Podcast Management Now a Lot Simpler

11 September 2008

Big breath of relief here. My whole complicated management system has just become defunct with the introduction of management on a podcast-by-podcast basis in iTunes 8.

Click the Podcasts library, then click the Settings… button at the bottom. The settings for each podcast are quite granular. This is amazingly good. No longer will I have to juggle two playlists and Do Not Delete settings to achieve the same effect.

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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.


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).


My Take on Apple TV, Take Two

17 February 2008

What a huge upgrade this is! A completely free, brand-new piece of hardware! This is a round-up of little things I’ve noticed that aren’t particularly highlighted elsewhere.

Show Everything or Only Synced Content

Remember how you could connect to another iTunes library and see all that content instead of just what was synced to the Apple TV? You can still do that, but if you uncheck this option, you will see the entire contents of the syncing iTunes library:

iTunes Apple TV Sync All Checkbox

It’s like you’ve suddenly expanded the storage of your Apple TV way beyond the confines of the built-in hard drive. You see everything, but some of it is synced and some is not. This is seamless to the user. If you specify automatic syncing, iTunes will sync as much of the content as it can, then stream the rest.

This is a fantastic feature for 40Gb users and it is really cool to see everything, but personally, I still like the concept of Apple TV only storing a subset, specifically, the next few episodes of TV shows in sequence or unplayed podcasts.

TV Show Display Tweaks

Seasons of a particular show are now separated by a small line of text and episode names are prefixed by their number in sequence:

Apple TV TV Shows Menu with Season Dividers

AirTunes

I think this is a killer feature despite its low-key appearance. It instantly solves the problem of not being able to sync Audible audiobooks to the Apple TV. What’s cooler than Airport Express is the ability to start and stop the content. It’s like getting an Airport Express for free, with more functionality. This feature is so cool it alone warrants a stampede to upgrade.

Select the Apple TV as a speaker output in iTunes, begin playing and after a few seconds, the audio file appears in the Now Playing screen with accompanying artwork, just like local content.

iPhoto Event Support

Apple TV joins the iPod and iPhone in adding support for iPhoto events. You can select a number of events to sync, in addition to all the older options:

iTunes Apple TV Photos iPhoto Events Menu

Here is how it looks on screen:

Apple TV My Photos Menu

Parental Controls

This now matches iTunes. I like seeing international support for country-specific ratings:

Apple TV Parental Controls

Bugs

My Apple TV remembered my Australian iTunes Store setting, but when I go into the TV Shows submenu, the first option is Favorites, which only applies to the iTunes Store and we don’t have TV shows in our store. Bug or unwitting reveal of upcoming launch of TV shows on the Australian store? Also, in Parental Controls, I can’t select a TV rating. The only option is “No”, even though Australia does use TV ratings.

The interface hung a number of times but this could be due to iTunes constantly trying to sync while I was exploring. Now that this process is complete I’m hoping it works better. I’m also starting to suspect that my modem is not providing the speed it should be, so if Apple TV is choking on a slow connection, it could also be a reason why it locks up.

I was unable to buy any music item from the store since I installed on Wednesday, 13 Feb. I’ll be ringing Apple on this one.

Enhancement Requests

The continued lack of support for movies in albums makes the movies menu unwieldy, as you get all of them in alphabetical sequence. Apple still seems to maintain the idea that movies are discrete files that would never appear with related material such as trailers, out-takes, etc. Here I’ve got two movies both named Accident. One is a US Get a Mac ad, the other is the UK version:

Apple TV Movies Menu

I have compiled each region’s ads into albums. These should appear in the Movies menu as albums do in Music.

Summary

Go and get your update. It’s not often that you get a brand-new piece of hardware for free via a software update.


iTunes 7.6 Subtleties

7 February 2008

Focussed on movie rentals as it may be, 7.6 introduces some subtle bug fixes and welcome behavioural changes, some of which we’ve been asking for for some time.

Bug Fixes

As long as I can remember, iTunes by default used the constant bitrate (CBR) method of encoding, resulting in neat bitrate values such as 128 and 256. The last version of QuickTime was updated to include further bitrate encoding methods. iTunes then dropped the ball and users noticed that their rips now all had varying bitrates, plus or minus the value specified. Apparently iTunes wasn’t told to continue using CBR and started using one of the newer methods. This has now been fixed. Rerip your CDs and your bitrates will be neat again.

Enhancements

Podcasts Option Menu

Something that hasn’t made sense for a long time has now been addressed. Until now you could not sync a number of “least recent new” added podcasts, only “most recent”. This has now been added and it makes things a lot easier. For example, if I download a lot of podcast episodes at once (as is common when I discover a podcast), they would rapidly fill my 4Gb Nano, which is my main podcast iPod. The solution was to uncheck a number of episodes. With “Only sync checked songs” and “Sync unplayed episodes” set, this made it manageable. It adds work, however, as you have remember to check newer episodes as older played episodes come off the iPod. Now I can leave them all checked and by syncing only the 3 episodes least recently added, I avoid filling my iPod prematurely and don’t have to think about it. This is a very welcome change.

