A new version of this article is now available.
Please see our new 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: most iPod owners outside the United States have very limited access to Apple-provided video content, such as TV shows and movies, so the best way to get iPod-ready video is to download it through the Internet, or transfer it into iPod 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.
While Apple first added video playback to version 4.8 of iTunes, 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 the more recent iTunes 7 to allow users to do the same. Our Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos is here to help you take advantage of the new video management tools, so that you can make your video library as easy to browse as your music library.
Getting Video Content into iTunes
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 fifth-generation iPod plays even fewer – 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 the iPod is your second challenge.
By Apple design, the most obvious source of iTunes- and iPod-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. Similarly, sites such as Google Video are now making most of their content available for free download in a guaranteed iPod-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 contains discussion and tips from other users on the tools they’ve used to convert videos for the iPod.
Preparing Video Content for your iPod
While iTunes can import and play almost any type of video content, it is important to note again that the iPod itself cannot. 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 the iPod 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 Convert Selection for iPod. This converts the video in question into an H.264 format playable by the iPod, at a maximum resolution of 640×480.
Although the “Convert Selection for iPod” 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 the iPod.
- Since this method uses an Apple program called QuickTime to perform the conversion, it is 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 some 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 640×480 45-minute Quicktime video (MOV file) took approximately 90 minutes to convert on a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo Mac Mini, as compared to approximately 60 minutes for the same video using a program called iSquint 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 iPod 101 articles provide more information on converting your videos to an iPod-ready format using other methods and third-party tools.
Understanding Your iTunes Library: Kinds of Video
Video within iTunes is organized into three basic categories. These categories determine how the video content will be organized, and therefore where it will appear within both iTunes and the iPod.
“Movie” is the default video type, and is most commonly used to identify general 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, and are organized by Show Name (ie, “Stargate SG-1”), Season Number (ie, “Season 7”) and Episode Name (ie, “Window of Opportunity”). 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. With iTunes 7, it appears that Apple has decided that music videos are more a part of the music library than the video library.
For that reason, finding Music Videos in iTunes 7 has been the source of much confusion. Rather than the separate “Music Videos” section that was present in iTunes 6, Music Videos in iTunes 7 are organized under the “Music” section, along with the normal music content for each particular artist.
On the iPod itself, 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 the iPod’s “Music” section. Playing Music Videos from the “Music” menu on the iPod will play the audio portion only.
So what about “Video Podcasts?”
Video Podcasts are actually classified as “Movies” within their file tags. The only real distinction is that they are downloaded as part of a podcast subscription and therefore carry a “Podcast” flag within the track. This causes them to be placed in the “Podcasts” section in iTunes, and the “Video Podcasts” section on the iPod.
Note that Video Podcasts also appear on the iPod under the Music->Podcasts menu, but like Music Videos, only the audio portion will be played if they are accessed this way.
Changing Video Tags
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 Video Kind of “Movie” and are given a title based on the name of the original file. And 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 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, particularly for TV Shows, 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, iTunes 7 has expanded upon this, with several additional options now available in the “Video” tab for a given video track.
The “Video Kind” itself is set by selecting the drop-down menu, and can be set to “Movie,” “Music Video” or “TV Show.” This will determine where the video content appears in iTunes and on the iPod, as described above.
Note that although the tags themselves can be modified for content purchased from the iTunes Store, the “Video Kind” cannot, and will appear greyed out for purchased content.
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 tab. Other fields can be filled in as well to assist in organizing the content within iTunes, but these are optional and are not used in any way by the iPod. You might want this additional information if you’re planning to regularly use iTunes or Apple TV to access your video content.
On the iPod, Movies are simply listed under the Videos->Movies menu in alphabetical order by title. There is no further categorization, and they do not appear in the “Music” section of the iPod at all.
Tagging Music Videos
Music Videos are tagged in the same way as music audio tracks. They are organized on the iPod by Artist and Title, and both of these fields must be filled in.
The “Album” field for a Music Video is optional, and will not be used in the “Videos” section on the iPod. It will however be used to group the music video with the appropriate album when browsing through the music on your iPod (via the “Music” menu).
Note that Music Videos are not listed separately in iTunes itself. When changing the Video Kind to “Music Video,” the track will no longer appear in the “Movies” section, and must be referenced through the “Music” section in iTunes, alongside with your music tracks.
To get a listing of just your music videos, you can create a Smart Playlist to group them. This is discussed in more detail below.
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 the iPod.
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:
Note that the content of the Artist field is used for the listing of TV Shows on the iPod synchronization tab in iTunes, and should therefore be filled in with the show (series) name for this purpose.
With this one exception, 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 appear on the 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 iPod. This has been the source of much confusion and many questions from iLounge readers when they’ve been tagging TV Shows. We find it odd that iTunes does not perform even the most basic validation to ensure that necessary fields are filled in.
