Taggin’ with Louis C.K.

17 December 2011
Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater

Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater. Click to enlarge.

I just got on this bandwagon. Louis C.K. is doing something pretty special with this special. I bought it, expecting to download an SD 640 x 360 video file, probably in H.264. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were two sizes available, 720p and a just-under-NTSC 800 x 448 SD version, both in an iTunes-friendly H.264/AAC format. I downloaded both. They were not prepared for iTunes, so I figured this was a perfect opportunity to create a tutorial on the subject.

The two files will become what I call a “HD•SD” package, which is an iTunes Store standard that includes a 720 HD file and an SD file. They appear as one item in iTunes with a HD•SD badge:

Appearance in iTunes

Appearance in iTunes

Mr C.K. was canny enough to provide an actual DVD label on his site, so I didn’t have to cobble together art. I downloaded the PDF, cropped it, resized it, added a little black at the bottom to get my 1000 x 1500 pixel ratio, and saved it as a new file. You can download it from here.

We then open both files in Subler. Edit one, then copy the tags to the other. I’ll start with the HD version. Click the Other Settings tab:

Editing, Stage 1

Editing, Stage 1

Change the Media Kind to Movie. Because this is the HD version, check the HD Video checkbox.

Click the Artwork tab and drag in your edited artwork file:

Editing, Stage 2

Editing, Stage 2.

Finally, we fill out the tags. Special notes:

  • All the data for the tags came from Louis’ site and the DVD label. You can download a PDF from here that contains all the data for the below tags.
  • The Artist, Album Artist and Studio are all the same: the name of the studio, in this case, Pig Newton, Inc.
  • I like to put the encoding tool in the Comments tag so that I can use playlists to find videos encoded with HandBrake 0.9.5 (you can’t use the separate Encoding Tool tag as a criterion). Interestingly enough, Encoding Tool was the only tag these files originally had, and the value was HandBrake 0.9.5, so Mr. C.K. uses the same tool that I do!
  • I’ve used the Australian rating that I guessed applied, which is MA15+. Choose the appropriate rating for your country.
  • The tag contentID is a unique code that the two files must share. iTunes sees this code and knows that it must bundle the two files together. I use the date, followed by a sequential number, so for the first set that I tag on 17 December 2011, it becomes 2011121701. The second set of two will become 2011121702, etc.
Editing, Stage 3

Editing, Stage 3. Click to enlarge.

Do the same process for the SD version, except you won’t check the HD Video checkbox. Select All of the tags in the Metadata tab, copy and paste into the other window. Save both and drag them into iTunes where they will be filed appropriately.

I tested the files, too. The HD version works on the old Apple TV, the Apple TV 2 and the iPad (and will also work on the iPhone). The SD version will not sync to a Classic, unfortunately, but given that I never watch movies on my Classic, it’s no great loss. You’ll use the SD version on your iPhone or iPad to save space.

I hope this is useful to all who buy the special and is my contribution (other than payment) to Mr. Louis C.K.’s grand experiment.

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Roll Your Own Anamorphic iPod-Compatible Videos from Blu-ray

27 August 2011
HD and SD Versions

HD and SD Versions (click to enlarge)

My job has changed recently and now involves travel, so suddenly I have a use for SD versions of videos. Previously I would only rip a HD version of a Blu-ray.

The iPod Classic is the reference device for SD video in the iTunes ecosystem. It has an ostensible limit of 640 x 480 pixels. This can be stretched to 855 x 480 with the anamorphic flag switched on. This is possible to do with anamorphic DVDs in HandBrake.

However, Blu-ray is natively widescreen, 1920 x 1080, so there’s no such thing as anamorphic ratios. In order to produce an iPod-compatible anamorphic video, you have to tweak the dimensions. Here are the settings for this movie, which is in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1:

HandBrake Settings

HandBrake Settings (click to enlarge)

I used the Universal preset. The result:

Result in iTunes

Result in iTunes


iTunes 9.1’s Down-Convert Feature is a Game Changer

31 March 2010

I use a 160Gb iPod Classic at work. It has all my music on it. I decided a while ago to “go lossless” and have ripped every new disc as Apple Lossless ever since. I’ve also upgraded a number of previously ripped discs. The result is that I’ve had to drop all music videos from the sync as they wouldn’t fit and I’m down to 10Gb free.

