Q: With iTunes 8 I have recently begun taking advantage of the new HD TV content that is now available from the iTunes Store. At first, I really liked the way that it downloaded both an SD and HD version of the show so that I could watch it both on my Apple TV and my iPod. However, recently new shows that I’ve been downloading a showing up as duplicated on my Apple TV, and I’m getting errors syncing them to my iPod that the format is not supported. All of the shows I purchased the first week are still fine, but every new episode seems to be having this problem. Any ideas why this is happening and what I can do to fix it?
A: This seems to be a problem with the content coming from the iTunes Store itself. The issue is that for these newer episodes the HD and SD versions are no longer properly “linked” in iTunes itself, so it is treating them as two distinct episodes and syncing them both.
In the case of the Apple TV, you are seeing two entries because you are getting both the HD and SD version syncing to the Apple TV (since it is capable of playing both formats). In the case of your iPod, the error pertains to the HD version (which the iPod cannot play), although you’ll probably find the SD version will have transferred to your iPod and plays just fine.
Another key indicator that these episodes are not properly linked is the play count tracking. With the properly linked episodes, playing either version will mark both as played, but with the problem episodes, only the track that you actually play is marked as played. You can also test this by right-clicking on one of the two versions and selecting either “Mark as New” or “Mark as Not New”—if the versions are properly linked, both will be updated with the new status, if not then only the selected episode will change.
While this is ultimately a problem that Apple needs to fix in their iTunes Store library or perhaps in an update to iTunes 8, the good news is that there is a simple workaround that may work for some users: Simply UNcheck the SD episode in your iTunes library, and it will not appear on your Apple TV at all. Unlike the iPod, the Apple TV sync preferences do not have a setting for “Sync only checked items” however this actually is the default behaviour—unchecked items will never be synchronized to the Apple TV or even appear on the Apple TV from the back-end iTunes library. In this scenario, if you still want these SD episodes on your iPod, you can put them in specific playlists or Smart Playlists that select only the SD versions (file size is usually a good way to do this in a Smart Playlist), set your iPod TV Show sync preferences to selected playlists rather than shows, and ensure that iPod is not set to “Sync only checked items.”
The downside to this approach is that the episodes will still be treated as separate files in terms of play count information. In this scenario if you watch an HD episode your Apple TV, the SD version will remain on your iPod unless you either remove it from the playlist, watch it again, or mark it as watched manually.
For slightly more experienced and adventurous users, there is actually a way to fix each of these “broken” episodes manually, however…
Media content purchased from the iTunes Store normally contains a number of identifying tags that contain store-related information such as your iTunes Store account ID. One of these tags, cnID, appear to represent a form of iTunes Store “catalog” number, and is generally unique for each item. In the case of the HD/SD versions of the same show, this catalog number should be the same in each version, and for episodes that were purchased the first week of the iTunes HDTV release, they are.
However, the newer episodes that are exhibiting this problem have different cnID values. These can be viewed with a tool such as Atomicparsley, but unfortunately Atomicparsley does not provide any way to actually change these values. For that, you’ll need to take a more brute-force approach by digging into the file with a hex editor and changing the HD version’s cnID value to match the SD version.
Before doing this, ensure that you BACKUP the specific media files that you’re going to be editing. While there are no risks if this process is handled properly, a mistake here could affect the DRM header and render your media files unwatchable.
Once you have made a backup of the HD and SD versions of the affected episode, simply open both versions in your favourite hex editor and search for the ASCII string “cnID”
After the cnID tag, you’ll see the word “data” which represents the data portion of the tag. Eight bytes after the end of the word “data” is the actual cnID value. Compare this between the two files and set the HD version to match. Note that in all of the episodes that we have observed this problem with, this involves changing the first byte from a hex “51” to a hex “11” as highlighted above, although this may not be true in every case, so you should compare to the SD version just to be certain.
Once you have done this, save the HD version and exit the hex editor. Note that saving will take a couple of minutes as HD episodes are large files.
If you have overwritten the original HD episode, rather than creating a new file, you’re done. If you have created a new file instead, you will need to import that into iTunes and delete the original HD episode instead.
Note that on Mac OS X, if your hex editing application is set to make a “backup” file, the iTunes library entry may point to the backup file instead, since in many cases the application renames the original file (which is tracked by iTunes) and saves the changes to a new file with the same name. In this case, simply reimport the episode back into iTunes, or turn off the “backup” feature in your hex editor (since you’ve already backed up these files yourself anyway).