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


iPhone Supports Better-than-iPod Video Quality

10 September 2009

In versions of iTunes prior to 9, videos that are compatible with a device have been displayed with black text, incompatible with grey. In iTunes 9, I was looking at the TV settings for the iPhone and noticed that all of my TV shows appeared in black. I’ve ripped all my DVDs as 768 x 576 (4:3) or 1024 x 576 anamorphic (16:9), 2500Kbps H.264, 160Kbps AAC. Up to this point, I was never able to sync a file greater than iPod resolution.

To my delight and surprise, these PAL-derived monsters synced across and played. Here’s one from Arrested Development, ripped from a Region 4 PAL DVD:

iPhone Settings Panel, Showing Compatible TV Show<br>Click to enlarge

iPhone Settings Panel, Showing Compatible TV Show

This is the only 720 HD TV show I have, Dollhouse. It’s a rip from a TV broadcast. The iPhone wouldn’t accept it:

iPhone Settings Panel, Showing Incompatible HD TV Show

iPhone Settings Panel, Showing Incompatible HD TV Show

Next I tested an iPod Classic, the true standard. Despite the apparent compatibility (black text), it wouldn’t sync anything above iPod standard:

iPod Settings Panel, Showing Incompatible TV Show

iPod Settings Panel, Showing Incompatible TV Show

What does it mean? It means less work when preparing DVD content. I can now rip one version of movies, TV shows and music videos, as long as I sync to an iPhone (and presumably, an iPod Touch). This is a pretty major step forward. Perhaps next year we’ll be able to sync 720 HD.


Overlooked New Feature in Apple TV 2.3.1

4 March 2009

The Americans would not have noticed this. There is a new feature of Apple TV 2.3.1 that is of interest to iTunes users outside the US: ratings badges.

Ratings have always worked on the Apple TV for parental controls, allowing parents to prevent youngsters from watching certain content, but until now there were never proper badges to reflect the ratings of another country. Early on, the Apple TV would look at the rating, e.g. MA15+, and write it out in the system font. Later, this disappeared for ratings that didn’t match US ones, namely G and PG.

Now there are proper ratings for all Australian movie and TV ratings. The US G and PG are still substituted, and the Australian ratings are nothing more than the text of the code in a box, but they are now represented on screen. I would have preferred the proper symbols though.


My New Movie Server

13 January 2009
PowerMac G5

Photo © Apple Computer, Inc.

I’m lovin’ my new movie server. The PowerMac G5 is still a good machine for recording and playing back video. Principal advantages are its two drive bays for RAID-striping up to 2Tb and built-in 5.1 audio support over TOSLINK optical audio. Finally mine is doing more than just EyeTV recording and transcoding to MPEG 4 for Apple TV.

For years I had been plotting to use my G5 in this capacity but the problem was the video connection. I tried an adapter to go from DVI to component, as my TV’s best input is component (too old for HDMI), but despite reported compatibility with my video card, I could only get 800 x 600 resolution. Then my friend pointed out the obvious: stop striving for the pinnacle of video quality in favour of something that actually works, and get Apple’s own DVI to Video adapter. Instant solution. Now I’m living the dream.

It hasn’t replaced my Apple TV, which is still the keystone of my entertainment system. I have found that it is notoriously difficult to get good results in converting DVD to MPEG 4, so I’ve limited this process to TV only, for which the benefits of fully tagged separate episodes outweigh any slight loss of quality. Considering that a movie can be stored on a hard drive in the exact same format, and thus with no loss of quality, it is worth keeping movies in this way. I use Front Row, part of Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”, as my interface to the movies.

To save space, and as the movie itself is the main thing you will want to play, I extract the movie itself from the DVD and discard the rest. I have used MacTheRipper to rip as “main movie only”, but it produces lousy results (often crashes after ripping and the movies crash DVD Player if fast-forwarded), so I have started to use a Windows app, DVDFab Decrypter, exclusively. This app is stable and produces error-free rips. Most impressively, it also overcomes a lot of copy protection that MacTheRipper can’t cope with. Examples: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (ARccOS copy protection), The Dark Knight (Warner deliberately “damaged” the disc to prevent copying). The result is a separate folder for each movie containing a VIDEO_TS folder and sometimes an AUDIO_TS folder as well. In this movie folder, put artwork for the movie from your own scans or the internet. impawards.com is one of the best sources. The image file must be called Preview.jpg (case sensitive). Front Row uses this file as artwork to illustrate the movie. It interprets a movie folder as a discrete unit, as if it were a single file with embedded artwork.

