The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)


Editor’s Note
The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

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 until iTunes 7 to allow users to even begin to do the same. Even then, it wasn’t until the recently released iTunes 8 that users are now able to batch tag video files and edit description information. 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 video-capable iPod and iPhone devices play 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.

The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

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.

Note that Rented Movies are a somewhat special case, and we do not discuss managing these in any detail within this article, since we are primarily focused on tagging and managing your own video content. For more information on movie rentals, see our Complete Guide to iTunes Movie Rentals which discusses the process of managing and transferring movie rentals in more detail.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

    The Complete Guide to iPod, iPhone and Apple TV Video Conversion (Mac)

    The Complete Guide to iPod, iPhone and Apple TV Video Conversion (Windows)

    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 on your iPod, iPhone 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.

    TV Shows

    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, “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.

    Music Videos

    This category refers to Music Videos. These are organized in the same way as music tracks are—by Artist, Album, and Title. As of iTunes 7, 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 has been the source of much confusion. Rather than the separate “Music Videos” section that was present in iTunes 6, Music Videos in later versions of iTunes are organized under the “Music” section, along with the normal music content for each particular artist.

    On the iPod or iPhone 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 your device’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. 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, 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, later versions of iTunes expanded upon this, presenting several additional options in the “Video” tab for a given video track:

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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, 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 Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    The “Media 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.

    Tagging Movies

    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 use iTunes or the Apple TV to access your video content, however.

    Most notably, iTunes 8’s “Video” tab now includes a Description field which can be filled in with a description of the movie which will appear in iTunes or on the Apple TV. Note that the Description field is not available on the iPod or iPhone, however.

    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 your device. It will however be used to group the music video with the appropriate album when browsing through the music 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 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 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 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:

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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 show on the iPod menus, even if the actual episode is physically on the device. This has been the source of much confusion and many questions from iLounge readers when they’ve been tagging TV Shows. We do find it odd that iTunes does not perform even the most basic validation to ensure that necessary fields are filled in. Newer video-capable iPod models such as the iPod classic, third and fourth-generation iPod nano and the iPod and iPhone 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.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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 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 sites like 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.

    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 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 can be filled in for any video file, but do not actually apply to any Media Kind other than TV Show.

    iTunes 8 also includes 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, but is not currently used in any way on the iPod or iPhone.

    Setting Artwork

    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 Coverflow views (shown below), and will also be displayed on your device’s menus and on-screen when viewing a video via the TV output.

    At this time, 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.

    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 simply 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 configuration tabs that are available in iTunes when your iPod is connected.

    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 your device, regardless of the settings on the other content-specific tabs.

    Video Content on the Apple TV

    The Apple TV is a special case when it comes to handling video content. Since the Apple TV syncs 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, regardless of whether that content has actually been synchronized to your Apple TV.

    You can disable this feature in the Apple TV configuration menu 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.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    Note that although the 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.

    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 device.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    Since music videos are organized alongside normal music tracks, the actual music videos that you wish to sync are selected 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 device.

    Synchronizing Movies

    Synchronization of Movies is controlled via the “Movies” tab in iTunes for a traditional iPod or Apple TV, or on the “Videos” tab for the iPhone or iPod touch. The options differ slightly depending on which device you are synchronizing with.

    For traditional click-wheel iPod models, 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 Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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. 

    The movie synchronization options for the Apple TV differ slightly from those for the iPod. With the Apple TV settings, rather than being given a choice of three discrete options, you can instead choose to sync a specified number of recent movies or unwatched movies and choose specific movies or playlists to also include.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    Syncing all movies is still possible simply by choosing the first option and selecting “All” movies from the drop-down menu, in which case the second option is grayed out as it becomes redundant in this case.

    For the iPhone and iPod touch, the movies options found under the “Videos” tab are much simpler: You can only choose whether or not to sync movies, and which specific movies that you wish to sync to your device. Movie playlists are not supported on the iPhone or iPod touch.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    Note that for the click-wheel iPod models 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.

    The same checked items method can also be used with the Apple TV—as discussed earlier, the Apple TV is hard-coded to only sync checked items.

