I just found a list of several good sites for AppleScripts that I found in the latest Mac Addict magazine. (Yes, I subscribe to it!)
I got an iPod video a few days ago. I've been trying to figure out how to copy DVDs to the iPod Video so I have something to watch on that trip to Paris, that I'm taking. This morning, I figured it out and successfully copied a DVD to the iPod. Here's how to do it. Note that these instructions are for Windows. I haven't quite figured out how to do this on the Mac yet. Once I do, I'll post a follow-up blog with those instructions.
Download the following two programs:
- DVD Shrink. You can find this by doing a Google search. You will need this program to copy the movie off of the DVD and onto your hard drive, breaking the copy protection in the process.
- Videora iPod Converter. This freeware program will give you a one-click way of converting the video from the DVD into iPod format.
Now follow these steps to setup DVD Shrink. You only need to to this once.
- Install DVD Shrink.
- Run DVD Shrink.
- Click on the Edit menu, and choose Preferences.
- Click on the "Output Files" tab.
- Make sure the option that says "Split VOB files into 1GB size chunks (recommended)" is NOT checked.
- Click the 'Ok' button to save these changes.
Now follow these steps to setup Videora iPod Converter. You only need to do this once.
- Install Videora iPod Converter
- Run Videora
- Click on Setup and set the directory you want to output the finished movie files to.
Now for the actual copying.
- Run DVD Shrink
- Insert the DVD you want to copy.
- Click on the 'Open Disc' button in the toolbar. Then click 'ok' on the dialog box that comes next.
- DVD Shrink will spend 1-2 minutes analyzing your DVD disk. Once it is done, it will display the contents of the DVD.
- Click on the 'Backup!' button on the toolbar.
- In the 'Target Device' tab, under 'Select backup target', choose 'Hard Disk Folder'.
- Under 'Select target folder for DVD output files', select a directory to extract the DVD contents to on your hard drive. Note that you must make sure to enter a DIFFERENT directory here for each DVD you extract. If you don't do this, you could end up overwriting the contents of a previously extracted DVD.
- Click the 'OK' button.
- DVD shrink will then spend the next 30-60 minutes extracting the contents of the DVD to your hard drive. Just keep an eye on it and come back when it's done.
- Once DVD Shrink says it is done, you can close DVD Shrink.
- Open Windows Explorer and browse to the directory where you just extracted the DVD to.
- Underneath that directory where you just extracted the DVD files, browse to the 'VIDEO_TS' directory.
- Look through all the files with a VOB extension. The largest file with a VOB extension should be the movie. This file will likely be several GB is size.
- Rename this large VOB file so that the filename is of the format NameOfMovie.VOB
- Run Videora iPod Converter.
- Click on Convert
- Click on the 'One-Click Transcode' button.
- Browse to the directory where you have that large VOB file, and select that file. You can select several VOB files at once here if you want and it will convert all of them in a batch.
- Click the 'Open' button. Videora will then spend a while converting the video to iPod format.
- When Videora is done, go to your output directory, and copy the new MP4 file for the movie into your iTunes directory.
- Import the video into your iTunes library.
- Copy the video to your iPod, using iTunes.
Done! You can now go to the 'Movies' section of the Video menu on the iPod and watch the movie. Enjoy!
The next new gadget that I got is my favorite new gadget by far. This is my shiny black 60GB iPod video! Time for a little review...
The iPod is impressively small and light. The 60GB 5G iPod is slimmer than my old 4G 40GB iPod. This size improvement solves my biggest gripe about the old 60GB iPod Photo. That thing was just too fat to be useable. (Not to mention expensive).
The screen is large, bright, and very easy on the eyes. There is ample room for menus, album art, the little games that come with it, etc. The video playback is also quite good. There is a very slight delay (1-2 seconds) between the time you select a video to play and when it starts playing. This is different from the music playing, which seems to have no delay. The delay is not bad though. I've been searching for free video content to put on it, and I'm discovering an impressive selection of free video out there for the taking. I'll cover more of that in a later blog.
Now for my gripes about the new iPod...
