I remember several years ago when iTunes first came out and I discovered I could “rip” my purchased musical CDs from their uncompressed AIFF format (on the CD) to much smaller, mp3 format files that would reside on my computer and be available to play whenever I wanted. When I obtained my first iPod (a first generation one with the mechanical control wheel) I was in heaven, being able to have all… and later “some” as the size of my “ripped” music collection grew… of my musical collection at my fingertips wherever I went. As I upgraded iPod versions over the past couple of years, finally to an iPod Photo (purchased just days before the video iPod was first announced, incidentally) I grew accustomed to the experience of having my music (as well as podcasts I enjoy listening to) at my fingertips at almost all times. What joy!

When I resigned from my job in Lubbock this past summer to take a new one in Oklahoma, I had to give up numerous technology tools and gadgets, including laptops and iPods. Since then, I have not had access to a fullsize iPod, although thanks to the generosity of a friend I’ve borrowed a portable audio recorder. I’ve also been able to borrow and use my middle child’s iPod Nano the last two months, which she “earned” as a result of her work last summer helping me teach around 100 teachers in College Station, Texas, about classroom podcasting. Still, I have dearly missed having all my music files with me when I drive and travel from place to place.

Video iPod

In anticipation of Santa’s long awaited gift this Christmas (a video iPod) I am in the process of copying all of my iTunes music files (around 3500) from our older “Yosemite” Macintosh G3 computer to a new, large external firewire drive. Since I use my Macbook laptop all the time now, but don’t have the hard drive space to spare for all my music files, podcasts, and the iPod video files I want to load, my thought is I am going to use an iTunes library on the external hard drive and “point” iTunes to it whenever I want to sync my new video iPod.

This process is rather painful due to the relatively slow transfer rate of the computer configuration I’m using… To copy about 16.5 gigabytes of data, my Mac OS 10.3 machine (running at 400 mHz) reports it will take about 5 hours. I am not sure why this is going to take so long, I’m guessing the formatting of the external HD (probably for Windows as a MS-DOS partition) may explain this. The process was initially delayed while I found and renamed a mp3 file that had a quotation mark in its filename. This happened a second time, and unfortunately the entire copying process had to start over… hopefully the rest of my files will not have illegal characters in them so the copying process can continue uninterrupted. (I did finally search my iTunes library for a quotation mark and renamed all files that had them in the title, so hopefully that will do the trick.)

Yesterday when visiting the Apple Store in Oklahoma City, I made two exciting discoveries. The first was that about two weeks ago, a new microphone for the iPod Nano became available from MicroMemo. Since full sized iPods use spinning hard drives instead of silent flash-based memory, I’ve been hesitant to purchase and use an iPod microphone. This new one for the iPod Nano looks great, however, although it’s a bit pricey (around $60.)

iPod Nano microphone

I didn’t purchase this microphone, I’m still probably going to go with an eBay-sold (used) iRiver T10 or comparable music recorder and player, but I was excited to learn about this new mic option for iPod Nano owners.

The second discovery was the result of a conversation with one of the Apple Store salespeople. I mentioned I was getting a video iPod and wanted to convert some of my existing DVD movies to iPod format, and I was wondering if there was an open source software program that made this process easy. He told me about Handbrake, an open source DVD to iPod and PSP program that many people are using.

From an intellectual property standpoint, let me say that officially my use of this program to convert commercial DVDs I have purchased with existing DRM is purely hypothetical. Based on my understanding of the DMCA, informed in part by Leo Laporte and company on TWiT, in the US under current copyright/intellectual property right law it is illegal to “break” the DRM on a published and copyrighted work (like a commercial DVD) even if you physically own and possess the commercial DVD and are just converting the file to another format so you can watch the movie on a different device, like an iPod. My personal view on this provision of the law is that it is ludicrous. I first learned the term “space shifting” from an October 2000 Wired Magazine article (“David Boies: The Wired Interview”) focusing on the legal issues in the Napster lawsuit. According to the article:

One noninfringing use is space-shifting. [Music listeners space-shift when they copy songs they already own onto more portable media.] The 9th Circuit has held that space-shifting is clearly a noninfringing use, and both Napster’s expert and the RIAA’s expert say space-shifting is a very substantial use by Napster users.

Using a program like Handbrake to convert DVD movies a person has purchased and owns into a compressed video file that can be viewed on a portable device like an iPod or PSP is another form of space-shifting. Unfortunately, the DMCA does not recognize the legitimacy of a US consumer space-shifting commercial DVD movies.

So again, speaking in a purely hypothetical sense (or describing my successful efforts to convert DVD media I’ve personally created and to which I own full the full copyright) with Handbrake, I’ve found the following settings to work well and render MPEG4 video files of unexpectedly low file size and high quality. These are the only changes I made to the default settings for Handbrake:

  1. Video codec: H.264
  2. Video setting average bitrate: 600
  3. Two-pass encoding selected (checked)
  4. Audio Bitrate: 160 kbps
  5. Picture setting: 320×128 (for widescreen DVDs) or 320×240 (for fullscreen or 4:3 DVDs)

One of the how-to guides linked from the Handbrake website reports that using the H.264 codec as well as two-pass encoding signficantly increases the time required to convert the video, but also reduces final file size as well as increasing the quality.

I’ve found that a DVD movie of 1.5 or 2 hours in length encodes with these settings in about two hours and has a final file size less than 1 gigabyte, usually from 512 MB to 768 MB, using a 2 GHz Intel Core Duo Macbook. I’m delighted with the results and can’t wait to see these converted videos on the video iPod!

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6 Responses to Copying iTunes songs, DVD conversion and feeding

  1. Anna Adam says:

    Wes, I have that same mic, the MicroMemo, for my iPod video. It’s not the one Helen and I used to interview you with at Beyond4Walls – that was the Belkin. I have to say I like the MicroMemo a LOT better. No hard drive spins like you get with the Belkin. The mic there is moveable so you can sit the iPod on a table and pull the mic up to record conversations. The mic comes off, and you can use a different external mic with it. Also, the Belkin is strictly a recorder, but the MicroMemo is also a speaker so that you can play back your recording without the use ear buds or another device. Very handy!

    Thanks for the info on HandBrake. Going to check it out now!

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    Cool, thanks for the feedback Anna! I’m not sure I can borrow my daughter’s Nano longterm for recording, but I’ll certainly consider it. Glad to hear your experiences with the new mic have been positive.

  3. Anna Adam says:

    Well, you’re getting an iPod video for Christmas, no? That would make a nice addition. You should celebrate Three Kings’ Day like me. Then they’d probably bring it to you. 😀

  4. Ruth says:

    I have the micromemo too and really like it. I also got another iPod gadget recently that I really love – It’s the Hitch by a company called Sima. It transfers music or photos, etc. from any USB gadget (camera, camcorder, other MP3 player or iPod). It doesn’t need a computer – … Plus it charges my iPod from totally empty to full really quickly.

  5. Wesley Fryer says:

    I’ve added some additional tips to the list above on my post, “More lessons learned on iPod video conversion.”

  6. […] After successfully (and unsuccessfully) converting a few more videos to an iPod-complaint/friendly format that transfer and play without a problem on a video iPod (5G), I’ve learned several new things to add to my initial list from a few days ago. […]

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