Editor’s Note

A new version of this article is now available. 

Please see our new Complete Guide to iPod, iPhone and Apple TV Video Conversion (Mac).

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For years, iTunes has provided a complete, one-stop solution for the migration of digital audio from the original media source (CD) to the iPod. In fact, one of Apple’s early slogans for its digital audio software was “Rip. Mix. Burn.,” a succinct catch phrase indicative of the simplicity that iTunes created.

Unfortunately, with the introduction of the fifth-generation iPod – the first that can play back various types of video – Apple doesn’t make it equally easy to prepare iPod-ready content. If you’re accustomed to the elegance of “Rip. Mix. Burn.,” you’ll find that the analogous tag line for the importing of video is more like:

“Find Software. Rip. Wait. Find Software. Encode. Wait. Sleep. Wake Up. Enjoy… Maybe.”

Why? iTunes 6 doesn’t offer video conversion. Instead, you’ll need to find and learn to use software that doesn’t come in the box. Second, video conversion is generally a very time-consuming process, regardless of the software used. In this article, iLounge aims to remedy the former issue, though you’ll likely find that the latter issue will remain until you buy a new computer or piece of hardware optimized for video encoding.

Editor’s Note 1-17-06: The recently-released iTunes 6.0.2 does include video conversion to iPod format, rendering this article much less relevant for most casual users. However, this article remains authoritative and useful for users desiring more control over the video formats used. Read in detail about iTunes 6.0.2’s video conversion features here.

Today, iLounge has launched three tutorials to help you convert your videos to an iPod-viewable format. This piece deals with conversion of video files already on your computer. Another piece discusses conversion of DVDs – ones you are legally entitled to rip. And the last piece looks at the technicalities of the iPod’s video capabilities to help you make educated choices when you’re ready to convert videos or DVDs. It’s easy to just pick the iPod’s native 320×240 resolution and either H.264 or MPEG-4 encoding, but this last tutorial will explain why you might not want to do this. A separate article on PC video encoding and more will go up shortly.

Converting Existing Digital Video Files:

If we had published this tutorial immediately after the release of the iPod, we would not have been happy with what we had to say. At the time, very few pieces of video conversion software were available, and the most prominent – Apple’s own QuickTime Pro 7 ($29) – was extraordinarily slow at converting video, and significantly more expensive than we would have preferred.

Today, we have many more options to discuss, which happen to be cheaper, faster, more versatile, and, in some cases, easier to use than Apple’s QuickTime Pro. Four of them, in fact, are free.

The application icons in the graphic below are clickable links to their respective websites. Each option (save QuickTime Pro) is available for download and at least some period of trial use. If you don’t want to go with our recommended option (Podner), we encourage you to give each program a try, as you may find that one works better than the others for your existing video content, your computer, and your personal preference. Read on for a quick overview of each application’s abilities, and how to use them.

 

Video2PodQuickTime ProPodnerOllie's iPod ConverterMoviesForMyPodiSquint

iSquint (Free, link) is a free utility designed to convert existing video files into iPod-ready MPEG-4 format. In our testing, we found iSquint to be fast and easy to use: a 2-minute MPEG-1 video clip took the same amount of time to convert on our test 1.5GHz Powerbook G4. This real-time encoding was roughly three times the speed of conversion as QuickTime Pro at the same task. iSquint features extremely easy-to-use controls (see screenshot below), can batch convert a folder of videos, and can also automatically add converted video files into iTunes once it has finished.

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However, beware – iSquint is still in the beta stages of development, and we occasionally had encoding procedures go awry, with the resulting video and audio being horribly out of sync. Also, iSquint cannot yet let the user manually tweak technical details of the video formats, or convert video clips into H.264, though the features are on the developer’s to-do list.

MoviesForMyPod (Free, link), another free video conversion program, features both H.264 encoding and more control over the encoding process. Here also, the conversion process is simple. Select a file using the “Open File�? button, select your desired video format, and click “Convert to iPod video.�?

 

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If you’d like to set additional options for MPEG-4 video such as bitrate or image resolution, select “MPEG-4 Custom…�? from the format pulldown menu:

 

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We found MoviesForMyPod to be as fast as iSquint when converting MPEG-4 video, and 2 to 3 times faster than QuickTime at converting H.264 video. For comparison, this program does not add the completed file into iTunes.

Although Ollie’s iPod Converter (Free, link) is a very premature product (we couldn’t get it to work on many of our files), we’re intrigued by its supremely simple two-button interface. Simply “Choose�? your source file, and “Convert�? it!

 

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If you’re looking for the easiest possible solution for converting video, and aren’t interested in maintaining detailed control in the conversion process, keep a close eye on this product in the near future, when the product becomes more reliable.

These three free options are indeed helpful for those on a tight budget, but for a small fee, we found software quality and reliability to increase dramatically. Despite its $10 price, Podner ($10, link) is currently our favorite video conversion solution. It has a beautiful, simple interface, and is fast and versatile. To begin with Podner, simply follow the basic directions seen below, dragging one or many video files into the hat.

 

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Next, Podner will present you with more options. Select your iPod format (with either standard or custom settings), give the output file a Genre and Title, and upon hitting “Process,�? Podner will encode the file, title it, and place it into iTunes.

Furthermore, Podner allows you to designate a “Poster Frame�? for any converted video, which is the frame which appears in iTunes’ “Videos�? page as a static preview.

 

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Another nice shareware option we found was Video2Pod ($10, link). While it doesn’t offer customization options nearly as powerful as Podner’s, it uses a different (and still very simple) interface.

 

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Upon launch, Video2Pod presents you with an iTunes-esque view of video clips in your user directory’s “Movies�? folder, allowing for easy file selection and batch conversion.

To convert a file or a number of files, simply select them in the list, and click either the hard drive icon or iTunes icon to convert and save the videos to either a location on your hard drive, or the iTunes library, respectively. To customize your video conversion settings first, click the light switch.

Because of its price and other factors, we’ve avoided recommending Apple’s QuickTime Pro ($30, link) for iPod video conversion, but if you have other reasons to purchase it (full-screen video playback, exporting to other formats, converting iMovies, video editing, etc.), it may be worth it to you. In this case, use the following procedure to convert videos for the iPod:

After you’ve purchased QuickTime Pro and entered your registration information, open a file in QuickTime Player as if you were to play it:

 

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Navigate to the “File�? menu and choose “Export…�?:

 

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Choose either “Export Movie to iPod�? (which encodes in 320×240 H.264) or “Export to MPEG-4.�? Using the second option, you’ll need to manually configure the conversion to fall within the iPod’s specifications using the “Options�? button. Click “Save.�?

 

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With these several software options now available, the conversion of existing video clips to iPod-compatible format is not terribly difficult, but you’ll find it remains time consuming. iLounge urges you to continue testing various software, video files, and video formats so that you can settle on a combination that works best for your setup. Good luck, and please post your experiences in the comments section below for the benefit of other readers!

Additional Resources for iPod Video Encoding Information

iLounge Forums video encoding tutorial for Windows Users
iLounge Forums video encoding tutorial for Mac Users

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