Show – This is the title of the show, or series (not the Episode title). This field is mandatory, and if it is not filled in the show will not appear properly on the 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 the iPod, where they will be sub-categorized by season number. Episodes without a season number will simply appear on the iPod under “No Season.” Note that the “Season” sub-menu will only be shown on the iPod if content from more than one season exists on the iPod.
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 TV.com and sometimes on 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.
It is important to note that since the episode ID is usually based on an internal production number, it is not necessarily going to correspond to the Episode Number. In fact, it is not uncommon for Episode IDs to be out of sequence, since they are frequently based upon the order in which a show was produced, whereas the Episode Number normally corresponds to the airing order. Again, purists will want to go to a TV Episode Guide source such as TV.com to retrieve this information to tag all their shows as accurately as possible, but in reality the Episode ID can safely be left blank.
Note that these fields do not apply to any Video Kind other than TV Show.
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 and Coverflow views (shown below), and will also be displayed on the iPod’s screen when viewing a video via the TV output.
At this time, iTunes 7’s 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.
Transferring Video Content to the iPod
Once your video content has been properly tagged, the next step is to transfer it to your iPod for viewing on the go. If you’re using manual synchronization, this is normally just a matter of dragging-and-dropping the content onto the iPod 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 iPod configuration tabs that can be viewed in iTunes when your iPod is connected. These tabs appear immediately after iPod connection, and can be viewed at any time from the iPod Settings screen.
Note that video content is also filtered by the “Only Sync Checked Items” option (found in the “Summary” tab) in the same way that other content is. If the “Only Sync Checked Items” option is enabled, then UNchecked items will not be transferred to the iPod, regardless of the settings on the other content-specific tabs.
Synchronizing Music Videos
Synchronization of Music Videos is controlled via the “Music” tab. The setting for music videos is fairly straightforward: you simply choose whether or not you want music videos included on your iPod.
Since music videos are organized alongside normal music tracks, the actual selection of music videos to sync is done in the same way that music is selected. If you are synchronizing only selected playlists, only music videos that are in those selected playlists 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 iPod.
Synchronization of Movies is controlled via the “Movies” tab in iTunes. The options are similar to those used for synchronizing music, and include the ability to synchronize all movies, unwatched movies only, or only selected movies or playlists.
The “All Movies” option will naturally synchronize all movies, although only movies that are checked in iTunes will be synchronized if the “Only Sync Checked Items” setting is enabled.
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 added movies. Selecting “unwatched” movies will remove movies from your iPod on the next synchronization after you have watched them. Further, any movies with a play count greater than zero will not be automatically synchronized to your iPod regardless of any other settings.
Lastly, movies can be synchronized either by individual movie title itself (Selected Movies) or by Playlist (Selected Playlists). The box that appears below will change to reflect either a list of movies or a list of playlists, depending upon this setting.
Note that the use of the “Only sync checked items” setting can provide an alternative method for selecting movies with virtually the same effect. Rather than using “Selected Movies,” instead set the sync preferences to “Only sync checked items” and sync All Movies. The check boxes in the movie listings in iTunes itself would then be used to determine which movies would be loaded on your iPod. This can be more effective at managing which content is synchronized without having to connect the iPod first, since the “Selected Movies” window on the synchronization settings is only available while the iPod is physically connected, meaning that to add/remove movie content using the “Movies” sync tab, you would potentially have to sync the iPod twice – once when you first connect it, and then again after you’ve adjusted the settings to select a different set of movies.
Alternatively, the “Selected Playlists” feature can also be used to determine which movies are synced to the iPod. This can be even more effective in conjunction with a series of Smart Playlists – an advanced use of the iPod, 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 the “selected” mode is based on an entire TV Show series, rather than specific episodes.
As with Movies, synchronization of TV Shows is based either upon “All TV Shows” or Selected TV Shows or Playlists. However, the sync setting allows the user to specify either all or recent episodes, or all or recent unwatched episodes.
Note that “all unwatched” is the default behaviour in iTunes 7. This can also be the source of some confusion for new users, as any episodes of a TV show that have been watched (as indicated by a playcount greater than zero) will not be synchronized to the iPod, regardless of any other settings. Further, TV Shows that have been watched will be removed from the iPod on the next sync.
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 any kind of episode number or ID.
As with movies, if the “Only sync checked items” option is enabled in the Summary tab, items that are UNchecked in iTunes will not be synchronized regardless of any other settings specified here.
A Note About Video Content and the “Capacity” Bar
Another interesting item of note is that the iPod “Capacity” bar shown in iTunes may be somewhat misleading when it comes to video content.
Although the purple area indicates “Video” storage, it should be noted that this is only the storage occupied by TV Shows, Movies, and Video Podcasts. Music Videos are not included in this section, but are rather oddly included as a portion of the “Audio” section. Specifically, the slightly darker blue shade of the “Audio” bar represents the Music Videos, and they are included in the audio storage.