    Alternatively, the “Selected Playlists” feature can also be used to determine which movies are synced to your iPod or Apple TV. 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.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    Note that “all unwatched” is the default behaviour in iTunes. 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 your device, regardless of any other settings. Further, TV Shows that have been watched will be removed from your device 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 the episode number, episode ID, or release date.

    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.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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.

    Note also that the Apple TV, presumably in its role as a video-centric device, reverses the colors used on the iPod or iPhone for representing video and audio content.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    Accessing Video Content Within iTunes

    iTunes 8 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 8 grid 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:

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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 Grid View The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)
    Movies Cover Flow View The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    TV Shows are grouped in the Coverflow 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 The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)
    TV Shows Cover Flow View The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    Video Playlists

    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:

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    If you do decide to create a mixed playlist containing both types of content, keep in mind that on some devices the audio content may only be displayed when viewing the playlist through the “Music” menu. Any “Movie” or “TV Show” content will only be shown when viewing the playlist through the “Videos” menu on the click-wheel iPod models. Although mixing movies and audio in the same playlist may not make a lot of sense for a traditional iPod device, 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.

    On the iPhone and iPod touch, only video playlists containing music videos are available on the device—movie and TV show playlists do not appear at all, even if you are synchronizing them to the device. With the v2.0 iPhone and iPod touch firmware, music videos selected from a playlist will display the video in either portrait or landscape view, smoothly transitioning back to the album artwork when a non-video track is being played. Music videos played directly from the “Videos” section play in landscape orientation only.

    With recent Apple TV updates, video playlists can now be accessed on the Apple TV as well, including playlists for movies and TV shows. Mixed audio and music video playlists are also now 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

    In our view, the basic synchronization options provided by iTunes for managing video content are not adequate for large video libraries, where you may want more control over the specific content that is synced to your devices. For example, you might want to include a different number of unwatched episodes for each TV shows, 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 certain 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 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:

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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 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 they are not always downloaded in chronological order.

    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:

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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 does 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, 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.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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, 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 Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    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 the smart playlist and count against any number or size limits that might be set on the playlist.

    Advanced Video Tagging and Management

    While the additional video fields 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 finally resolved with iTunes 8, 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 previous versions of iTunes, the window for editing multiple item information now provides most of the same tabs that appear when editing a single item.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    Despite this, however, the tags that iTunes itself allows the user to edit are still somewhat limited. Although iTunes 8 has added access to the Description field, it still provides no way to edit fields such as Content Advisory, Rating, Release Date and so forth. With the advent of the Apple TV, many of these tags have become more relevant to organizing your videos, since information such as description, release date, and cast and crew is now displayed on your TV screen when browsing through your video library. Fortunately, these tags can easily be edited by third-party tools.

    Enter “AtomicParsley”…

    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 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 iTunes only reads information from its own database during normal operation, rather than re-reading the tags in existing files. Doing a “Get Info” on modified files 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.

    Mac Third-Party Tagging Solutions

    Three popular and user-friendly solutions for the Mac are Lostify, Parsley is Atomically Delicious (PAD) and MetaX.


    Lostify was one of the first tools available to handle iTunes video tagging, and was in fact originally created to address the specific issue of adding Season Numbers to the first Season of “Lost” from the iTunes Store (hence the name). Although still technically in “beta,” it is quite stable and is still being updated by the developer.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    One of the main advantages of Lostify is that it is quite simple, yet it includes the ability to edit almost all of the relevant video tags, including descriptions, MPAA ratings, content advisories and even cast and crew information. Use is as simple as running it as a “droplet” in the OS X dock and dragging in a set of files to be retagged. Existing tags will be displayed for each file, and tags common to the group (such as Show Name) can be “locked” and applied to all. Locked tags are stored in a preferences file, and will remain in place on subsequent runs of the application.

    The ability to display existing tags is a nice feature of Lostify, and can allow a series of files to be tagged in the same way. If you start with a file containing the proper tags, you can simply “Lock” those existing tags and they will be applied to subsequent files as you drop them into Lostify, even across several days of use.