I store the movies in the following subfolders in the Movies folder in my local account:

  • Movies: For movie-only movies.
  • Music Videos: Even though I rip all music videos for iPod so that I can take them with me, some DVDs warrant the respect they deserve in terms of video and audio quality, like concerts. This folder houses the more quality-critical DVDs for home viewing. The folder structure for this folder is Artist/Title. The Title folder is the DVD folder itself, e.g. ~/Movies/Music Videos/Flaming Lips, The/UFOs at the Zoo.
  • Short Films: Some DVDs consist of a number of short films, like Wallace and Gromit. I rip the films separately and put them here.
  • Special Features: When I buy a DVD, I rip the whole of a bonus DVD for convenient access. I delete the DVD folder when I’m finished with it to free up space.
  • _Spillover Video: This is actually an alias. I have 2 x 320Gb drives in the G5 but this is not enough. As a temporary measure, I am using some space on an external FireWire drive on my other desktop. Simply mount the drive as a share, then create an alias to the spillover movie folder in the Movies folder in your local account. The share will be mounted whenever you boot. Of course, the other desktop must be online to be able to access that content. When 1Tb drives drop in price, I will buy two and replace the two 320Gb drives currently in the machine.

There is a caveat with Front Row: If you put a series of movies into a subfolder, such as Dirty Harry, the folder will appear at the bottom of the list. There is no good reason for this, but you might not think to look at the bottom for a movie series. An alternative approach is to rename the movie folders with a prefix, such as Dirty Harry 1 | Dirty Harry, Dirty Harry 2 | Magnum Force, Dirty Harry 3 | The Enforcer, etc. I use a pipe character | instead of a colon as the colon is a reserved character in Mac OS X.

Also, any folder starting with The, A or An will of course be incorrectly alphabetised. I put the article at the end, e.g. Golden Compass, The.

To control Front Row, I use Leopard’s screen-sharing feature with my laptop, then navigate using the arrow keys. This makes the laptop hot as it’s constantly refreshing the sharing window, so I tend to quit Screen Sharing once I’ve got the movie going. I’ll have to get a remote for playback. You can’t totally give up a keyboard and mouse as you need to be able to do operations like copying files, trimming the length of EyeTV recordings, etc. Sharing the screen is perfect because you don’t have to supply a keyboard and mouse for the machine.

In addition to running Front Row, I still use the machine to record TV with EyeTV, but I no longer have to transcode for Apple TV. It’s a revelation to simply play a recording. Sometimes I start watching it before it’s finished recording. Sometimes I even watch live TV!

There’s a lot to be said for the movie server. An older machine with plenty of storage makes a great complement to Apple TV, which can concentrate on movie rentals, TV shows, music and podcasts.


Movie Magic

14 August 2008

Six weeks after the introduction of TV shows to the Australian iTunes store, movies (both buy and rent) have appeared. I was eager to get home and experience the movie section of the iTunes Store on my Apple TV but there was nothing in the Movies menu other than Trailers and My Movies. I did everything I could think of: I restarted, checked for updates and changed to a different country’s iTunes Store and then back to Australia. None of this gave me the extra menu items. I rang AppleCare and they said that this support will come in the form of a software update, due soon. Until then, I have to use the less-comfortable (have to sit up in a chair) and less-glamorous iTunes approach. Here’s the first movie I’ve ever downloaded from iTunes:

Downloading iTunes Movie

That’s going to take some time, and I don’t have a lousy connection. I’ll be interested to see just how long it takes. I’m also keen to dissect the file in Lostify to learn all its tagging secrets.

So finally Apple TV is vindicated in Australia with not only a massive $120-$130 discount as of today, but also movies in iTunes. The price drop says two things to me: 1) a bid for market penetration, backed by a real reason to use the device and 2) update sooner rather than later. Over the last two years, January has been “Apple TV Season”, but I now suspect that the next model may debut during iPod season next month.


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.