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.

Where to Put iPhone 3GS Videos?

3 July 2009
Thunder Jet at Rest

Thunder Jet at Rest

Recently I strode the streets to test the new camera and ended up with some video. I’m a Flickr user and upload from iPhoto ’09. However, iPhoto would not upload the videos, which was entirely unexpected. That left the problem of what to do with them. As a quick fix, I copied them to the desktop and used the browser to upload them.

In terms of storage, iPhoto is a good place to keep videos, as they are downloaded with still photos from a still camera. You can tag them like photos. However, there are some disadvantages to storing them here. You can’t edit them. If you go into editing mode, the videos will be skipped. To play them, you double-click and that opens QuickTime Player. Here you can edit them to some degree.

Given that you can’t edit or upload video from iPhoto, I think it’s a better idea to store them in iMovie. iPhone video is in the H.264 format, which is imported into iMovie without modification. There you get all the benefits of the movie-editing controls and the storage in the iMovie library is very similar to that of iPhoto.

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).

QuickTime Player 7.4 & MPEG1 Video

25 February 2008

Here’s a quick tip that I was pleased to discover. QuickTime Player has, for as long as I can remember, never been able to export the audio from an MPEG1 video file. It can play it fine but if you convert to something else such as iPod, you got a video without audio.

I used to have to use MPEG Streamclip to rip MPEG1 to iPod as it handled the audio properly. Last night, for the hell of it, I tried it with the latest QuickTime Player (7.4.1) and lo and behold, Apple has finally fixed it and I have my video + audio iPod track! Very nice, even though it’s taken many years to come to this.

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.

New Music Video Standard

26 November 2007

Yes, I’ve changed again. I follow Apple’s lead. They believe in H.264, so I do too.

The main reason I was using MPEG4 instead of H.264 was an incorrect assumption that 720 x 400 (16:9) was only iPod compatible if the file was MPEG4. I believe I would have tested this resolution with H.264 in the past–I always test–and would have found it incompatible, so I went with MPEG4 instead. Well, I’ve just done another test with four videos and lo and behold, it worked. This means that they upgraded the standard or that my earlier testing was poor. Either possibility is reasonable.

So what does this boil down to? Music videos are now specified as follows:

  • H.264 @ 1500kbps, 640 x 480 (4:3), 720 x 400 (16:9)
  • AAC @ 128kbps

If the source is a video file from an enhanced CD or the web, I don’t get fancy: I open in QuickTime Player and export to iPod. If it’s letterboxed (bane of the video collector’s life), I use MPEG Streamclip to achieve the same result, only I also crop the margins off (QuickTime Player can’t easily do this).

If the source is DVD, Handbrake is of course employed. I start with the iPod High Rez setting, then add 2-pass and greyscale (if appropriate). For audio, you can actually convert 5.1 to Dolby ProLogic II and the iPod will support it. Of course, you’ll only hear the stereo on an iPod, but this is good for using on both iPod and Apple TV, which might be connected to equipment that can support it. It does make a difference and is quite nice to listen to.

Handbrake 0.9.1’s new enhanced chaptering facility, where you can now name the chapters, is a great excuse to rerip video, and I especially like to rip long-form video such as concerts, Enigma’s A Posteriori DVD, Lemon Jelly’s ’64-’95 DVD, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture, etc. with the proper chapter markers. Strangely, the Touch, where I play music video the most, does not display the chapter names. If you tap the screen while a video is playing, it will say Chapter X of X, but doesn’t display the name. Apple has been notified.

Don’t muck with the advanced settings. They’re very good for tweaking video intended for the Apple TV or computer, as these devices are tolerant, but I’ve found that changing the slightest setting will prevent the video from transferring to an iPod (see my earlier post on this matter). You have to stick with stock-standard iPod settings to guarantee compatibility.

So I’m going to start ripping my music video again. The amount of work this entails is made palatable by remembering that I’ve got a number that don’t work with the new iPods and of course, my favourite, the chaptering excuse!