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.


“Double-Tagging” Your CD Audio Files

10 October 2008

iTunes Store audio files contain a number of tags that can’t be done in iTunes, so audio files ripped from CDs will lack these. I tag these myself in a process that I refer to as double-tagging. This is not necessary by any means but I like the sense of completion that I get from doing this. This technique only works on the Mac because of the software I use.

Open the files in the venerable Lostify. If you check the option to add a script to iTunes, then you can select a range of songs in iTunes, then select the Lostify… link in the Script menu.

I have based my selection of additional tags on what I have observed with iTunes Store files. The tags to add are Release Date, Kind, Copyright and Content Rating.

Release Date

The release date is something you will have to research. Luckily, most CDs will be covered on the internet. I use Wikipedia, Rate Your Music, official artist sites, record label sites and the iTunes Store itself. Bizarrely, the most unreliable sources for release dates are often the official artist sites and record labels. If you find more than one date, try to take the most common one.

A note on compilations and rereleases. Consider The Chemical BrothersBrotherhood. It’s a singles compilation, released on 2 September 2008. Instead of tagging individual songs with the year that they were originally released, I tag each with this release date. The thinking is that the title on which the songs appear was released in 2008, as a discrete unit, so that’s the date to go with. It has the added advantage of sorting properly in iTunes if you sort by Album By Year. If you have individual years for the songs, it will force the whole album to the front of the list, as iTunes interprets the earliest date that appears in the album as the album date.

It’s not so clear-cut with rereleases. I’ve got a 25th anniversary edition of Deep Purple‘s Machine Head. It was released in March 1972. My edition is obviously 1997. As the whole album is essentially intact and contains no new material, I have tagged this as 1 March 1972.

That’s another thing: sometimes you will not get a complete date. If you get, for example, March 1972, then make the release date 1 March 1972. If you get 1972 only, then make it 1 July 1972.

Kind

This should be set to Normal (Audio), unless you are tagging an audiobook, in which case it will be Audiobook.

Copyright

Begin this string with the Recording Copyright symbol ℗ (activate the character palette by pressing Command-Option-T, then do a search for it and add it to your favorites for ready access), then the year and the owner of the sound recording (not the artwork; these are sometimes separate), all obtained from the rear of the CD, the disc itself, or at a pinch, the iTunes Store.

That makes a very satisfying completely tagged file. You can admire your handiwork in the General tab of the Get Info dialog (copyright) and the Release Date column, which you can add to any view:


(Click to Enlarge)

Content Rating

There are three options here, Inoffensive, Clean and Explicit. The differences between these are important.

Inoffensive is the default and most iTunes Store songs are tagged as this. It doesn’t appear in iTunes. It is not possible to tag a track as Inoffensive with Lostify due to an unhandled bug, so leave it blank for now.

Explicit is self explanatory. If your CD mentions any kind of warning, then use this. Good for filtering out music that you don’t want kids to hear.

Clean is often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean Inoffensive. It is to be specifically used to indicate that it is a version of an explicit song, altered to remove explicit material. Sometimes albums in the iTunes Store are presented as both explicit and clean versions, so you can buy either. This could also apply to audiobooks and podcasts if they are altered, cleaner versions. There is very little call for this option.

I hope there are people out there that are as passionate about double-tagging as I am!


iTunes 8 Subtleties

15 September 2008

As I was skimming through albums in Grid view, by Artist, it struck me that the grid art was always the first title in alphabetical sequence. I wondered if I could change this to another cover as in iPhoto, by pressing the spacebar when hovering over a cover. Being iTunes, this of course started playing the first song from the first album for that artist. However, I found that if you skim to the cover that you want to represent the artist, right-click and select Set Default Grid Artwork, this will have the desired effect:


There’s a new Description tag in the Video tab:


(Click to enlarge)

You can use this to tag either audio or video. Note that while you can enter a huge amount of characters in this field, analysis with Lostify reveals that this is the short description, and anything over 256 characters is truncated when written to the file. If you import the file into another iTunes library, the description will be truncated.


