’ll have to do that yourself.
Apple first added the ability to play videos to version 4.8 of iTunes, however it took until iTunes 6 - the one released with the fifth-generation iPod - for the company to segregate different types of videos into different categories such as TV Shows, Movies, and Music Videos, and until iTunes 7 to allow users to even begin to do the same. Even then, it wasn’t until the release of iTunes 8 that users were finally able to batch tag video files and edit description information. iTunes 9 further expanded the synchronization options for managing your video content on your iPod, iPhone or iPad. Our Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos is here to help you take advantage of iTunes’ video management tools so that you can make your video library as easy to browse as your music library.
Importing video files into iTunes should be simple: any video file should just work when you drop it into your library. But that’s not the case: iTunes plays only some of the many different types of video files out there, and the video-capable iPod and iOS devices play even fewer natively - the ones in MPEG-4 or H.264 file formats. So getting video content into iTunes is your first challenge, and then, if necessary, readying it for your iPod or iOS device is your second challenge.
By Apple design, the most obvious source of iTunes- and iOS-ready content is the iTunes Store, which offers fully compatible video files at prices ranging from $1.99 for TV shows to $14.99 for new movie releases. With the popularity of Apple’s media devices, many other sites laso now offer free content in a guaranteed iOS-ready format. These are the simplest solutions if you’re looking to load up your iTunes library with videos; they require little or no special work on your part to work on the iPod.
Other types of video content - certain other Internet video files, and DVDs you’re legally allowed to rip - must first be converted into an iTunes-recognized video format before they can be imported into your iTunes library. We have published a number of Tutorials on how to accomplish this, and listed them below. For additional assistance, our TV & Videos Forum in the iLounge Discussion Forums contains discussion and tips from other users on the tools they’ve used to convert videos for the iPod.
While iTunes can import and play almost any type of video content provided the appropriate plug-ins are installed, it is important to note once again that your iPod and iOS devices do not support extended media formats. Specific details on formats supported by the iPod can be found in our Tutorial, The Complete Guide to iPod Video Formats and Display Resolutions. If you don’t want all the technical details, there’s some good news.
iTunes has the limited ability to convert virtually any file it can play itself into a format that your iPod or iOS device can play too. To do this, simply select the video file in question, and either right-click on it, or use the top-of-screen menu to select Advanced, then Create iPod or iPhone version. This converts the video in question into an H.264 format playable by the iPod, at a maximum resolution of 640 X 480. A similar option, Create iPad or Apple TV version can be used to create higher resolution videos that are compatible with the Apple TV, iPad or the iPhone 4/4S and fourth-generation iPod touch while sacrificing compatibility with older iPod and iPhone models. Keep in mind that this option will only be of benefit if you’re dealing with a higher-resolution source video to begin with, however—standard DVDs and recorded TV standard-definition TV shows will not benefit from this higher-quality setting, and all you’ll end up with is a larger file with no increase in quality.
Although the video conversion feature built into iTunes provides a nice simple way to convert content, there are some limitations of this method that are important to keep in mind:
- This method will only convert content that is already IN iTunes. This content must therefore be playable by iTunes itself in order to be converted for your iPod or iOS device.
- Since this method uses an Apple program called QuickTime to perform the conversion, it suffers from the same limitations as QuickTime itself. Most importantly, it cannot convert multiplexed (muxed) MPEG files properly, as described in Apple’s knowledgebase article, iPod plays video but not audio of some exported files.
- The built-in conversion method is slow by comparison to most third-party tools. The amount of time taken will depend upon the original video format, the length of the clip and the speed of the computer, but in one of our tests, a 640 x 480 45-minute Quicktime video (MOV file) took approximately 75 minutes to convert on a 3 GHz Intel Core Duo iMac, as compared to approximately 50 minutes for the same video using a program called Handbrake on the same computer.
- There are no advanced conversion options available, nor really any options for the conversion at all. iTunes simply performs the conversion into what it deems is the most appropriate format, and therefore doesn’t always produce the most efficiently compressed file, resulting in larger than necessary file sizes. While this is generally fine for the occasional video clip grabbed off the Internet, advanced users will definitely prefer to use a third-party tool for all but the most basic video conversion tasks.
