Video Conversion for playing from iPod classic to TV

Q: I have read several articles and can’t find the answer to my question which is probably quite simple for someone a bit more knowledgeable then myself. I use Handbrake to convert video files, usually xvid, to put onto my iPod classic, which I then hook up to my 42” HDTV via the Apple AV cables. I have no idea which settings I should use for this—any advice? Or is this a stupid way to do this and I should be using a different method altogether? Thanks for any assistance you may offer.

– Tom

A: There’s definitely nothing wrong with using an iPod classic to store and playback videos from your iTunes library, and in fact the large capacity of the iPod classic makes it particularly well suited to storing and carrying a lot of videos with you.

The iPod classic only outputs video at a maximum resolution of 720×480, so it is going to fall quite a bit short of the resolution supported by your HDTV.

However, if you’re only converting standard-definition video files in the first place—such as DVD movies and TV shows—this is not going to be an issue as this is the maximum resolution of this content anyway. Standard DVDs are encoded at 720×480, with a feature known as anamorphic encoding to either stretch the image to 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio (854×480), or shrink it to a standard TV 4:3 aspect ratio (640×480). You can read more about all of this in our Guide to iPod, Apple TV and iPhone Video Formats.

For converting standard-definition DVDs to store on your iPod for TV output, your best option is to simply use the “Universal” preset in Handbrake. This produces a video file that has more than acceptable quality for standard definition content, taking advantage of anamorphic encoding and maintaining compatibility with all of Apple’s current devices.

This also means that the videos you’re encoding will continue to look fine should you later upgrade to an iOS device or Apple TV, without needing to worry about reconverting your files. In fact, even when encoding standard-definition DVDs for the Apple TV, the “Universal” preset is generally the typical choice as the higher-end settings are intended primarily for HD content—you can’t create resolution that isn’t there in the first place, and the higher bit-rates will usually result in only a theoretical increase in quality that most viewers won’t be able to actually see.

Note that Handbrake does include an “iPod” preset, but this should not be used unless you only intend to watch videos on your iPod screen rather than using the TV output. The iPod preset creates 320×240 videos to match the iPod screen resolution. It also does not employ anamorphic encoding, meaning that 16:9 widescreen videos will be rendered in an even lower 320×180 resolution, with black bars appearing at the top and bottom of the screen.