How to Rotate TV Shows on Your Apple TV

23 May 2007

It seems to me that the Apple TV is geared towards new content. The options for syncing newly downloaded (or ripped) movies are good but the options for TV shows not entirely sophisticated enough. The limited hard-drive space leads one to leave little on the drive.

There is an odd omission from the criteria for TV shows. You can sync a number of episodes, whether or not they are unwatched, but you can’t sync a number “least recent”–only “most recent”.

Apple TV TV Show Sync Options

Apple seems to be assuming that you’ll get episodes piecemeal, so the last few will always be new, so this would make sense. Of course they wouldn’t recognise we DVD rippers for legal reasons, but what if a US iTunes user buys a season in one purchase? Why would they watch, for example, the last 5 episodes when they have 15 new ones sitting there?

It’s just not sophisticated enough for a large collection of TV shows. I’ve got 25 discrete shows, most of which consist of full seasons of 12-20 episodes, 485 episodes in total. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t buy these shows only to watch once. I want to cycle them. Even though Apple TV’s streaming capabilities are good, it’s a pain to load my huge iTunes library, the TV shows menu is extremely long because it lists every single episode and it’s easy to forget which episode you were last watching. I’ve devised a way that is clever enough to keep you supplied with the next few episodes of every TV show. Except for an occasional tweak, it’s completely automated.

There are some assumptions: that you watch TV shows in sequence in cyclic fashion, not randomly; that you want a show to go on hiatus immediately after viewing the last episode; that all episodes have been played the same number of times or the ones preceding the one you are currently watching have the same play count.

The technique is to use a separate smart playlist for each show. This gets lengthy but is currently the only way to do this.

  1. Create a new folder in the source pane. Call it Apple TV. This will segregate these playlists from the rest of your playlists and is collapsible so you won’t have to see them all the time.
  2. Decide on the first TV show that you want to cycle.
  3. Create a smart playlist in the Apple TV folder with the following criteria:
  4. TV Show Playlist

    In this instance, I have 3 series of Black Books, and each consists of 6 episodes. I’ve watched the first 12 episodes 2 times and the last 6 only once. This playlist will pick up the next 2 episodes in the sequence that have only been played once. After playing all the episodes of this show, I don’t want to play any again for 2 months. When you have finished a complete run through all episodes (in this case, all have been played 2 times), you won’t ever see any of these episodes again unless you modify the Play Count value up to the next value (in this case, 3). This is the only manual aspect of the system and is regrettably not possible to automate at this time.

  5. Call this playlist ATV: Black Books. This will group these playlists in picklists, making them easy to see.
  6. Repeat this procedure for every show that you want to cycle. Feel free to modify the values. It will all depend on how many TV shows you have and how much space you can devote to them on the Apple TV.
  7. For EyeTV users, add the following smart playlist called ATV: EyeTV, or your recorded episodes will not be picked up:
  8. EyeTV Playlist

    EyeTV creates a static playlist for all its episodes. This playlist picks up only those that have not been played.

  9. Finally, create this smart playlist, ATV:
  10. This playlist gathers all other playlists into one

    Note that the first criterion is any. If you leave it on all, you will get no results. This playlist gathers all the individual playlists together.

  11. Then configure Apple TV as follows:
  12. Apple TV TV Shows configuration

The next time you sync, the magic will happen.

Note that there is an odd bug that only occurs when TV shows have been selected for syncing via this method. If you play an episode, then leave the cursor on that episode, when Apple TV syncs, it will sync the Play Count and Last Played date back to iTunes, but it will not delete the episode just played. If you force a second sync, it will delete it and copy the next episode in line. However, if you press the Menu button on your remote to get out of that TV show’s submenu, when it does the first sync, it will do the expected delete and copy. I’ve reported this to Apple.

So there you have it. An almost completely automated TV-show-cycling system that generally works a treat to deliver timely episodes from your entire collection of shows, not just those that have been added recently–just what you want. You’re going to rediscover some good viewing here!

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iPod Left Behind in Wake of New Handbrake Features

3 May 2007

Apple TV has spoiled me. It’s so nice to watch DVD-ripped content on my 32″ screen that I’m not keen to watch it on my iPod. Major feature updates in Handbrake 0.8.5b1 have rendered the iPod virtually irrelevant in the ripping equation.

Anamorphic: Stunning, stunning feature. MediaFork had this but apparently QuickTime didn’t support it. Now Handbrake can create QuickTime-compatible anamorphic video. That means you don’t have to lose any resolution. This works with both 4:3 content (translates to 768 x 576) or 16:9 (translates to 1024 x 576) (these are from PAL discs). It rips the full 720 x 576 resolution and sets the display size to the appropriate value. Works in iTunes, QuickTime Player and Apple TV. Video quality is much better because now you’re only at war with artifacts, not resolution downsizing as well.

One of the best reasons for ripping for iPod was the opportunity to crop off the black margins. Because Apple TV overscans anyway and because it would mean a loss of resolution, I don’t crop anymore. This has made the setting up of Handbrake scans very fast.

Multi-Channel Sound: Handbrake can now create Dolby ProLogic and 5.1 AAC audio mixes, if the DVD has it. My audio equipment is not really up to testing this, however, so I’m in two minds about using multi-channel sound. Most of the DVD content I rip is TV shows, because that’s what I’m into, but also because they are almost always stereo. Because Handbrake used to only output stereo, I didn’t rip any multi-channel audio DVDs.

Finally, chaptering is supported and works on all three platforms. Unfortunately, there’s no way to name them, which is more important with movies and music videos, but it’s a start. I really need an MPEG4 chaptering tool that can chapter .mp4 or m4v files, not .mov, for which there are some. I don’t use .mov, even though the codecs are the same. .mov is not taggable in iTunes beyond simple text fields, and iTunes can only write them to the database, not the file.

I still rip music video for the iPod, as I do watch this “on the road”. The only other video content I watch on it are one or two EyeTV-recorded TV shows and mostly video podcasts.

Thank you Handbrake. Thank you very much.