The following Tutorials provide more information on converting your videos to an iPod-ready format using other methods and third-party tools.
Video within iTunes is organized into five basic categories. These categories determine how the video content will be organized, and therefore where it will appear within both iTunes and on your iPod, iPhone, iPad or Apple TV.
“Movie” is the default video type, and is most commonly used to identify general-purpose video content, whether self-encoded video clips or feature-length movies. Virtually all new content imported into iTunes will be categorized as “Movie” by default, so you can expect to find within “Movies” any videos that do not fit into one of the other categories. These files are labelled and sorted based simply on the track name itself.
As the name implies, this category is used to identify TV shows. These tracks are found under the “TV Shows” section in both iTunes and on the iPod, iPhone and Apple TV, and are organized by Show Name (ie, “Frasier”), Season Number (ie, “Season 7”) and Episode Name (ie, “Dark Side of the Moon”). They are sorted by Episode Number and Episode ID, or alphabetically if this information is not available.
This category refers to Music Videos. These are organized in the same way as music tracks are—by Artist, Album, and Title. When iTunes 7 was released, Apple decided that music videos are more a part of the music library than the video library and moved them from the separate “Music Videos” section into the main “Music” section alongside the normal music content for each particular artist.
On the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Music Videos can be found listed in the Videos, Music Videos section, organized by Artist. Unlike other types of video content, music videos will also appear alongside the normal music tracks by a particular artist when browsing through your device’s “Music” section. Playing Music Videos from the “Music” menu on a traditional Click Wheel iPod will play the audio portion only.
Podcasts and iTunes U Videos
Video Podcasts are actually classified as “Movies” internally within their file tags, but when they are downloaded as part of a podcast subscription they actually have a media kind of “Podcast” that causes them to be placed in the “Podcasts” section in iTunes and on your iPod or iOS device.
The same holds true with the “iTunes U” content type in iTunes 9 or later. For all intents and purposes, iTunes U content behaves just like Podcasts do. However, older iPod models that don’t specifically support an “iTunes U” category will display these items in the “Music” section for audio episodes or the “Movies” section for video episodes.
Although content purchased from the iTunes Store is almost always properly placed in your library, videos you import yourself are not. As indicated above, newly imported videos start with a Media Kind of “Movie” and are given a title based on the name of the original file. Most often, they’re missing any other sort of data. That means you’ll need to describe the video file properly by yourself - a process called tagging.
iTunes 6 originally provided very limited support for modifying video-related track information. Basically, the appropriate tags for music were present, and a “Video Kind” field was provided to allow for a selection between the three main types of video content. Unfortunately, this did not always work as expected as the additional fields required to catalogue items such as TV shows were not accessible in iTunes 6. Other programs had to be used, and besides being slow, they weren’t always easy to figure out.
Fortunately, later versions of iTunes expanded upon this, presenting several additional options in the “Video” tab for a given video track:
With iTunes 7, the Video tab also included a “Video Kind” field to allow you to specify whether the video was a movie, TV show, or music video. As of iTunes 8 and later, this now appears on the “Options” menu as “Media Kind” and includes the ability to modify the media types for audio tracks as well.
The “Media Kind” field is set by selecting the drop-down menu, and can be set to Movie, Music Video, TV Show, Podcast or iTunes U. This will determine where the video content appears in iTunes and on your device, as described above.
Movies are the most straightforward of the three types in terms of tags. The only required tag for a movie is the “Name” field under the normal track info. Other fields can be filled in as well to assist in organizing the content within iTunes, but these are optional and most are not used in any way by the iPod or iPhone. You might want this additional information if you’re planning to use iTunes or your iPad or Apple TV to access your video content, however.
For example, the “Video” tab includes a Description field which can be filled in with a description of the movie which will appear in iTunes and on the iPad and Apple TV, but is not available on the iPod or iPhone.
On the iPod and iOS devices, Movies are simply listed under the Videos, Movies section in alphabetical order by title. There is no further categorization, and they do not appear in the Music section of the device at all.
Tagging Music Videos
Music Videos are tagged in the same way as music audio tracks. They are organized on your media device by Artist and Title, and both of these fields must be filled in for them to appear properly.