Enter iTunes 9.1 with the “convert-to-128-Kbps-for-any-iPod” feature. This simple feature, long missing from iTunes, has completely changed my iPod plans this year. I was considering buying a second Classic but didn’t like the idea of splitting the library. The whole charm of the big Classic is to take your whole library with you, one of the key tenets of the original iPod. Now I don’t have to buy another Classic. If Apple releases a bigger Classic this year, it won’t be as compelling as it once was.

That leads me to my next point: this simple feature could have an impact on the iPod line-up this year. This may be the year that the Classic iPod is discontinued. Apple’s got the perfect excuse. You’ve got this compression feature now, so you can squeeze everything onto a smaller device. For the minority like myself who deal in lossless files, we can get everything onto a Classic. Why should Apple continue the Classic in the face of this?

I should mention that I’m probably not a conventional user. I can play music at work. While I appreciate quality, I wouldn’t know the difference at work because the music is played at a low volume through average speakers. Therefore, this feature is perfect for me. I can pick and choose which devices should have down-converted files. For instance, I wouldn’t down-convert on my Nano because that’s something I listen to exclusively through headphones.


Losin’ Myself in Lossless

9 September 2009

Predictably, I’ve decided that, in contrary to what I said in my last post, I’m going fully lossless. That means that all CDs will be reripped as Apple Lossless. The journey will end.

I’m going to start with those CDs that have hidden tracks. As I’ve ripped my collection, I’ve been alert to unusually long final tracks, which often denote a hidden track. I don’t rip these in iTunes. I open the CD in the Finder and drag the final track to the desktop. I then open it in QuickTime Player, find and chop out the hidden track, save that as an AIFF and save the shortened original as an AIFF. I then drag these into iTunes and rip as Apple Lossless. I used to then rip those to 256Kbps AAC and store the Lossless originals in a folder archive, out of iTunes.

So that’s the starting point. Rip the CD minus the two last tracks, drag in the Lossless tracks, done.

Well, almost. They need to be “double-tagged“. I’ve started trialling Meta X. It’s not perfect. For a start, it wants to classify a Lossless track as a movie, a TV show or a music video. It thinks it’s video. I run the tracks through Lostify first, specifying a kind of  Normal (Audio). Meta X then respects this. Meta X allows me to write two tags that Lostify can’t: audio Content Rating and Purchase Date. This latter is a little flaky. If I enter 2005-05-29, it’s converted to Zulu notation and given a time as well. The date is always a day later, so the above example will appear something like 30 May 2005 6:00PM in the Summary tab of the Get Info dialog for a single track. I need to understand how Zulu time works.

I’ve got a database listing every single CD I’ve bought, with the date, supplier and cost, so I have the purchase data. I’m hoping a later revision will also present the Purchased By tag so I can finish the job with my name.

What about the other end of the equation, the real bottleneck, the iPod? I had an inspiration. My two-year-old 160Gb Classic would not be worth too much now, especially after tomorrow’s iPod event, so I’m better off keeping it. The solution is simple: buy an additional Classic and run two Classics to hold the library. I would have put off getting an additional Classic until next year but the free space is being consumed at an alarming rate and I’ll run out in about a month. Two Classics, especially if the new one tomorrow is 160Gb or greater, is the solution until that fabled 500Gb iPod Touch becomes reality.

I tried to work out how much space to expect Lossless files to take up, but the math is difficult. I believe Lossless compresses at different rates depending on the audio pattern. For example, the last track of Massive Attack’s 100th Window, Antistar, is bigger than the hidden track, LP4, even though LP4 is much longer. LP4 is little more than 11:23 of static, which is super-efficient to compress. It will take months, probably a year, given all my projects, before I could rerip everything, so space will not be an immediate concern.