So, in the example above, the 14.99 GB of “Video” includes only Movies, TV Shows, and Video Podcasts. Music Videos (which in reality are 5.17 GB in this example), are bundled in with the 48.45 GB of “Audio”, with the only distinction being the slightly darker shading of blue.
Accessing Video Content Within iTunes 7
iTunes 7 has also made some nice improvements in how video content is organized within the iTunes library itself. The traditional “list” views remain, but the new iTunes 7 grouping and Coverflow views can also be applied to Movie and TV Show content by clicking the appropriate options on the “View” button to the top right of the iPod 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.
Movies Grouped View
Movies Coverflow View
TV Shows are grouped in the Coverflow and Grouping 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.
TV Shows Coverflow View
TV Shows Grouped View
Accessing Video Content on the iPod: A Summary
Though it’s been mentioned above, here’s a summary of how the iPod treats all the various types of iTunes video content. Unless you customize your iPod’s main menu screen, everything is initially accessed via the “Videos” menu, where it’s then organized into groupings of Video Playlists, Movies, Music Videos, TV Shows, and Video Podcasts.
Movies are simply listed by title, sorted alphabetically.
Music Videos are organized by Artist only (album is ignored), sorted alphabetically. Track numbers in Music Videos are ignored in the “Videos” section.
TV Shows are organized by Show Name and Season, and sorted within each season by Episode Number and Episode ID, or alphabetically if Episode Number/ID information is not available.
Video Podcasts are organized simply by the Podcast title in the same way that they are in the normal Music->Podcasts section.
It is important to note that Music Videos without an Artist, and TV Shows without a Show Name will not show up on the iPod menus, even if they have physically been synced to the iPod.
The audio portion of Music Videos and Video Podcasts can also be accessed on the iPod via the “Music” menu.
Music Videos accessed through the “Music” menu are basically treated as audio tracks, and will be organized and sorted in the same way that music tracks are (organized by artist and album, and sorted by track number).
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 aware:
If you do decide to create a mixed playlist containing both types of content, keep in mind that the audio content may only be displayed when viewing the playlist through the “Music” menu – a behavior that seems to have changed as of the most recent firmware update, v1.2.1. Any “Movie” or “TV Show” content will only be shown when viewing the playlist through the “Videos” menu on the iPod. While mixing movies and audio in the same playlist may not make a lot of sense, it can often be desirable to include Music Videos in an audio playlist, as the audio portion of the music video can still be listened to as part of the audio playlist.
Managing Video Content with Smart Playlists
In our view, the basic synchronization options provided by iTunes for managing video content are not adequate for large video libraries. This is especially apparent for TV Shows, where the “recent” setting is generally not conducive to how most people would want to view their TV content – unless you want to view a series out of order, “oldest unwatched” would probably be a far more effective setting for dealing with TV show episodes.
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 the iPod with minimum effort. A few useful ideas for Smart Playlists include:
Selecting Music Videos
As noted above, iTunes no longer lists music videos separately from music content. Although they can be viewed on the iPod itself 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 the music tracks.
Syncing a TV Series in Sequence
As noted above, one of the problems with iTunes’ built-in synchronization features is that there is no setting for oldest episode. Since most people generally prefer to watch a TV series in order from the first episode onwards, a Smart Playlist can be used to effectively select a group of unwatched episodes to add to your iPod so you can continue to watch fresh episodes of your favourite show:
The one catch to this is that your show has to have been added to iTunes in chronological order, since the Smart Playlist bases the selections on “Least Recently Added.” As an alternative, the limit can be selected by “Album,” provided the Album name field is filled out with proper show and season information (as shown in the “Tagging” section above), and provided track numbers are used in the tags (note that TV Show content downloaded from the iTunes Store does come correctly tagged in this manner).
Keeping Short Video Clips on your iPod
Feature-length movies will quickly choke the amount of space available on an iPod, but often people want to keep their various shorter video clips on their iPod 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 the iPod. These would otherwise be included in a smart playlist and count against any limits that would be set on the playlist (in terms of limiting to a certain number of size of items).
Advanced Video Tagging and Management
While the additional video fields in iTunes 7 are a definite step in the right direction in terms of being able to effectively tag video content, this method is still not without its limitations. Most significant is an inability to tag multiple items at once. While not a problem for the occasional tag editor, having to manually adjust dozens of episodes of a newly imported TV series can get very tiresome.
Further, the tags that iTunes allows the user to edit are still somewhat limited. iTunes provides no way to edit fields such as Description, Content Advisory, Rating, and so forth. However, 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 days of iTunes 6, when most of the advanced video tags were not 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. 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 iTunes only reads information from its own database during normal operation, rather than re-reading the tags in existing files.