The “Album” field for a Music Video is optional, and will not be used in the Videos app or section on your device. It will however be used to group the music video with the appropriate album when browsing through the music via the Music app or section.
Note that Music Videos do not get their own category in iTunes. When changing a video’s Media Kind to Music Video, the track will no longer appear in the Movies section; it can be found instead in the Music section alongside your normal music tracks.
If you want to get a listing of just your music videos you can create a Smart Playlist to group them. This is discussed in more detail later on.
Tagging TV Shows
TV Shows are more complex to tag properly, as there are a number of additional fields that must be completed in order for them to appear properly on your iPod, iOS device or Apple TV.
On the normal track information tab, the Episode Name should be entered in the “Name” field. The other fields are not always used, although by convention the Artist and Album Artist name normally contain the TV Show (series) name, and the Album field contains the TV Show (series) name and season information, as shown below:
All other references to the TV Show or series name are filled in on the Video tab, along with season and episode information. All TV Shows must have a Show Name entered in this field in order to even appear on fifth-generation iPod models—on the 5G iPod if the Show name is not filled in, the TV show will not appear on the iPod menus, even if the actual episode is physically on the device. Newer video-capable iPod models such as the iPod classic, third-, fourth- and fifth-generation iPod nano and iOS devices do not have this problem, although it is still recommended that you fill in a show name if you want your TV Shows to be organized properly on your device.
Show - This is the title of the show, or series (not the Episode title). This field is essentially mandatory as it is used to group your episodes by show. If it is not filled in the show may not appear properly on your device, and will not appear at all on a fifth-generation iPod.
Season Number - This is the season number for the show. This is used to provide a second level of organization within a TV series. It is not mandatory for the content to appear on the iPod, but can be filled in to help further organize the TV Shows on your device, where they will be sub-categorized by season number. Note that the “Season” sub-menu or heading will only be shown if content from more than one season exists on the device.
Episode Number - This field stores the actual episode number, and is roughly equivalent to the track number for a music track. It can store numeric values only, and is used to determine the order in which episodes appear within a given season. You can find episode numbers on sites like TV.com and Wikipedia.
Episode ID - This field is generally used to store the production ID of a TV Show episode, and will vary depending upon the series in question. It is not a mandatory field, and is provided for reference purposes only. Note that this field can contain both letters and numbers. This field will be used to sort the episodes within a season if the “Episode Number” field is blank.
If both Episode Number and Episode ID fields are left blank, shows will be sorted alphabetically by the episode name.
Note that these fields can be filled in for any video file, but do not actually apply to any Media Kind other than TV Show.
iTunes 8 and later also include a Description field in which you can enter a description for each TV show episode. This field can be accessed from within iTunes, and will appear on the Apple TV and iPad but is not currently used in any way on the iPod or iPhone.
Video content in iTunes also supports artwork—cover images—in much the same way that music tracks do for album artwork. The images are used within iTunes primarily for the grouping, Grid and Cover Flow views and will also be displayed on your device’s menus and on the device’s screen when viewing a video via the TV output. Cover artwork is particularly important for iPad users as it is the only identifying information displayed in the Videos section on the iPad, which oddly excludes any kind of actual text captions for your movies and TV shows on the main selection screen.
The iTunes automatic artwork download feature does not provide any support for video content, so the only way to add artwork to videos that you import yourself is to do it the old fashioned way—go and search the web for an appropriate image and add it to the video track in iTunes via the “Artwork” tab found in Get Info (right click on the file, then select Get Info), or by dragging-and-dropping into the bottom-left-corner artwork box, in the same way that you would for a music track.
In addition to applying an artwork image from an external source, iTunes can also use a frame from within the video as the artwork image. To do this, play back the video in iTunes and pause it on an appropriate frame from within the video. Once an appropriate frame is displayed, simply right-click on the video window and choose “Set Poster Frame,” and the selected frame will be set as the artwork image for that video track.
Once your video content has been properly tagged, the next step is to transfer it to your device for viewing on the go. If you’re using manual synchronization, this is simply a matter of dragging-and-dropping the content onto your device in the same way as you would for music content.
On the other hand, automatic synchronization for the three different types of video content is controlled through the appropriate sync configuration screens that are available in iTunes when your device is connected.
iTunes 9 made some significant changes to the options for automatically syncing video content to your iPod or iPhone, providing additional options for how content is selected for synchronization. For whatever reason, these changes do not apply to the Apple TV synchronization options.
