Master your media

Another round of business travel is upon me all too suddenly, so I'm loading my video iPod as I frantically throw jumbles of clothing into a suitcase. It's easy to rip digital files from my CD collection, which is why I have 25GB of music loaded in short order. But iTunes doesn't import my DVDs, and as a result -- unless I spend a bunch more money at Apple's online store -- my iPod is "video" in name only.

Fortunately, just as Jack Bauer knows alternate routes through L.A. rush-hour traffic, I have a few tricks that enable me to get around iTunes and add movies to my player. I can even transfer my favourite viral videos from YouTube and copy commercial-free TV shows from my TiVo. I can have tricks to improve music playback by ripping a perfect copy of a new CD or downloading free songs from Internet radio stations.

I'll explain these and other tips for media conversion, portable playback, and related tasks -- a trove of useful information, whether you use iTunes, Windows Media Player, an iPod, a Zune, or some other tool. My flight may be scheduled to depart in just 24 hours, but my iPod is going to be ready.

Rip a DVD to your iPod

iTunes can't import movie DVDs in the same way that it captures audio CDs, but here's an easy method for converting such videos to an iPod-digestible format. These steps will work with your family's home videos, and they should transfer most of the commercial movie DVDs you own, too. (Ripping copyrighted movies raises legal and ethical issues that you and your conscience need to take into account.)

Rip video from the disc: First, use AnyDVD (AU$55) to move the video files from the DVD where they're stored onto your hard drive. Launch AnyDVD Ripper, choose a destination, and then click the Copy DVD button. Depending on your PC and DVD drive speeds, transferring the video to your hard disk should take about 20 minutes.

Prep the video for your iPod: Roxio Crunch (AU$45) compresses the videos into iPod-ready movie files. Though free alternatives exist, Crunch's simplicity and intuitive interface justify its price. Open Crunch, click the Add Movies button, and navigate to the folder on your hard drive where you put your ripped video file. Crunch shows you preview frames of each video file to help you find the one you're looking for--a big help, since many DVDs include multiple video files. You can also use the length information to help identify the main video: look for one that's more than an hour long. Control-click to select multiple files if you wish. Click OK.

Choose the correct format for your player: available formats appear in the pop-up window; for most video-capable iPods, a good option is iPod Standard. Verify that the radio button outputs to File/Folder (instead of importing directly from iTunes) to store the resulting file anywhere on your PC. Click Save As, choose a destination, click the check box to add the file to iTunes automatically, and click OK. Depending on your PC's speed and on the length of the movie, the video encoding will take an hour or two.

Pick the best format for your media player: different media players support different file compression formats for movies and video. (Click on image, at left, to see player capabilities) For example, some players offer video-out to a TV at a resolution that exceeds the device's screen size. So encode higher--and sacrifice space--if you plan to plug it in.

Put each video in the right iTunes library folder: once you've converted your videos to the desired format, add them to your iTunes library by dragging the files into the iTunes window or by choosing File-Add File to Library from the Application menu. Occasionally iTunes slips TV shows, movies, and downloads into the wrong library folder. To redirect such a video into its proper folder, right-click the name of the miscategorized file, select Get Info, click the Video tab, and change the setting under Video Kind so that the program gets shifted into the most appropriate group.

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Zack Stern

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