Video organization features are sorely lacking. While there are plenty of ways to organize music on it (by artist, by album, by genre, by podcast, etc.) there is very little of this for video. About all you have for video are: music videos, TV shows, video podcasts and 'movies'. With the exception of 'movies' these are largely 'canned' categories that are out of your control. They are filled up by stuff you download from iTunes, whether it be paid content (music videos and TV shows) or free content (video podcasts). Everything else gets lumped into the 'movies' category. If you have a large collection of videos that you've put on the iPod from other sources, they all get stuck into one big list. It can be hard to find the video you are looking for from this big list. All this list shows is basically the filename of the video, minus the extension. Since videos often have pretty obscure filenames, it makes it hard to find things. It does not appear that the iPod takes into consideration any of the meta-data on the videos. Where is the ability to list by artist? Where is the ability to list by 'album'? Where is the ability to list by genre? All these types of metadata can be set in iTunes on the videos themselves. Why is this missing? I suspect that this problem will be fixed by a firmware upgrade soon. (January 10th perhaps?)
There is no developer API at all for the iPod (of any generation). Why??? This thing has a beautiful, full color screen. I can imagine a lot of ways that large color screen and large capacity HD (60GB!) could be put to good use. I can imagine many, many more games developed for the iPod. I can imagine a nice e-book reader using that big screen. I can imagine adding the ability to play other video and audio codecs to the iPod (Plays for Sure, Ogg Vorbis, Divx etc.) The new iPod has a screen resolution equal to the resolution on a standard TV. Think about all those classic arcade games that could be ported to the iPod. There are millions of these things out there! That's an instant market for selling new software that Apple has a monopoly on! Come on Apple! Take a page from the Microsoft book and release an add-on to XCode that allows this. There are games provided with the iPod, so there must exist internal to Apple an API for this. Release this API to the public! I can see this API potentially putting every other PDA (Palm, Windows Mobile) out of business in short order.
Poor separation between video content and audio content. This is as much a gripe with iTunes as it is with the iPod. In iTunes 6.0, you can create a playlist which contains both video and audio files. I think this is a mistake. Video and audio podcasts are separated. Playlists should be too. Granted, iTunes does warn you if you try to do this, but it still allows it. It should not.
No subfolders in playlists. Again, this is an iTunes as much as iPod gripe. Why is it you can organize your playlists in subfolders in iTunes and yet when you copy them to the iPod, they all end up in one great big list? You should be able to create subfolders for your playlists in iTunes as well.
iTunes is a poor name for the app now. It manages more than just 'tunes' now. It manages video as well. Maybe rename it to 'iMedia' or something like that. Also, whenever you copy video to the iPod using iTunes, it still says 'Copying Songs...'. That should be changed to 'Copying Media' or separate messages saying 'Copying Songs', 'Copying podcasts', 'Copying video', and 'Copying video podcasts'...
DirecTV has a lot of work to do.
A couple night ago, I bought a DirecTV Plus receiver. What is DirecTV Plus? It's DirecTV's version of the Tivo. In other words, it's there home-brewed DVR. You can use it to record TV shows and watch them later. It's sort of a VCR that records to a hard drive instead of tapes. The Tivo is a fantastic device. I've been using it for 5 years now and loving every minute of it. Unfortunately, with the collapse of the deal between DirecTV and Tivo, there won't be any more DirecTV Tivos being made, unfortunately. One of my Tivos died and I needed a replacement, so I ended up getting this, since it was all that was available. I thought I'd write in and give my thoughts on how the Plus compares to the Tivo.
DirecTV Plus Advantages.
- Records 90 minutes of live TV, versus only 30 minutes on Tivo.
- TV picture and sound are always visible. Even when you are in full screen menus, the TV picture shrinks down and moves to the upper right hand corner. The TV sound continues to play, so you don't miss your show while you are in the menus.
- Larger recording capacity. The Plus records up to 100 hours of programming versus about 40 hours on the Tivo. I believe this is due to the Plus having a 100GB HD versus a 40GB HD on the Tivo.
- Free space display. The Plus shows a percentage free bar whenever you view the list of recorded shows. The Tivo does not.
- Remembers searches. The Plus shows you a list of the last several terms you searched for when searching for a show. This is handy because it prevents you from having to retype everything. The Tivo doesn't do this.
- All software and program guide updates are done over the satellite. The Tivo has to download everything by dialing out with a built in modem. The satellite way is faster and eliminates the tying up of the phone. Granted the Tivo usually dials out in the middle of the night so this is not a major concern, but still I like this better. I expect that downloading off the satellite is also faster.