You have both the option for “unplayed” and “new”, which seems a little redundant. “Unplayed” means that whether or not a podcast has been started, it does not have a play count higher than 0. “New” means that a podcast has never been started. I guess if you only wanted podcasts that you’ve never played, not including unfinished ones, this would be a usable distinction.

TV Shows Option Menu

Similarly, TV shows now have a new “least recent unwatched” option which finally resolves the stupidity of buying a whole season of a TV show but only being able to sync a certain number of “most recent unwatched” episodes. The focus here is still very much on the basis of only watching an episode once. If you are happy with that, then this solves it right here for you, but if you like to cycle through your episodes, you should resort to my TV Rotation Technique.

Blackadder Series

TV Shows in Album view are now subdivided into seasons, each marked by the album art for the first episode in a season. If you scan the box art for individual DVD sets like myself, this feature vindicates this approach. Looks nicer.

You can now manually manage iPhones and iPod Touches, if you wish. Still not available as drives on the desktop, however.

To Be Addressed

Apple TV does not support these new sync options but it is reasonable to expect that the imminent update will address this.

Unfortunately, you still can’t make a smart playlist select items by Show, as covered in this post. Hopefully this will come. The inclusion of the elusive “least recent new” feature above, at least for podcasts, is very heartening.

I wasn’t expecting anything more than rental support (by the way, this Australian is gnashing his teeth at this being US-only, although it’s not a surprise), so I’m happy that Apple squeezed in some further refinements.


More on How to Split Your iTunes Library

10 August 2007

I realised another aspect to this. My last post on the matter primarily related to adding new content. What if you’ve got content that you want to split? Well, iTunes is very clever at tracking changes in file locations, at least Mac OS X is. I’m not sure if this is as good in Windows.

If you’ve got iTunes open and you go into your music folder in the Finder and move physical files to another location, iTunes notes where you put them. For example, you could move the Movies folder to another drive and iTunes would track the change. Use this technique at your own risk, however, because I’ve seen situations where iTunes didn’t track the change. I was in a hurry so I didn’t debug this at the time. I’ve even seen iTunes find a file’s new location even though it was moved when iTunes was closed, although I haven’t really tested this.

Sorry it’s a bit theoretical but I don’t manage my library this way and I’m unwilling to run tests of this nature on it “to make sure”, because I don’t want to mess it up. These observations, however, could be put to use by users with the need to split their library.

In the long run, my advice is to get bigger drives, either internal or external. Hard drives are astonishingly cheap these days.


How to Split Your iTunes Library

10 July 2007

I am aware that I have a configuration optimised for my own particular computer system, which sometimes makes me shortsighted, and that others’ systems vary widely, but sometimes viewing another’s system really brings home the point.

I have a friend who has three 300Gb drives, but they aren’t RAIDed. He has a space problem that prevents him from moving all that data temporarily while he RAIDs the drives, which was the original plan. I gave him some video for iTunes that he couldn’t fit on his current iTunes drive. He has a huge iTunes library but it’s mostly music, with little video in it.

I have to credit him with the idea that enabled him to split his library. Instead of putting all iTunes content on the one drive, he realised that he could turn off iTunes’ “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library” option. This means that he can put the videos on a different volume, then add them without copying. iTunes simply writes the path in its database. In summary, here is his set up:

  • iTunes library folder (consists of database, support folders and files): drive 1
  • Music (in iTunes folder): drive 1
  • Video: drive 2

What can be a little confusing is the location of your support files and the media files themselves, as they can be different. A library means a folder containing your database and any support folders/files, such as Artwork, iPod Games, etc. Your media is by default also in this folder but you can scatter any media to your heart’s content, and with the copy option turned off (as covered above), iTunes will track it all. It is advisable to keep everything together, but not essential.

This technique has ramifications for laptop users. Laptops have smaller drives than desktops. With the default preferences, CDs you rip to your library will go into your iTunes Music folder on your laptop. To add video, which makes sense to keep off your laptop due to file sizes, put it somewhere, then add it to the library and iTunes will write pointers to those files. When you want to play them, attach the external drive or mount the network volume and go.

There is a caveat, which is a disadvantage to this system. The volume where the media is has to be mounted to work. It is best to mount it before you launch iTunes, or at least before you interact with any offline files. If you are using network volumes, it is wise to mount them on startup so you don’t have to think about it. On the Mac, you can add any currently mounted volumes to your startup items in System Preferences > Accounts. They will then mount automatically every time you log in.

This is a good solution for those with limited space.