31 January 2007

Many of the iTunes users I encounter don’t realise that they don’t have to tag tracks individually. iTunes is quite powerful when it comes to batch-tagging. Simply select the tracks that have some fields that should contain identical data (usually all the tracks from a single album), then select Get Info from the File menu, or (and you should learn the keyboard equivalents, for speed) Command-I (Mac) or Ctrl-I (Windows). This will open a window like the above. You will notice that you can change a number of fields for all the selected tracks. Where a field contains data, it means that all the selected tracks contain that exact textual info, such as the artist name above. If a field contains no data, it means that either all the selected tracks contain no data in that field or that some of the tracks contain different data. For example, you may have classified some tracks as Rock and others as Pop, on the same album.

Batch Tagging

The Multiple Item Information window is especially good for managing album art. As you can see, I’ve got an image in the Artwork field. I simply dragged a JPEG file into this field. When I click the OK button, all the selected tracks will have that image written to them. It becomes a permanent part of the audio file.

If you want to delete the information in a particular field for every selected track, simply delete the data (such as Album name) and a check will appear in the checkbox next to it to indicate that it will change. This also works with the Artwork field. To delete information in a field in which no data appears (e.g., genre, where there may be different genres), simply click the checkbox next to the blank field. This tells iTunes to make that field in all selected tracks match, which means it makes them blank.

If you use this powerful feature, you’ll manage your media a lot faster and more precisely.


A Note About Bitrates

25 January 2007

Here is my list of bitrates that I commonly use:

Audio Music: 192 kbps AAC. I think it gives a better bass response than the default 128 kbps. I used to use 128 kbps back when I had my first iPod and its “tiny” 30Gb drive would struggle to hold everything. Now with 80Gb at my disposal and a few judicious exclusions, it’s not a problem and sounds better on a stereo.

Audiobooks: If they are in a compressed format (Audible, MP3), I leave them alone. If they come from CD, I rip them using AAC at half the bitrate currently being used for music (currently 96 kbps stereo, or 48 kbps mono), with Optimize for voice turned on. You can get away with a much lower bitrate for spoken-word content because there’s so much dead air, whereas music provides constant sound.

Video: This is a lot more complex. You can grit your teeth and let iTunes convert any video that you can copy into it into iPod format because it’s easy and works every time, but since iTunes 7, for some reason, iPod files seem to be a lot bigger than I remember.

When video launched on the iTunes Store, it was in QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) resolution, encoded with H.264 (700 kbps) and AAC (128 kbps). Because I was trying to get as much video onto my first 5th-gen iPod as possible, I slaved away at making everything match these specs. When iTunes 7 was released, Apple changed to 640 x 480 (or 640 x approx. 350 if widescreen) and increased the bitrate substantially. AIR’s Alpha Beta Gaga music video, for example, weighs in at 1607 kbps (video and audio added together) and 640 x 346 resolution.

That gives the ballpark. I was stunned to find out that the iPod could play these files. I thought the limitations were much lower. A note on the Apple TV: it’s a 720 HD device, which means it can display content up to 1280 x 720 pixels. It’s specs are much better than an iPod, as you would expect. If you want to play content on both devices, obviously stick to iPod-compatible specs.

I don’t use H.264, even though I adore the format. It’s simply because it’s easier to produce iPod-compatible MPEG4 files, which take less processing power to play back. The files are larger, but I simply don’t leave them on the iPod anymore.

That’s what I thought was going to be a brief summary of the bitrates I’m currently using and why. More on how to create files later.

DVD: The Ultimate Video Source

24 January 2007

The Ultimate Video Source

I promise that this won’t be all about video. It’s just that I’ve been doing a lot of video conversion recently and I’m going to post stuff that I think about, in no particular order.

The best source of video is of course, DVD. iTunes currently has a limitation on 2.0 audio, so I make it a policy to only rip video that has 2.0 sound, not 5.1. You don’t want to sacrifice that rich audio experience for the convenience of playing video through iTunes. I do rip music videos that I might want to carry with me on the ’Pod, however, regardless of their audio. That’s the exception.

So why bother to put DVD video into iTunes? It’s so convenient. You can select and start playing a video in seconds. No waiting for DVDs to load, then waiting for legal notices to display for agonising seconds. This is very bad with TV shows. Watch a couple of Seinfelds, then shut down your DVD player and walk away. Come back to watch the next one or two half-hour shows, and you have to sit through all that crap again.