In the Options tab, you can set whether an audio file is Music or an Audiobook:


(Click to enlarge)

or if a video file is a Movie, TV Show or Music Video


(Click to enlarge)

These are contextual based on file type and the tag is written to the file, not just the database, which is what earlier iTunes versions did. This is a good thing when transferring files to other iTunes libraries. Note that all these and more (Ringtone, etc.) are taggable in Lostify.


Nice new tagging options, but I’m going to stick with Lostify, as it still can access more tags than iTunes 8.


Subtle Changes to iTunes 7.7

12 July 2008

In my usual function of pointing out things that other, swifter sites may have missed, here is a 7.7 subtlety round-up.

Firstly, a bad one: With AAC files ripped under 7.7, Lostify is broken. It doesn’t recognise the files as valid MPEG 4 files, so you can’t edit the extended tags such as File Kind, Release Date and Copyright.

Album Art in iTunes 7.7
(Click to enlarge)

Album art in iTunes is magnified to fill the screen, regardless of original resolution. All my 400 x 400s now look huge and blocky. I don’t know if I like this beyond it being a prompt to upgrade my artwork. If the art is oddly sized and low-res, like for this podcast, it’s a little unsightly at full screen. This is from a 1920 x 1200 monitor.

Artwork at maximum size used to go below the dock, but now it doesn’t, which is a nice enhancement for artwork enthusiasts.

Remote

You’ll hear a lot about Remote for iPhone/iPod Touch, but I just wanted to register that it is jaw-droppingly well done. No other company could produce a remote so tightly integrated with iTunes and the Apple TV. The response time between interacting with the screen and playback is instantaneous. If you’ve set up AirTunes with an Airport Express or Apple TV, you can select which speakers you want to use, just like you can in iTunes.

I was playing a video on Apple TV, then paused it, changed control to iTunes on the computer and started playing an audio track, with the output going to the Apple TV using the AirTunes feature. Instead of the Apple TV choking, it simply displayed the album art and track information in the lower-left of the screen, then changed to the audio Now Playing screen. This is very impressive.

So, apart from support for the major features of iPhone/iPod Touch, some small tweaks. I’m not expecting any more, but will post if I do.


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.


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).


TV Shows: Air Date or Production Sequence?

6 November 2007

The downside to TV shows is having to make the decision between tagging in air-date sequence or production sequence. I’ve found it common that episodes produced in a particular sequence are not aired in that sequence. There are probably many reasons why the show creators did this, but you must make a decision so that you can enjoy the episodes in a way that makes sense, if any continuity is to be maintained. Here are some examples:

The Venture Bros, Season 1. The DVDs presented the episodes in production sequence. Bad move. Three episodes from the end of the sequence, an event profoundly changes the show so that the final two episodes no longer make sense. I won’t spoil this for those who haven’t seen it, but I suggest you look up the air-date sequence on Wikipedia and watch it that way. I was pissed when this happened to me, but I didn’t know ahead of time. In this case, definitely tag them so that they appear in air-date sequence.

SpongeBob SquarePants, Season 2: The episodes appear on the DVDs in production sequence, but they were aired in a different sequence. There seems to be no good reason for this, particularly since the first season’s episodes’ production sequence is the same as they one in which they aired. In this case, I chose air-date sequence, but you could go either way. As each episode is an isolated story, you won’t ruin any continuity.

Blackadder, Series 2: Air-date sequence has episodes 1 & 2 reversed. It also violates continuity as a result, so I tagged them in production sequence.

The Weird Al Show: Production sequence was thrown out the window. When I listened to the commentary, it was clear that the air-date sequence was out of his control, and that’s the way viewers saw the episodes, so I chose the air-date sequence.

Family Guy: This is the worst organised set of TV seasons I’ve seen on DVD. In Australia, we’ve just had “Season 6” released, but in the US, it was season 5. Also, three episodes are missing from the end of the season. This pattern started early on with these DVDs with the result that each DVD since season 3 actually represents the season earlier than it’s labelled. It’s a mess. The only clear choice was to put them in US air-date sequence and ignore the labelling.

My primary source of both air dates and production numbers is Wikipedia. I have found this to be relatively trustworthy. I also confirm when possible on the TV shows’ official sites.