Video Content on the Apple TV
The Apple TV is a special case when it comes to handling video content. Since the Apple TV connects to your iTunes library over a network connection and is generally always on and available on your home network, the content from your entire iTunes library will normally be available on your Apple TV whenever iTunes is running on your computer.
On the first-generation Apple TV you can disable this feature in the Apple TV sync settings in iTunes by selecting “Custom Sync” and choosing the option to “Only show the synced items on my Apple TV.” With this option enabled, only those items that you have actually chosen to sync directly to the Apple TV will be shown on the Apple TV menus.
Note that although the first-generation Apple TV configuration screen does not provide an option for only syncing checked items, any items in your iTunes library that are UNchecked will not be available on the Apple TV regardless of whether you have chosen to sync them or not.
The second-generation Apple TV is purely a streaming device with no sync settings in iTunes; it always shows ALL of your content from your iTunes library. Unchecked items are also still available on the second-generation Apple TV, although they will appear faded out on the Apple TV on-screen content listings.
Synchronizing Music Videos
Synchronization of Music Videos is controlled via the Music sync settings. The setting for music videos is fairly straightforward: you simply choose whether or not you want music videos included on your device.
Since music videos are organized alongside normal music tracks, the actual music videos that you want to sync are selected in the same way that music is selected. If you are synchronizing only selected playlists, artists, albums or genres, only music videos that are in those selected areas will be synchronized. If you are synchronizing “All songs and playlists”, then all music videos will also be included.
Note that DEselecting the “Include Music Videos” option in iTunes will remove all music videos from your device.
Synchronization of Movies is controlled via the “Movies” tab in your device sync settings in iTunes. In older versions of iTunes, the options here differed slightly depending on which type of device you were synchronizing with, however iTunes 9 unified the way these settings behave across all currently supported devices.
The options found here are similar to those used for synchronizing music, and include the ability to synchronize all movies, unwatched movies only, or only selected movies and/or playlists. Note that the playlists section will only appear if your iTunes library contains playlists that include Movies in them, and will only display those specific playlists.
You can also combine these options, allowing you to automatically include recent movies or recent unwatched movies, select additional specific movies and chose to sync movies from a playlist. Syncing to the first-generation Apple TV still uses the older settings that require that you choose either selected movies or selected playlists.
The “All Movies” option will naturally synchronize all of the movies in your iTunes library, although only movies that are checked in iTunes will be synchronized if the “Only Sync Checked Items” setting is enabled. When “All Movies” is selected, the remaining options disappear as they are no longer relevant—you’re syncing everything anyway.
Alternatively, you can choose to synchronize only movies that you have not watched, as determined by the “Play Count” for each movie. This can include ALL unwatched movies, or can be limited to only the 1, 3, 5 or 10 most recently or least recently added unwatched movies. Selecting “unwatched” movies will remove movies from your device on the next synchronization after you have watched them.
Lastly, movies can be synchronized either by individual movie title itself (Selected Movies) and/or by Playlist (Selected Playlists). iTunes will show both a list of movies that you can select from as well as a list of any playlists in your iTunes library that contain movies. For first-generation Apple TV users, the box that appears will change to reflect either a list of movies or a list of playlists, depending upon this setting, much the same way this screen worked for all devices prior to iTunes 9.
iTunes 9 provides a search box in the list of movies to help you quickly find the movie you’re looking for, as well as additional information such as cover artwork, duration, size and rating. Note that if you’ve chosen to also automatically sync recent movies, these will be automatically selected in this listing for you as well.
The use of the Sync only checked songs and videos setting can provide an alternative method for selecting movies with virtually the same effect. Rather than using “Selected Movies,” instead set the sync preferences on the Summary tab to Sync only checked songs and videos and then select All Movies on the Movies page. The check boxes in the main movie listings in iTunes are then used to determine which movies get loaded on your device. This can be more effective at managing selected content without having to connect your device each time; since synchronization settings are only available while your device is connected, to add/remove movie content via the Movies sync screen you would potentially have to sync your device twice - once when you first connect it, and then again after you’ve adjusted the settings to select a different set of movies. This is somewhat less of an issue with iOS 5 devices and Wi-Fi synchronization since it removes the need to physically connect your device, but it also still requires an immediate sync to actually save and apply the Selected Movies settings; with the other method you can check and uncheck movies at any time and these changes will be applied the next time you actually do sync.
