Ripping Video Tape

27 May 2008

Great Southern Land
(Click to enlarge)

This is a video tape. Great Southern Land by Icehouse, never released on DVD. What’s a collector to do? It wasn’t that hard to rip, as long as you’ve got the tools.

Firstly, a friend of mine (because his VHS deck was stereo, and mine is mono), ripped it for me by connecting the deck to his EyeTV. He then recorded in real time, producing an EyeTV file that was 720 x 576 (PAL). I then used EyeTV to rip to iPod (640 x 480, 1500kbps H.264/128kbps AAC). This gave me one long iPod file. I used QuickTime Player Pro to cut out the separate videos, tagged each with Lostify and dragged them into iTunes.

The result? Pretty crappy video on Apple TV and the computer. Looks okay on iPod. I’m not overly concerned about the quality because there’s nothing you can do about it. The good thing is that I can now enjoy this content again without endangering my tape through wear and tear.

This process took me back to the ’80s and the positively archaic video technology of the time. DVD truly is a quantum leap forward in quality and usability. Luckily, that’s the only tape I needed to rip. The only other VHS I own is the original Star Wars Special Edition widescreen set from 1997, and there’s no way I’ll ever play it again. It’s purely a collector’s item now.

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Podcast Management for Podcastees

15 May 2008

Up to about a year and a half ago, when my storage was somewhat limited, I chose to archive a number of episodes in order to free up space on my main drive and to reduce the number of records in the iTunes database, theoretically to improve iTunes performance. I have recently changed this approach.

I used to have a 10Gb monthly allowance from my ISP. Anything downloaded at the time was precious to me because I paid dearly for it. Thus I hoarded every episode that I downloaded. I filled the drive and archived onto DVD. That didn’t work because I felt compelled to modify some of the tags and before I knew it, I started to have differing versions. I scrapped the DVDs and used a small old external hard drive that was big enough to store the archives. This allowed me to modify the tags and overwrite the existing file. Multiple-version problem solved.

Ephemeral Podcasts

Now that I’m on a 30Gb monthly allowance, and even though I’ve got plenty of storage, I’ve decided that I am no longer going to keep everything. A number of podcasts, e.g. Geekbrief.tv, MacMost, The MacObserver‘s Mac Geek Gab and Triple J‘s Sunday Night Safran, are topical or ephemeral and I consider that they can be deleted after listening or watching. I think a copy of every episode should be retained, but the responsibility for this I leave up to the podcast producer. I certainly would hoard my own work if I were podcasting.

I’ve changed the podcast option to keep All unplayed episodes:

Keep All Unplayed Episodes
(Click to enlarge)

Now every podcast episode with a play count of 0 will be retained, but anything with a higher play count will be deleted. The deletion occurs when the podcast is checked for updates.

Podcasts to Keep

There is another class of podcast which you will want to keep, due to sentimental, timeless or other characteristics. Examples of this for me are the first Ricky Gervais Show (this was produced shortly after podcast support came to iTunes and is significant to me because I really like him), Puffcast (unfortunately now defunct but awesome, timeless dub/reggae) and Scott Sigler‘s first podcast novel Earthcore, which I not only enjoyed and would consider listening to again, but I could conceivably give to someone else so that they didn’t need to download it. All the episodes of a podcast can be protected from deletion by right-clicking the podcast title and selecting “Do Not Delete”:

Do Not Delete
(Click to enlarge)

Note that you can selectively do this to individual episodes without affecting the other episodes of the same podcast.

The Problem

There is a caveat: while you can protect all the episodes of a podcast, this only applies to the episodes existing at the time you applied the command. Future episodes will not be protected and will be deleted if not individually protected before their play count reaches 1. This is a non-intuitive behaviour and should it offend you, you should complain to Apple about it.