DirecTV Plus Disadvantages
- Very confusing interface. The Plus' interface is very confusing. Things seem to be very disorganized and very user hostile. The menu structure is far from obvious. The list of recorded shows is called the "VOD list". What the hell does VOD stand for? I'm assuming it stands for Video On Demand, but this is far from obvious. I'm still learning how the hell this thing works. With the Tivo you can pretty much sit down and just use it. You don't need to know how to use it. I would almost equate the Tivo to the 'Mac of DVRs' (easy, fast, beautiful and a joy to use) versus the Plus as the 'PC of DVRs' (functional, but sluggish and unnecessarily complex).
- Very sluggish search. Whenever you are searching, you select the letters of the word you are searching for, one by one on the screen. The problem is that there is a noticeable pause of a second or two everytime you choose a letter. This is no doubt due to the fact that it is re-searching the list of shows based on the new word you've typed so far. The Tivo has no noticable pause when searching.
- The annoying blue circle! The front of the box has this bright blue lit up circle light. This light is always on, 24 hours a day. Unfortunately this light is VERY bright at night. It is so bright that if you have it in your bedroom it rapidly becomes distracting because it lights up the whole room! There's got to be a way of turning this damn thing off. It's in my living room right now so it's no big deal, but the first night it was in my bedroom and it was very annoying.
I really wish I could get another Tivo instead of this thing. Frankly I can't stand it, but I'm stuck with it. I need a DVR and this is the only thing available right now. DirecTV better get to work on doing some major cleaning up of this thing!
Watch the video at the link for this blog. It's a video of a guy who synchronized his house's Christmas lights to a Christmas song by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It's absolutely amazing!
In the 'no suprise to anyone' category, we have this news story. It's now official. Steve Jobs will deliver the keynote address at Macword San Franciso on January 10, 2006. No doubt, this is the day he announces the first Intel based Macs...
Sed is a Unix command line tool for doing string substitutions in text files. It is VERY handy when searching for referer spam in your access logs. The article for this blog goes into great detail on how to use it.
I'll write a detailed blog on how to locate referer spam in the future...
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
I have mixed feelings about iTunes. I like it as a music management application, but I do not like it as a music store. Why don't I like the iTunes Music Store? Read on...
There are several problems with the iTunes Music Store (ITMS). The first is price. Yes, 99 cents a track is cheap. This makes it useful on a 'singles' basis. I firmly believe that buying single tracks from ITMS has become the new 'singles' market. In the old days you would go into the store and buy a single track on either CD or tape. That way you wouldn't have to spent the $10-15 on a CD if you only like one song. Now you just go to ITMS, spend a buck and you have the song. The problem is, what happens if you DO want the entire album? Whenever you buy an album on iTunes, all it does is basically buy all the tracks from that album at 99 cents a piece. Multiply 0.99 times the number of tracks on a CD and you can easily top $12-15 for a single album! The more tracks on the CD, the more expensive it is. This is completely opposite the way it works if you buy the CD in the store. These days, most CDs can be bought for around $10-12 in the stores. That price is no matter how many tracks are on the CD. It could contain 5 tracks. It could contain 500 tracks. It doesn't matter. It's the same price. This is where iTunes is lacking. I can kind of understand the need to charge 99 cents for a track if you are buying a single track. After all, you are buying these tracks with a credit card, and there are per transaction costs for processing credit card transactions. However, if you are buying an entire album, that is still a single credit card transaction. There is no need to build in that extra cost into every track on the CD. This is one reason, I am in favor of switching iTunes to a variable price model. If you are buying a CD, it should be possible to discount the price considerably. This discount should be relative to the number of CDs you are buying at once. If you are buying a single CD album, sell it for $7. If you are buying a 2 CD album, sell it for say $12. If you are buying a 10 CD audio book, sell it for say $30. Apple needs to undercut the music stores for prices of entire CDs. This move would greatly increase the already large number of tracks they sell. If they did this I might even consider buying CDs. As it is now, ITMS is more expensive than buying a CD in the stores. What's the point in spending more to buy something on ITMS when you get less? You don't get a CD (a convenient storage medium for the music if nothing else), you don't get the liner notes, (which often contain the lyrics to all the songs - a nice feature), you don't get a nice CD case. You even get a lower quality recording on ITMS versus the CDs you buy in the store...