Alternatively, the “Selected Playlists” feature can also be used to determine which movies are synced to your device. This can be even more effective in conjunction with a series of Smart Playlists - an advanced feature which is discussed in more detail further on.
Synchronizing TV Shows
Synchronization of TV Shows is very similar to that used for movies, except that selections are based primarily on an entire TV Show series. In iTunes 9 and later you can now select whole seasons or specific episodes from within a selected series, and synchronize based on playlists as well. As with movie settings, the playlists option will only appear if you have playlists in your library containing TV show episodes and will only show those playlists.
As with Movies, automatic synchronization of TV Shows is also available based either upon all shows or selected shows. However, the sync setting allows the user to specify either all or recent episodes, or all or recent unwatched episodes. These episodes will be automatically selected in the episode listing for any shows that are chosen for synchronization.
Keep in mind that when using automatic TV show synchronization based on unwatched episodes that those episodes you’ve watched will be removed from your device automatically during the next sync unless you’ve also selected them for synchronization either by individual episode or as part of a playlist.
It is also important to note when dealing with the various “recent” settings that iTunes bases this on the date the episode was added to iTunes, not on the episode number, episode ID, or release date. This can be particularly problematic when you’ve added an entire series of TV shows to iTunes at one time, since these will not necessarily be imported in chronological order—the “Date Added” may appear to be the same, but iTunes still organizes based on the order in which the individual episodes actually arrived iTunes.
As with movies, if the “Sync only checked songs and videos” option is enabled in the Summary tab, items that are UNchecked in iTunes will not be synchronized unless they are specifically selected on the sync settings, rather than simply as part of a playlist or automatic content selection.
iTunes 8 made some nice improvements in how video content is organized within the iTunes library itself. The traditional “list” views remain, but the new iTunes Grid and Cover Flow views can also be applied to Movie and TV Show content by clicking the appropriate options on the “View” button in the top right of the iTunes window:
As noted above, Movies are organized simply by the name of the movie track. There are no other tags used for any kind of organization or grouping for individual moves, although you can choose to organize your grid view by movie genre or show only unwatched movies using the buttons at the top or on the View, Grid View menu in iTunes. The View menu also provides options for sorting movies by title, artist, genre, year or rating and grouping movies based on the chosen sort order.
Movies Grid View
Movies Cover Flow View
TV Shows are grouped in the Cover Flow and Grid views based on the Show Name field. When using the browser view, they can be further sub-divided by Season Number, if that information is available in the tags. In Grid view, the number of unwatched episodes for each TV Show is displayed as a badge over the TV Show artwork image.
TV Shows Grid View
TV Shows Cover Flow View
Sorting, grouping and filtering views for TV Shows in Grid view are otherwise the same as for movies; you can filter based on genre or unwatched status and sort and group by title, artist, genre, year or rating.
A Video Playlist in iTunes is actually no different from any other playlist. The only distinction between a video playlist and an audio playlist is the content itself. Ordinarily, video playlists will only contain video content, and audio playlists will only contain audio content. In fact, if you try to create a playlist that mixes both audio and video content, iTunes will warn you about what you are doing, just to make sure you’re certain that it’s what you want to do.
If you do decide to create a mixed playlist containing both types of content, keep in mind that on some older iPod models the audio content is only be displayed when viewing the playlist in the Music section, with movies and TV shows only appearing via the the Videos section.
On iOS devices, all playlists are accessed through the Music app, regardless of whether they contain audio or video content; playlists do not appear in the Videos app at all. It’s also worth noting that when playing back videos from the Music app you can play them in either portrait or landscape orientation.
Although mixing movies and music in the same playlist doesn’t usually make a lot of sense, it can be desirable to include Music Videos in an audio playlist; the audio portion of a music video can still be listened to as part of the audio playlist on a Click Wheel iPod or even a sixth-generation iPod nano.