My Workaround

Create a smart playlist called Podcasts to Keep. The criteria are as follows:

Podcasts to Keep
(Click to enlarge)

You will fill in the album name for any podcasts that you want to keep. This keeps a running master collection of every episode you want to keep. You can add to this from time to time if you later subscribe to a new podcast that you want to keep.

Create a second smart playlist called Podcasts to Be Processed. The criteria are as follows:

Podcasts to Be Processed
(Click to enlarge)

This playlist is the one you will work with. Every now and then (if you get new episodes daily like me, do this daily), click this playlist in the sidebar and see if there are any episodes in the righthand pane. If there are, select them all, right-click and select “Do Not Delete”. When an episode is played (i.e., reaches a play count of 1), it will disappear from the playlist but will remain in your Podcast library.

An Alternative Approach

There is another approach that works the other way around. The disadvantage is that you’ll be filling up disk space with played episodes you don’t want to keep unless you check it frequently.

Change the podcast option to keep All episodes:

Keep All Episodes
(Click to enlarge)

Instead of the Podcasts to Be Processed playlist, create a smart playlist called Podcasts to Be Deleted with the following criteria:

Podcasts to Delete
(Click to enlarge)

Check this playlist from time to time. If you see any episodes, select them all and delete them.

Summary

Unless Apple solves the problem above, investment in podcasts can mean an investment in management, but I feel it is worth it. Use this as a guide to determine whether you are willing to make that investment.


Apple TV Upgrading Update

5 May 2008

If you read my post regarding my woes with upgrading Apple TV, you may have been put off on doing so yourself. Well, I rang Apple (I bought AppleCare for this privilege) and it was good to find out that I was in the minority with regard to video choking, which was my biggest issue. The suggested remedy was to restore, then upgrade again. Apparently, 1.0 (or whatever shipped with the Apple TV) is stored in a partition and is not overwritten by later versions, so that’s why mine was restoring to 1.0.

I did this and it appears to have resolved the choking issue, plus a similar issue with audio choking when syncing was being done concurrently.


Podcasters: Beware of the Evil that is .mov

2 May 2008

Podcasters may not be aware of why they should not be posting video podcasts in the .mov format. .mov is a software “wrapper” that contains a minimum of two components: video and audio. The components can be in different codecs. So even if you believe that you are doing the right thing by using H.264 and AAC (you are), there are implications in using the .mov wrapper that you should be aware of.

.mov cannot be tagged. Well, a number of tags can be assigned in iTunes (notable exception being album art) but this only writes the tags to the database, not the file. This means that as soon as the episode is moved out of iTunes, it loses all the tags. In the case of podcasts, this includes, most tragically, the podcast flag and the long description. The only “tag” remaining is the title name and the disc and track number (if set), and this is only stored in the form of the file name. When you bring those episodes back into iTunes, they appear in the Movies library as 01 Episode 1.mov, etc, with no other tags. All that hard work from your RSS feed is wasted and is not recoverable.

A podcastee may have archived past episodes and want to reconstitute them into iTunes, or, as I have done in the past, handed them on to others so that they don’t have to download the episodes themselves. This saves lots of bandwidth. In either case, the results will be disappointing.

The MPEG 4 file format (.m4v or .mp4) is a wonderland of tagging possibilities. Cali and Neal, of Geekbrief.tv, for example, have recently started using one of my favourite tools, Lostify, to tag their .m4v (H.264/AAC) files as TV Show so that, in addition to all the embedded podcast tagging that iTunes does when the file is downloaded, they can be found in both the Podcasts and TV Shows libraries. Copyright, explicit, short description, etc. can also be tagged.

So my appeal to podcasters is to be aware of this and not to use .mov. The software you are using to create your files might be able to generate .m4v files. iMovie 08 will do it. Personally, I use QuickTime Player Pro to export MPEG 4 video (MPEG 4 or H.264) from .mov to MPEG 4 with the Passthrough option for both video and audio. This preserves the full quality of both components but regenerates them as a .mp4 file, the name of which is simply changed to .m4v prior to tagging (if H.264).