This leads me to my other problem with ITMS. The music quality is greatly inferior to the music quality of the same song purchased on a regular music CD. Most ITMS songs are recorded at 128kbps. This is considerably lower than the recording rate of a music CD. I've had long discussions with a musician friend of mine. He doesn't understand why so many people would buy what is clearly inferior music from ITMS. The quality of the music just isn't there. I believe that the reason that ITMS tracks sell so well is that they are 'good enough' for most people. Most people, myself included, would not even be able to tell the difference between an ITMS song and a song directly from a music CD. A musician would. Apple needs to start increasing the recording rate on their tracks to at least 192kbps. I suspect that this would be relatively easy for Apple to do, on a going forward basis. As I understand it, Apple doesn't actually 'rip' all the songs to music files that it sells on it's service. Instead it provides software to all the music companies to do this. This means that all the music company has to do is feed music CDs to this program and it 'rips' the CDs to music files. These music files are then sent to Apple for posting on the site for sale. All Apple has to do is change the default encoding rate on their CD 'ripping' software to a higher bit rate and then ship this out to all the music companies. From this point forward, all new music would be ripped at the new, higher, default bitrate. I imagine something could be arranged to re-rip the old tracks too.
I've had a lot of problems with the Apple products I've bought over the last year or so: A dead iPod, a dead Powermac, a 'flaky' iPod Shuffle. Pretty much every Apple product I've bought over the last year or so has had a problem that required me to bring it in for service. And yet, I still love their products. Why? In a word - service!
Apple's customer service has been, without fail, fantastic. Their employees are always friendly. They don't talk down to you. They don't seem annoyed that you are 'bothering' them with your problems. They are very helpful and they do their best to solve your problem with the minimum of impact to you. When my Powermac broke down, it was in service for a week. When I got it back, it worked perfectly and all the data on my hard drive was intact. I lost nothing. If you sent a computer in for service with most companies, they would just give you a new computer and get rid of you. This would mean that you get a new hard drive and you would lose everything on your hard drive. For most people, this can be a disaster. Apple appears to have a standard policy that if you bring in a computer for repair, they will backup all your data for you in the process. A nice move. Later, after getting my Powermac fixed, I discovered that one of its two processors was not functioning. I was essentially running on half the computer I should have been. Apple's customer service promised to order me a new CPU and let me use my Powermac in the meantime, so I wasn't going to be without it. I may have only had one CPU working instead of two, but the machine was working enough to be useable. The fact that they were considerate of my need to have a working computer in the meantime was another nice sign.
A couple of months ago, my 4th generation 40GB iPod died. I brought it in and they replaced it with another one. The one I gave them was nearly a year old and badly scratched up. The one they gave me in replacement was a refurbished one, but you would never be able to tell. It looked brand new! It didn't have any scratches at all. For all intents and purposes, they gave me a brand new iPod! Yes, I had to restore all my music to the new iPod, but it was all in my iTunes library, so with 5 minutes of effort, everything was back. A couple of days ago, my replacement iPod appeared to die as well. Last night I took it in to the Apple store to get replaced, but oddly enough, it decided to work perfectly when I tried to show it to the Apple tech! The battery was very low when I showed it to him, to the point that it wouldn't even come on for more than a couple of seconds. Strange how it refused to work at all when I had a problem with it. Maybe the battery was just so low that it wouldn't turn on. *shrug* It works now.
I've also been having problems with my iPod Shuffle. Ever since I got it, it's had a weird problem where you plug it into the computer and it will be detected. It comes up in iTunes and works fine. After a few minutes, though, it mysteriously dissapears from iTunes even though it is still connected. The computer seems to lose track of it, even though it is still connected. This has been happening increasingly over the last few months. I never brought it in to get serviced because honestly there was no need. The battery life on that little thing is so good, I could listen to it for weeks or months on end without needing to plug it in. The Shuffle is very much a load it and forget it kind of iPod. I mostly use it as a workout iPod. I put on a collection of songs to listen to at the gym, hop on the treadmill, hit shuffle and off I go. I don't have to load things on it very often, so it was never a big issue. I finally decided to get it fixed because with my other iPod seemingly dead and my new Shuffle acting up, I was without music! I took this down to the Apple store and they replaced it without any fuss at all. I took it home, reloaded it, and charged it and now I'm back to full 'power' with my music! Gotta love that!