Video playlists can be accessed on the Apple TV as well, including playlists for movies and TV shows. Mixed audio and music video playlists are also fully supported, and the Apple TV will play the music videos and seamlessly switch back to the normal “Now Playing” screen for audio-only tracks.
Managing Video Content with Smart Playlists
Although iTunes 9 significantly expanded the options for synchronizing content to the iPod and iOS devices, in our view these options still remain inadequate for large video libraries, where you may want more control over the specific content that goes to your devices. For example, you might want to include a different number of unwatched episodes for each TV show, rather than relying on the global setting in your device’s sync preferences, or you may want to re-watch your favorite episodes of a specific show.
Fortunately, the ability to sync to selected playlists means that one of iTunes’ most powerful features, Smart Playlists, can be used to more effectively manage video content automatically on your mobile device with minimal effort. A few useful ideas for Smart Playlists follow.
Selecting Music Videos
As noted above, iTunes no longer lists music videos separately from music content. Although they can be viewed on the iPod or iOS device through the “Videos” section, it can be very difficult to keep track of them in iTunes. A very simple Smart Playlist will take care of this:
This will effectively group all music videos into a single smart playlist, where they can be viewed and managed as a group of music videos, rather than grouped with your music tracks.
Note that iTunes will create a “Music Videos” Smart Playlist similar to the one above by default when you create a new iTunes library.
Syncing a TV Series in proper sequence
Although iTunes 7.6 added the ability to sync your TV Show episodes by the least recent unwatched episode, this approach may not work for all users since iTunes bases this selection on the Date Added for the episodes, rather than any kind of episode number or release date. Even for shows downloaded from the iTunes Store this can be a problem, since when you download multiple shows at the same time, they frequently arrive out of chronological order—the “Date Added” will simply be based on when episodes actually finish downloading.
Fortunately, if you have tagged your TV Show episodes properly with an album name, this can be worked around with a Smart Playlist which selects your TV Shows by “Album” rather than by date:
For this to work, the Album name field must be filled out with proper show and season information as shown in the “Tagging” section above, and track numbers must be used in the tags. Note that TV Show content downloaded from the iTunes Store has almost always come correctly tagged in this manner.
Re-watching a TV Show
Perhaps you want to re-watch an existing TV series, but don’t want to have to go through and mark every episode as new again. One of the limitations of iTunes’ built-in sync options is that you can only sync least recent unwatched episodes, which won’t work if the episodes have already been viewed.
Again, a simple Smart Playlist can solve this problem, simply by using the “Last Played” date of each episode. Simply choose episodes that have not been watched in a certain amount of time or after a certain date and then limit the selection by either “Least Recently Added” or by “Album” as described earlier and the playlist will automatically update as you watch each episode.
You could further refine this Smart Playlist by adding a rating selection criteria to only select your favorite episodes to re-watch, assuming you have entered appropriate ratings for your episodes in iTunes, of course.
Keeping Short Video Clips on your iPod
Feature-length movies will quickly choke the amount of space available on an iPod or iPhone, but often people want to keep their various shorter video clips on their device regardless of which movies they select. While a static playlist could be used for this purpose, an easier way to handle this is to simply create a smart playlist that looks for video content that is under a certain length:
The additional criteria for “QuickTime” in the above Smart Playlist is used to filter out those videos that may exist in iTunes that will not play on an iPod or iOS device. These would otherwise be included in the Smart Playlist and count against any number or size limits that might be set on the playlist.
While the additional video fields added in iTunes 7 were a definite step in the right direction in terms of being able to effectively tag video content, this method was still not without a significant limitation: You could not tag multiple video items at once. While this was not a problem for the occasional tag editor, having to manually adjust dozens of episodes of a newly imported TV series could get very tiresome.
Fortunately, this issue was resolved when iTunes 8 was released, which introduced the ability to tag multiple video files. This is handled in much the same way as editing multiple tag information for music tracks: Simply select all of the tracks that you wish to edit, and choose File, Get Info. Unlike the single-panel dialog box used in much earlier versions of iTunes, the window for editing multiple item information now provides most of the same tabs that appear when editing a single item.
Despite this, however, the tags that iTunes actually allows the user to edit are still somewhat limited; fields such as Content Advisory, Rating, Release Date and so forth cannot be edited directly in iTunes, despite their usefulness for organizing your videos on the Apple TV and iPad which can display these fields while browsing through your video library. Fortunately, these tags can easily be edited by third-party tools.