Secondly, you can watch it on an iPod or Apple TV. It’s a lovely experience to sync through iTunes and the iPod organises video marvellously. You need to tag music videos and TV shows specially, though, in order for the iPod, Apple TV or even Front Row to recognise them properly. This is one of the coolest things about ripping on a Mac. I have a gem of an app that tags these things which I’ll cover later.

Thirdly, for those who get annoyed when they buy a complete series of a TV show only to find out that the stupid publisher decided to randomise the episodes across the various discs, you can reorder them in just the way they aired in history.

So DVD is a prime target for content. I’ve become hooked on TV-on-DVD, which I think is one of the best forms of content to have been provided in this format. It’s so easy to rip and watch a show or two. It’s one of the best things I’ve done with a computer.

By the way, if you’re wondering, I did scan that SpongeBob cover, and all those screenshots came from the episodes I ripped from the DVD. I’m an artwork fanatic, so you’ll read about album art almost all the time.

Who Am I?

24 January 2007

Who Am I?

I’m an Australian who is somewhat overly proud of his just-turned-800 music title collection (music DVDs count). I’m a bit of a collector. Well, a lot of a collector actually. Part of the pride comes from only having started collecting CDs in 1998. That means my rate of accumulation is very high.

Why did I mention that I’m an Australian? Apart from placing me on the map, I’m proud to be Australian, but to get on topic, if you realise that we’re talking iTunes and you remember that I said I had movies, and even more significantly, TV shows, in my library, you may scratch your head. For the Australian iTunes Store, like every country in this world other than the US, does not sell full-length movies and TV shows. How can this be? Am I some sort of magician? Well, the answer is yes, through the copious use of mystical black arts.

Why do I bother? I’m a big iPod fan. I’ve had 9 in total. I’ve still got three, one each representing the major classes: Shuffle, Nano and 5.5th Gen. They’re all current generation, as is my policy. I watch a fair bit of video on my 5.5th Gen. I’m currently watching Family Guy on my way home from work. I am using it as my iTunes-on-TV player while I anxiously await my Apple TV, ordered early on the morning of its release. Apple TV adds a whole new layer of usefulness. If you want to replicate what I did to bring video to iTunes, stick wit’ me, and you’ll go places.

Also, I’ve got a bit of an attitude. I’m a Mac-Mac and I’m too tired to adjust to people who want to do it some other way, who, for example, want to use the ridiculously named Ogg-Vorbis format or an Archos (stupid name–I had to look it up to spell it) video player. If you’re not into iTunes and the iPod, then go away. I don’t care. I consider iTunes and the iPod to be by far the most superior technologies to use. They have flaws, but few.


24 January 2007

What is a “tune gardener”?

Recently I’ve been telling people that my number one hobby is “tending my iTunes garden”. iTunes is my number one application. It’s open all the time and I add something every day, even if it’s only a podcast. Current stats are as follows:

Songs: 11085
Music Videos: 378
Movies: 123
TV Episodes: 314
Podcasts: 549
Audiobooks: 498
iPod Games: 2

Total: 12949 items.

I’m a bit of a collector. You can see that a library of this size requires some maintenance. I’ve developed a large array of policies that define how items are to be organised. Because it’s not always obvious, I’ve had to think up ways to solve problems, all in the direction of making the library as usable and efficient as possible. It’s this information that I want to pass on to others.

Recently I’ve been making vast inroads into the arcane art of video conversion. All those music videos, movies and TV episodes didn’t come from nowhere–I had to rip almost all of them myself. If you’re interested in doing this for yourself, you’ve come to the right place.

I’m an expert, yes, but only an empirical one. Nonetheless, I have a characteristic that has enabled me to achieve results, and that is perfectionism. It’s a curse, but it can get results.

Anything very technical discussed in this blog will most likely be mac-focussed, as that’s what I use. I can’t be bothered trying to figure it out on Windows, so you may be disappointed. Don’t leave, however, as you will find very basic organisational concepts peppered throughout this blog’s history. It’s not all nuts and bolts.

I hope you glean some information useful to you. It’s going to be somewhat dry but I hope you stick with me.