So that’s my journey. Light at the end of the tunnel at last. Enjoyable all the way.


2008 iPod Models

23 July 2008

It’s two months until iPod Season™ and speculation inspiration hit me today.

iPod Classic: Death or Rebirth?

I think that this year could see the end of the click-wheel Classic iPod. Here’s the reasoning: the price of the iPhone has dropped precipitously, making the price of the iPod Touch suddenly untenable. The Touch’s price has to tumble too. Where does that leave the antiquated-looking but capacious Classic?

Here’s my bombshell: I think it’s possible that the Classic could live on, but not as a click wheel. I propose that the Classic could evolve into what is essentially just the iPod menu of the iPhone. That means no Wi-Fi, no apps, nothing but what you see when you push the iPod button on your iPhone. Think about it: This would make it possible to price it below that of the Touch and maintain distinction between models, but at the same time allow it to leave its click-wheel interface behind. I’m projecting the same 80Gb and 160Gb drives as in the 2007 models. Flash is still too expensive in these frankly enormous capacities, so it may be a year or two before flash can catch up for a reasonable price.

iPod Touch Classic Screen Mockup

So that gives you a new Classic–an iPod Touch Classic–in a similar form factor to the current, but with a big, beautiful, touch screen with all the benefits that brings, and the back-to-basics concept of carrying all your music in your pocket. I imagine that to keep costs down, the same screen as used on the iPhone and Touch would be used. The Touch is still far in front of the competition, so this brings this laggard into line and viable for another year at least, until at last hard drives can be abandoned for roomy new flash technology. Being heavily stripped of features and using common components and OS would make it very affordable. Think of the savings in OS design: Apple could build their iPhone OS, then throw out everything that’s inapplicable for this model instead of maintaining another codebase.

The Touch: Let’s Get Relevant

10 months ago, I bought the Touch. I’ve never been completely happy with it because it always felt like a substitute for the iPhone. Now that I have an iPhone I know exactly why the iPhone is better: when you walk out of your house or your office, it no longer becomes a network brick. All that aside, there is a definite need for the Touch because the iPhone is attached to that most necessary of evils: a mobile carrier. Not everyone can or wants that expense.

So, we need the Touch. But why does it have to feel so cheap and crippled compared to the iPhone? This year, I think it could start to feel its own way. It already has a killer feature that the iPhone doesn’t: 32Gb. Where to go from here? It’s time to fill in some of the missing features.

Let’s start with a camera. A number of applications can use photos and as it’s a mobile device, it makes sense to capture the photo then and there instead of hoping an applicable one is in the photo library. Applying photos to contacts, anyone?

Next, it’s only got Wi-Fi to locate itself. Let’s throw in the same GPS that the iPhone 3G has. Now location-based services can be useful.

I think these two features added to the Touch, along with its focus on capacity (perhaps even 64Gb could be viable this year) would help to define it as a relevant device, different to but not cannibalising its phone-based sibling.

Nano: Oh God Let it Be Lanyardable!

This one is the hardest to predict, but I feel good about 3 sizes: 4Gb, 8Gb and new 16Gb. I think it will retain the click wheel because in order to turn it into a touch screen it would have to get Mobile OS X, and I can’t see that you could run that OS for very long on the tiny batteries these models have. Perhaps next year.

My main concern is whether I will be able to use a lanyard with it, because there is only one way to carry a Nano, and that is around your neck. The third-gen from last year worryingly was not accompanied by a specific lanyard, but luckily the first-gen lanyard fitted properly.

Shuffle: Can it Still Keep Going?

Who knows? The Nano is far superior and the price of this year’s entry model would get so low that I imagine it would start to cannibalise Shuffle sales. I’d like to see it hang around for another year. I don’t think it needs to be changed, but a new wardrobe of colours would be a logical move.

