iTunes LP for Apple TV

11 September 2009

Norah Jones: Come Away with Me: iTunes LP

I like the new LP format. It consists of a new file type (.itlp) that contains everything but the songs and some of the videos. I bought the Norah Jones. In iTunes, the album appears as a number of items. The first is the iTunes LP file, running at 175Mb. This contains the interface and it links to the songs and two of the videos. The rest are the songs of the album, plus, in this case, two videos. You can play the songs and videos in iTunes, independent of the LP interface. These are what are synced to your iPod or Apple TV. To view it in LP mode, you double-click the LP item.

The LP interface is much like a DVD, with clickable links. All the text is large, like it is with a DVD, intended to be read from across a room on a large display. It seems a no-brainer for Apple TV to support this in LP mode, but as of last night, there was no software update. This would also apply to movies with extras. It’s a virtual DVD. I’m hoping we see this on Apple TV soon.

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Going Lossless

24 August 2009

I’m ripping CDs to 256Kbps AAC, mostly because it’s Apple’s standard on the iTunes Store. I started out in 2002, ripping to 128Kbps, again because it was what Apple was doing, but also because my iPod was 30Gb and I had to fit everything on it plus leave some space for my rapidly burgeoning collection. iPods, in my book, dictate the bitrate you will be using.

I just bought two albums from sources other than the iTunes Store: the remarkable chiptunes tribute to Kind of Blue, Kind of Bloop and a new Paul & Price EP, Believing. I like the iTunes Store’s 256Kbps, but these two titles had a killer feature–they both were available in a lossless format. I ripped both to 256Kbps AAC and stored the lossless files away for later use.

I’ve been through three bitrate standards: 128Kpbs, 192Kbps and now 256Kbps. Each phase represents a time when the iPod (and to a lesser degree, local storage) capacity increased markedly. There is another phase to come, but thankfully it will be the last. When the iPod has another great leap forward in capacity, say to 500Gb, I will make that final step to full lossless for all my CDs.

The beauty of lossless, from a management viewpoint, is that you can’t make it any better, and thus your bitrate journey is over. By lossless, I specifically mean Apple’s Apple Lossless format, because that’s the one I’ve selected for compatibility with iTunes and the iPod.

It struck me, with these two titles I bought, that I don’t need to convert them to 256Kbps. There are only 9 songs between them, and keeping the lossless versions in iTunes means I don’t have to archive copies and there is no need to maintain two versions. My 160Gb iPod Classic still has about 25Gb free, and my iTunes library is on a readily upgradeable Drobo, so there’s no need to be careful about space considerations. I wouldn’t do this with all my music yet–there’s still the iPod capacity barrier, but the distinction here is that these files do not have a hardware CD source. I might as well leave these bits and bobs as lossless. Now I need replacement lossless versions for the Neptune Pink Floyd tribute compilations None of Us is Pink and The Return of the Sons of Neptune, lost in a hard-drive accident.


iTunes Store Australia Brings on the Free Stuff

12 March 2009
iTunes Store Australia Free Content

iTunes Store Australia Free Content

US iTunes Store customers have enjoyed a wide range of free items every week, including songs, music videos, TV episodes and short films. In Australia, since its inception, we have only had one free item a week–a song–until recently. Last week there was a free “making-of” clip for the series Invincible (iTunes Store link). This week, look at the bounty laid before us: first episode of Chandon Pictures, Season 2 (iTunes Store link) (this is available as a season pass), a song and the premiere of another TV show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (iTunes Store link). I’m pleased with the increased selection and the free episode of Chandon Pictures I consider especially generous as this is being posted shortly after it has been aired on its cable station. I bought the first season when it came out and this gesture by Apple has guaranteed that I will buy this season pass.


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.


iTunes Free Song of the Week: Get the DRM-Free Version

21 February 2009
iTunes Plus Free Songs of the Week (Click to enlarge)

iTunes Plus Free Songs of the Week (Click to enlarge)

Despite the move to iTunes Plus for new songs, the free song of the week has been offered in 128kbps DRM format. Songs of the Week are presented as a single-song album. What I have discovered here in Australia, for at least the last month, is that the free song has also been available in a 256kbps DRM-free version. Instead of getting the free song, click the artist name in the “breadcrumb trail”:

iTunes "Breadcrumb Trail" (Click to enlarge)

iTunes "Breadcrumb Trail" (Click to enlarge)

Look for an album with the same artwork as the free album. Ensure that it is an iTunes Plus album:

iTunes Album

iTunes Album

In that album will be the same song but in 256kbps and also free. Get that version instead:

iTunes Plus Free Song

iTunes Plus Free Song

I guess it will take a while to transition away from the old free song arrangement. Perhaps these have been decided on months in advance and so we still see them until they run out.


Managing the iTunes Plus Upgrade Process

3 February 2009

If you haven’t modified any of the tags for the music you previously bought from the iTunes Store, then the tags for the Plus replacements should match. The Plus tracks will have a new Date Added but otherwise will appear the same. The average user will be unaware of the change.