    One downside is that each file has to be viewed/edited essentially one at a time. There is no simple way to select a group of files and automatically apply the same tags to all of them without doing a lot of clicking on the “OK” button. For normal operation in tagging new content, however, this should not be a problem, as each file will have at least some information that will need to be set individually (such as the episode title and description).

    Parsley is Atomically Delicious (PAD)

    Another Mac option, “Parsley is Atomically Delicious” emphasizes simplicity. A group of files can be added to the PAD window and multiple files processed at once. PAD also offers the ability to add an artwork image to the video file and automatically derive Episode ID information from the season and episode number information.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    An interesting feature of PAD is that it keeps the tagging process relatively simple by providing only the necessary fields that are relevant to the Video Type being entered, so when tagging Music Videos, it will list the appropriate Title/Album/Artist/Genre fields, while for a TV Show it will list Title/Show/Season/Episode fields. PAD’s Bulk Editing mode also operates on a principle that is simple, yet may be more automated than some people would desire: the title field is not modified at all, and Episode Numbers for TV Shows are automatically incremented sequentially from the starting number (making it necessary for all shows to be selected in PAD in numerical order).

    Unfortunately, additional metadata tags that might otherwise need to be filled in, such as Artist, Album, and so on are not accessible through PAD. Even the Episode ID can only be automatically generated—there is no way to manually populate this tag through PAD. Some of these tags can of course be mass-edited through iTunes, but this additional step should not be necessary.


    MetaX is a free tool which provides a much more full-featured option for Mac users, with 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.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)

    Further, MetaX provides a number of additional advanced features: You can look up movie references by using your iSight or other 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 iPhone, iPod or Apple TV to skip between or specifically select individual chapters within your video file.

    The Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos (2008)


    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.

    Windows Third-Party Tagging Solutions

    Sadly, the set of tools for editing video tags for Windows users remains considerably limited. A couple of options based on the AtomicParsley project are iPodTVShow, which is a very simple GUI wrapper for AtomicParsley, and Tagger, a Java-based project that is actually available for both Mac and Windows platforms.

    iPodTVShow itself was created before iTunes included the ability to edit the advanced TV Show tags, and currently offers no advantages over iTunes’ built-in tagging features.

    Tagger, on the other hand, is still under active development, and presently provides a nice utility for editing the additional fields that iTunes does not. In fact, most noticeable were the additional fields for Cast members – although these do not appear to be available in iTunes itself, they are added to the metadata within the file.

    Neither of these applications appear to be under active development at this time, although TVTagger appears to be in the process of being transformed into a new application named Elementary and is possibly worth keeping an eye on in the event that further development does occur.

    At this point, the most viable solution for Windows users looking to do serious batch-tagging of their video files is to download the Windows version of AtomicParsley itself and use the command-line interface.

    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. Further, the developer of Lostify has stated that he is looking into adding the ability to support this field (via AppleScript) in a future version.

    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.

    Caveats, Limitations, and Conclusions

    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. iTunes 8 has finally addressed what we considered to be the most serious limitation of iTunes 7: The ability to apply tags to multiple files simultaneously. Further, the combination of iTunes 8 and the newer iPod models have addressed a lot of the quirky behavior that we previously observed, with the video experience between iTunes and the iPod being much more seamless and intuitive.

    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 might be too broad. It would be nice if iTunes and the iPod 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 or a Mac running Front Row, 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 perhaps also 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 iPod in much the same way that audio files can presently be rated. That way, you could transfer top-rated video content to the iPod with a Smart Playlist.
    • iTunes’ organization of Movie and TV Show content in the underlying file system is not as clean as it otherwise could be. Specifically, all Movies are stored in a “Movies” folder, and TV Shows are stored under a “TV Shows” folder, organized by show name. Unlike in iTunes’ library, there is no further sub-organization by season; rather all seasons are lumped together in one folder.
    • Currently, video content is stored in the “iTunes Music Folder” location, alongside the music library. Leaving aside the obvious naming issue for this folder, it would be a nice enhancement for iTunes to provide 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 8. 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!


Photo of author

Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.