Summary

It’s important to remember that iPods evolve slowly over the years, they don’t leap ahead, except when the first iPod was introduced, and the first Nano, of course. The iPhone innovated, and the advances made their way into the iPod space, but they didn’t begin there. The ideas I’ve presented here are feasible and fit in with the type of evolution that we have experienced from Apple.


Audiobooks: They’ve Come a Long Way

11 December 2007

There’s never been a better time to play audiobooks. The 2007 iPods are extremely intelligent when it comes to enhanced audiobooks, which are AAC files with a chapter track. These are functionally equivalent to enhanced podcasts.

Modelling this look here on a 3rd-Gen Nano is the final episode of the much-loved but inevitably cancelled Australian national radio show Get This, with the actually rather-famous comedian Tony Martin and his lovable young roguish companions, Ed Kavalee and Armitage Shanks:

Get This on 3rd-Gen Nano

This file has been stitched together from the three-part podcast that consists of the entire final show minus the music. I’ve removed the beginning and ending ads, chaptered the file and tagged it down to the release date and copyright information. It’s now a .m4b file, no longer an MP3 podcast, and appears in the Audiobooks library in iTunes.

Note the third line down, Slim Shady Sr. This is the name of the currently playing chapter. The first line is the name of the overall track. The progress bar is divided into the chapter markers. If you click forward or reverse, it will jump one marker. What’s really cool is the fact that once you’ve clicked the audiobook in Music > Audiobooks, the Nano and Classic show you all the chapters, like you’re looking at a music album. If you’ve stopped playing somewhere in an audiobook, then return to this menu, there will be a new item at the top, Resume, which allows you to rapidly pick up where you left off:

3rd-Gen Nano Audiobook Menu

Here’s what this audiobook looks like on a Touch:

Audiobook on iPod Touch

The Now Playing screen looks like any music track, but if you flip the cover, the chapters are broken down into tracks similar to what you see on the 3rd-Gen Nano and Classic. No Resume option as above, but tapping the audiobook will pick up from where it left off.

Oh, and why is the podcast of a radio show considered an audiobook? The basic logic is that it’s not music, so it shouldn’t be in the music library and I consider podcasts to be ephemeral, so I like to move the ones I want to keep out of the Podcasts library. There’s no other place to put these. They are “spoken word”, so that’s the stretch I use, plus they do lend themselves to this type of treatment. And this type of content is considered an audiobook at Audible.com.

PS: If you would like the above file, you can download it from here for a limited time.


Video for the New iPods: Compatibility or Quality?

5 October 2007

The type of content I’ve most enjoyed on the Touch so far is music video. I’ve filled mine about 75% with music video which I watch at work. As I have 414 separate videos, I’ve been rotating them through and one thing has become clear: compatibility is more important than quality, especially if the prime target for viewing this content is an iPod. I’ve just had a batch of MPEG4-encoded videos, all of which played on my 5th-Gen, fail to display video on playback on both the Touch and Classic. Audio is fine, just no video. I think this is because I used to push the envelope, encoding at 1500kbps MPEG4, which is the highest MPEG4 video bitrate the iPod can support, and also because I made 16:9 videos 720 x 400 pixels instead of the iPod standard of 640 x 360. Result is incompatibility or, at best, borderline compatibility.

So I’ve made the decision to make every music video iPod-compatible. It will result in lower-resolution 16:9 videos but honestly, I can’t be bothered trying to push the envelope any more. I’ve got too much on and I’ve been enjoying the iPod quality. QuickTime Player or iTunes will convert a non-DVD video between 320 and 640 pixels wide into a H.264 video with the same resolution. Handbrake 0.9’s new GUI access to the command-line parameters gives much better results. The new chaptering feature adds another reason to redo your long-form video.

So that’s my advice to you. This of course applies to any content targeted at an iPod. I still rip DVD movies and TV Shows at a much higher quality because they are aimed at Apple TV.