AtomicParsley was born to help users set metadata within iTunes video files and other related formats. It was specifically developed in the era of iTunes 6, when almost none of the advanced video tags were accessible in any other way. The project itself is open-source and cross-platform, and although it was originally only available for Unix-based systems (and therefore Mac OS X by extension), a Windows version is now available as well.
The actual AtomicParsley tool itself is not for the faint of heart - it’s an old-fashioned, text-based tool, but can be quite effective for batch-tagging of tracks and editing tags that are not otherwise accessible through iTunes. An AtomicParsley command-line would look something like the following:
Display the tags contained within a given file:
atomicparsley 1969.mp4 -t
Set the tags for a TV show:
atomicparsley 1969.mp4—title “1969”—stik “TV Show”—TVShowName “Stargate SG-1”—TVEpisode “221”—TVSeasonNum “2”—TV EpisodeNum “21”—description “SG-1 departs on a mission only to find themselves in the missile silo where SGC Command was built upon, 30 years ago”
While the tags themselves are fairly self-explanatory, it is very important to note that the command-line parameters are case-specific.
Another important point to note about using tag editing programs such as AtomicParsley is that these programs edit the tags within the files themselves. If you are modifying tags in tracks that you have already imported into iTunes, these changes may not appear in iTunes immediately, as during normal operation iTunes only reads information from its own database, rather than re-reading the tags in the underlying files. Doing a “Get Info” on modified files or simply playing back a track will generally force iTunes to re-read the tags contained within the file, but it’s far simpler to tag the files before importing them into iTunes.
Thankfully, for those who prefer a more user-friendly interface, there are a number of tools and solutions that have been written to provide graphical front-ends for AtomicParsley, either by incorporating the AtomicParsley source code directly, or by simply providing a front-end wrapper that calls the command-line program.
MetaX, a more refined third-party tagging solutions
While there have been several popular, user-friendly third-party solutions for video tagging over the years, as with a lot of third-party iTunes utilities, many have fallen by the wayside and are no longer being actively developed. The reality is that for most users the built-in video tagging capabilities in iTunes are more than sufficient, and it’s only the most hardcore “video librarians” who are likely to be concerned about setting more detailed metadata.
One of the few good tools still being actively maintained is MetaX. Originally developed for Mac OS X, it was later also ported to Windows by a separate developer. The Mac version can be downloaded from http://www.kerstetter.net/index.php/projects/software/metax while the Windows version is available at http://www.danhinsley.com/metax/metax.html.
MetaX provides the ability to set not only advanced metadata tags such as cast and crew information, but even the ability to add cover artwork and look up and share information from various online sources such as IMDB, Amazon and tagChimp.
Further, MetaX provides a number of additional advanced features: You can look up movie references by using your web camera to scan the barcodes from your DVDs, save certain tag groupings as presets for tagging entire collections, and even crop your cover art images before adding them to your files.
MetaX also provides the unique capability of allowing you to add or edit chapter markers for your video files, which can then be accessed on your iPod, iOS device or Apple TV to skip between or specifically select individual chapters within your video file.
Another option available to Mac users is AppleScript. While AtomicParsley edits the video files directly, AppleScript is used to interface with the iTunes application and issue commands to iTunes to modify tags programmatically. Many additional properties of tracks can be modified by AppleScript, including the description and “long description” and even such things as play counts and last played times. A good collection of AppleScripts for managing iTunes video content can be found at Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes and in iLounge’s own AppleScripts Forum. It is important to note, however, that not all track properties are available through AppleScript—fields such as Release Date and Content Rating cannot be set or changed in this manner, for example.
A Note about the “Description” field…
If you’ve ever purchased video content from the iTunes Store, you’ll note that many video tracks come with an extended “Description” field that can be viewed by clicking the small “i” that appears in the description column in iTunes, or by right-clicking on a track and choosing “Show Description.” However, if you’ve ever done any serious tagging with AtomicParsley and its related tools, you may be perplexed by the inability to make this appear for your own content.
