December 28, 2005

How Do I Get Other Videos Onto My iPod From My Computer?

By Peter Svensson

Q: I have the latest version of the iPod, the one that plays videos, but I'm tired of watching episodes of "Lost" from the iTunes store. How do I get other videos?

A: There are a number of ways to transfer home movies and other videos from your computer to your fifth-generation iPod, especially if you have an Apple computer.

The complication is that the iPod will only play video files in two very specific formats, so any clips you want to watch will have to be converted to one of these.

The iPod formats use the latest and greatest ways of squeezing video file sizes. That means you get small files and good video quality, but the computer doing the compression has to do a lot of work. In fact, even a fast computer will often take more time to compress a clip for the iPod than it takes to play the clip. Start the computer well before you need to run out the door with your iPod.

If you're lazy, don't bother with any of this, just wait for Apple to expand the selections available on iTunes. Other sellers are bound to start providing video in the iPod format as well -- the pornographers are already doing it.

> If you have a Mac

The easy way to convert everything except DVDs is Apple's QuickTime media player. However, you need the latest version of the software, 7.0.3, and you need to upgrade to the Pro version, which costs $29.99.

Load your movie in QuickTime, then select File:Export. Set the Export field to "Movie to iPod," and click Save.

A tip: the iTunes store has movie trailers, but doesn't make them available for download to the iPod. Instead, go to Using QuickTime Pro, you can save most of those trailers and convert them for the iPod.

As an alternative to QuickTime, you can use iMovie, the editing application that comes free with a new Mac. You need version 5, which came out in January, to output to the iPod. If you have an earlier version, you can upgrade the whole iLife software suite, of which iMovie is a part, for $79.

To use iMovie, import the video clips you want, then select File:Share:Quicktime. In the Export field, select "Movie to iPod," and Save.

Neither Apple application will allow you to move DVDs to your iPod. While it is certainly illegal to download movies off the Internet, no one has yet been indicted or sued for converting DVDs they own to watch them on another player. It could be illegal to do so, however, because you need to break the encryption on the DVD.

An elegant free software package called Handbrake will rip a DVD and convert it to the iPod format. In our brief test of version, it worked very well, but it requires a bit more savvy than Apple's programs. For iPod video, you need to set output to "MP4," lower the compression rate to about 400 kilobits per second, and set the frame size (under Picture Settings), to 320x240 pixels, which is the resolution of the iPod's screen.

On the computer screen, the resulting video was considerably darker than the original DVD, but it looked good on the iPod screen.

> If you have a PC

There is a PC version of QuickTime, which works just like the Mac version. See instructions above.

There is no PC version of iMovie or Handbrake, but there is a free program called Videora iPod Converter. Our test of version 0.91 produced unwatchable videos where the sound was out of sync with the image. The interface is also quite baffling.

An alternative is Crazi Video for iPod, a $29.95 program from RiverPast. It worked fine when we tested it and was simple to use.

To get a DVD onto the iPod, it appears you will need to rip the disc with some other program, then convert the video file with one of the alternatives above.

> The last step, for PC or Mac

Drag the resulting video files into iTunes, and sync them with the iPod.

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