Fiddlers like myself will get into trouble if they simply do an upgrade as the tags won’t match. I always make sure my purchased music has a release date, that the album name and track number is correct (free song-of-the-week titles are usually wrong). I complete the tagging of music videos (usually they have a name and little else). I may replace the album art with one of my superior scans. You get the idea. Here are my recommendations for upgrading, all of which I followed in my own recent upgrade.

Download on a Different Computer or Library

My library is on my desktop machine. I downloaded on my laptop, which I use as a workspace to tag music before I merge it with the main library. The laptop is authorised for my iTunes Store account as is the desktop. The songs to upgrade are tracked by the Store from its own records, not based on the presence of any tracks in the library you are working with, so you can download to a different computer, even if the original songs are not there.

Alternatively, if you don’t have a secondary computer to work with, you can create a new, separate library to download to. Quit iTunes, then relaunch while holding down the Option key (Mac) or Shift key (Windows). This will bring up a dialog where you can choose an existing library or create a new one. Create one on the desktop for ease of finding in a later step. Log into the iTunes Store, click the iTunes Plus link, buy what you want (you can select what you want to upgrade now–you’re not forced to upgrade everything) and download it.

Merging with the Main Library

In this step you’ll add the new files to the existing library for checking against the originals.

If you’re using the double-library approach, quit iTunes and relaunch while holding down Option or Shift. Choose the main library. Once iTunes has launched, create a new static playlist called iTunes Upgrade. Open the iTunes library folder on the desktop. Burrow down to the iTunes Music folder and drag that folder into the new iTunes Upgrade playlist. If you downloaded on another machine, get the files across by any convenient method and drag into the playlist. As soon as one track has finished copying, hold down the Command key (Mac) or Control key (Windows) and click the checkbox next to the name. This will uncheck all the tracks and prevent them from being synced to your iPod or Apple TV before you’ve finished editing them.

Editing the Tags

Now you’ve got two sets of files: the original 128kbps protected files and the new 256kbps Plus files. Sort the playlist by Album and find the first album in the main body of the library. Change the tags of the Plus song to match that of the Protected song if necessary.

Empty the trash. Click the Plus song and delete it. Don’t empty the trash. Right-click the remaining original protected song and select Show in Finder (Mac) or Show in Windows Explorer (Windows). This will open a window with the actual file location of the song. Drag the Plus file out of the trash and put it in the song folder. Throw the protected file in the trash and empty it.

Now you’ve broken the link to the song in iTunes because you’ve deleted the file but not the database record. We do this to preserve the Date Added value, because this cannot be changed unlike other values such as Date Last Played.

Click on the song and Get Info. iTunes will tell you it can’t find it and ask if you want to locate it. You do. Navigate to the Plus version in the original location and click the Open button. Now you’ll see the Get Info dialog for that song. iTunes will also update the record to reflect that the song is now 256kbps but other metadata such as Last Played, Play Count, Rating and of course, Date Added are unchanged.

Special Considerations

This is the main procedure. You may find that the original tracks are no longer available and you may be offered an alternative, or (theoretically) they will be ignored in the upgrade process. For more on this, refer to my earlier post.

Be careful with the Finder/Explorer hack, especially the step where you choose the “lost” file. If you choose the wrong one you’ll change the record in iTunes and you’ll have a duplicate on your hands. Fixing it is messy. You would have to select the two duplicate records and delete them, which will put the file in the trash. Drag it back into iTunes and you’ll recover it to the original album, but you’ll lose all that lovely metadata for both the original song and the one you were trying to map. You’ll have to also drag the song you were trying to map to into iTunes.

Summary

I’ll admit that it’s a bit of work and if you have bought an awful lot of songs it probably isn’t worth it, but for perfectionists like myself who haven’t bought much, I think it’s a good idea from the perspective of maintaining valuable metadata.


Hidden Bonuses for iTunes Plus Upgraders

23 January 2009

I’ve been upgrading my iTunes library to Plus. Luckily, I haven’t bought much, being very much a CD preferer, so it’s not costing me much.

"Only Time" EP

Enya: "Only Time" EP

I’ve noticed a bonus from the upgrade process. This is Enya’s Only Time EP, one song of which I bought way back when the iTunes Store went live here in Australia.

The thing is, time has passed and the original EP is no longer available on the store. This is what I bought:

"Only Time" EP (Original)

Enya: "Only Time" EP (Original)

iTunes matched this release with whatever it had to hand (which is a remixed and updated version, released in 2001, a year later than the original). I paid $1.50AUS to upgrade ($0.50AUS each song). Presumably there had been three songs on the original (I don’t remember three–I’m sure that there were two songs on it and I didn’t buy one because I had that on CD). Anyway, the song I bought is not even on this new version, so effectively I paid less than the price of a single song ($1.69AUS) for a whole 4-track EP! I’m happy with that.

I suppose if there is no possible match, they won’t include it in the upgrade program. Also, I notice that the free songs I’ve been getting every week have not been included in the update, which I’m happy with, because I get them reflexively, not because I know and want the music. Consequently, a lot of them are misses, so I wouldn’t want to upgrade them. Still, it’s early days, so they may pop up in the future.