The problem is that there are actually two description tags in iTunes. A basic “Description” tag is used for the summary description that appears in the iTunes column view, and this is the tag that is set by AtomicParsley and other related tagging tools. However, there is also a “Long Description” field that is used for the additional pop-up description. Unfortunately, at this time AtomicParsley does not change the Long Description field. However, MetaX can be used to change this field. It is also accessible through AppleScript, and in fact can very easily be managed using the Show Description Script found at Doug’s AppleScripts site.
Integrated Encoding, Conversion and Tagging
With the increasing popularity of the video capabilities on the iPod, many encoding and conversion applications are also beginning to incorporate support for exporting videos to iPod format and tagging them properly in the process. Two products that have previously received Best of Show awards from us are Elgato’s EyeTV and Roxio Toast Titanium which can take recorded video content from either a TV tuner or a TivoToGo and convert them to an iPod-ready format, tagging them with the available information from their TV guide data in the process. Of course, the information available from the TV guide data is sometimes inaccurate or incomplete, and unfortunately often excludes information such as Season Number, Episode ID, Episode Number, and artwork.
Prior to iTunes 9, the organization of Movie and TV Show content in the underlying file system seemed almost an afterthought. iTunes began its existence as a music-centric application, and as a result a “Movies” folder and “TV Shows” folder were simply bolted on to the “iTunes Music” folder, organized alongside a series of Artist folders. Further, the video content within these folders lived in a relatively “flat” structure: Movies all shared one folder, and TV Shows were organized into sub-folders by show name, but there were no further subdivisions by season.
iTunes 9 has now introduced a new Media Folder organizational structure which properly subdivides your media content by media type, resulting in far less clutter at the top level of the iTunes Media folder. Movies are now stored in individual folders for each movie, presumably to make room for additional content such as “iTunes Extras” and TV Shows are now sub-divided into another layer of sub-folders by season where this information is available in the tags.
New libraries started with iTunes 9 will get this media organization layout by default. However, if you’ve upgraded from a previous version of iTunes 9, the previous storage layout is retained for backward compatibility. You can easily convert to the new layout, however, simply by using the Organize Library option found on the iTunes File menu. More information on this can be found in our article on Transferring your iTunes Library
Ultimately, recent versions of iTunes have greatly expanded upon the ability to effectively manage imported video content, and although there is still very definite room for improvement, we’re quite happy to see Apple starting to provide at least a basic facility for users to effectively manage their own imported content. Today, the combination of iTunes 9 with its more advanced synchronization options along with the newer iOS versions have addressed a lot of the quirky behavior that we have previously observed over the years, continuing to advance the video experience between iTunes and the iOS devices to something much more seamless and intuitive. Apple’s move away from traditional iPods to the iOS platform with its fully upgradeable software versions has also produced a much more consistent video playback and management experience across the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices.
That having been said, however, there are still a few minor issues that remain apparent in iTunes that users should be aware of:
For users who have a combination of short video clips and feature-length movies in their library, the “Movies” category continues to be very broad. It would be nice if iTunes and iOS devices would provide an additional category to help differentiate general videos (such as home movies, Internet video clips, etc) from actual feature-length movies. This becomes especially apparent with the Apple TV, since personal video clips are listed alongside feature-length movies, making it more difficult to find a specific movie to watch.
On the iPod and iPhone there is currently no way to access any of the additional metadata for videos, such as the description, or to rate tracks. Especially for short clips, but even for movies as iPod capacities continue to increase, it would be a very nice addition to provide a way to rate video content on the device in much the same way that audio files can presently be rated. That way, you could manage top-rated video content on your device with a Smart Playlist.
Currently, video content is stored in a single “iTunes Media” folder, alongside the music library and other types of content such as iOS applications. Although the media layout in iTunes 9 has been a great step in the right direction to a more unified media file system, it would be a nice enhancement for iTunes to provide the ability to assign a separate library folder specifically for video content. This would allow for more effective management and separation of what can ultimately consume a lot of disk space for many users.
Overall, iTunes has come a long way from the limited video playback support in version 4.8 to the robust library management and clean, highly visual interfaces of version 10. We hope that this Complete Guide makes it easier for you to properly organize and enjoy your video collection through iTunes, the iPod, Apple TV, the iPhone, and any other devices Apple may release in the future!
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