iPod Video Conversion Part I: Basic Conversion

Written by rob on February 5, 2006 – 12:40 pm -

There are many different programs and methods available to convert videos to iPod format, but I use a program called Videora iPod Converter because it is free and converts files quickly. Get the program here, and then install it. During installation, uncheck the box that says “Launch at Startup”, but keep “AViSynth” checked. Launching it at startup is not necessary and will just slow down your computer.

After it is installed, run the program. In this main screen, look in the left side bar. Press Convert. That is where you will do most of the work. Press the button that says “Transcode New Video”. Browse to the location where your video file is stored and open it. The file name will now appear in the Title box under “New Transcoding Job”.

The last thing you need to concern yourself with is the part that will require the most thought. You need to choose the Quality Profile. You need to take three things into consideration when you pick a profile:

  1. The file size of the video.
  2. The quality of the output video.
  3. The time it takes to convert the video.

It is balancing these three things that gets somewhat difficult. If you make the best possible quality video file, the file size for a 2 hour movie will be about 1500MB. Also, the more quality you have the longer it will take to convert the file. So, I tend to convert files with medium settings, since that will give you a nice balance between size and quality. I prefer MPEG-4 over H264, since it is generally a smaller file with better quality, but it really depends on what kind of movie you are converting.

In order to figure out what Profile to use, go back over to the left side bar and click Setup. On the top of the new screen will be four tabs. Choose Profile Picker. In the dropdown box next to One-Click Profile, there are MANY options available , so just look through a bunch of them until you find one that looks good. The key things to pay attention to is the quality of video and audio at the top, and then the file size near the bottom of the screen. Depending on how many movies you intend to carry on your iPod, you should definitely not go for the best. To get the best results, experiment. I use MPEG-4/320×240/512kbps Stereo/96kbps as my main profile for most files, since it perfectly balances quality with file size. A 2-hour movie will only be around 580MB.

I only use the best profiles when I’m converting a movie I know I will keep for a long time and watch many times, though I really can’t see a quality difference between the medium and best profiles.

Once you have selected the profile you want, click on Convert again. Choose your profile from the “Quality Profile” dropdown box. You are now ready to convert the video. Now press the Start button, and your video will begin to be converted. This part is where Videora really shines. It is pretty fast. It takes about half the amount of time as the source file. So, if you are converting a two hour movie, it will take about an hour. TV shows which are usually 43 minutes without commercials take around 25 minutes. Compare this to Quicktime Pro, the program that Apple wants you to use (and which costs $29.95), where it takes about an hour and a half to convert a 20 minute file!

Anyway, once your video is done transcoding, it will say “Transcoding Complete”. The converted file will be located in C:/Program Files/Videora iPod Converter/Videos. After you go there the first time, you can right-click on the Videos folder, go to Send To, and then “Desktop – Create Shortcut” to make a desktop shortcut for easy subsequent access. Once you have the Videos folder open, open up iTunes. Once it comes up, just drag the video you converted from the open folder to the Library item on the side bar. Next, open up the Videos item, and you should see the video you converted listed. If you want, you can right-click on the video and go to Get Info and change the name of the video, artist, etc. just as if it was a song. Anyway, now you just need to plug in your iPod to copy over the file, and it should be ready to watch on the iPod’s screen.

There are many more programs available now since the iPod Video has been out for a few months that I have not yet tried, but I see no reason to switch from Videora iPod Converter. It converts quickly, it’s free, and it gives you plenty of options. A widescreen movie converted using the medium settings above looks pretty good on a 50″ television, and looks incredible on the iPod’s 2.5″ screen.

One last thing I would like to note is widescreen video. If the video you are converting is widescreen, and not a square, then no matter what setting you use in the program it will look stretched. It isn’t that bad, but it could be annoying if you want the best possible quality from your files. In order to make a widescreen video that will play on your iPod with no stretching, follow the below steps.

Open up Videora iPod Converter and go to Setup. Then go to the Profiles tab (not Profile Picker). In the screen that comes up, select a profile that you found works good for you from the top dropdown box that says “Existing Quality Profiles”. If you don’t know what to choose, just use my recommended one above. Press the “New Profile” button. After this, first change the “Profile Name” to something like “Widescreen Video”. You could also append the 512kbps, etc. if you plan on making more than one Widescreen profile. Now, the only thing you need to change is “Resolution”. Type 368×208 into the box. Now press Apply. This will save the profile and you can now use it within the Convert window to make non-stretched iPod videos. This is the ideal resolution setting to convert DVD-ripped videos to iPod.

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Plug-in Fun

Written by rob on February 3, 2006 – 3:55 pm -

I figured I would add another plug-in today. This one shows the top 3 commentators on the side bar under all of the links. Not all that complex or anything, but cool nonetheless.

Also notable is the fact that I am looking for a spell check plug-in for those of you that are concerned with that sort of thing. There are many out there, but the problem is that none of them work well with WordPress 2.0, the version that I use. Most only work with 1.2 or 1.5. So, eventually that will be implemented.

I am also looking at a weather plug-in, and also one that can show a countdown to particular events. Both already exist, but I will hold off on adding them because I think they might make the sidebar seem bloated. I’m trying to keep everything as simple and elegant as possible.

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Open Source = America

Written by rob on February 3, 2006 – 10:41 am -

In the first couple of posts on this site, including my semi-autobiography in the About Me section of the site, I have been dropping the phrase “open source” quite a bit. It has never really occurred to me until now that the vast majority of people reading this probably have no idea what that even means. What I decided to do was explain it, and then give my take on the whole concept by using an analogy.

Everything needs to have some background in order to be fully understood, and this is no exception, so I am going to try to fill you in as best as possible. When a programmer develops an application, he writes code to make the various functions work. Well, after he is done or when he wants to test it out, he must “compile” the code into a program that he can run. Compiling a program essentially take the human-readable code and converts it into machine language, which is really just 1’s and 0’s. Each command you type when you program corresponds to different bytes that your computer knows how to interpret, which is how the compiler works. Anyway, after compiling a program, the code that you wrote is not part of it in any way. The computer knows how to interpret it, but no other human can sit down and understand how your program works if he only has the compiled version.

Enter open and closed source. The difference is simple: open source programs not only include the program itself, but the “source code” (the code you actually wrote in developing the program). Closed source programs, in direct contrast, just include the program and do not include the code. Well, you now have the boring Dictionary definition of the two concepts. However, they really transcend their meanings into a whole new level, which is where the whole “open source movement” eventually comes in.

You see, distributing an open source program is not just about including the code. By giving your users the code, you are implicitly allowing them to modify it in any way, shape, or form they wish. In the lawyer-filled society we currently live in, someone was bound to translate this implicit understanding into explicit statements, which is where the GNU (whenever you see this acronym, just think open source… it is an organization that makes open source software) General Public License, or GPL for short, entered the picture in 1989. This document has evolved over the years, but the underlying principle remains the same: software distributed under the GPL may be used freely. This is how open source software enters a different plane entirely. It becomes a sort of symbol to freedom in the software world. So, not only does open source mean that software is free as in it costs nothing, but it is also free in the sense of free-use without limits. For example, you could download any open source software, change a couple colors of the program around and make a new name for it, and then redistribute that. Or you could of course completely revitalize it and then distribute it as a new breed of the original. The latter was how Mozilla Firefox came into being. A group of open source developers took the Netscape source code, improved it greatly, and then re-released it as Mozilla which has since grown into a very advanced software application.

This leads directly into the next concept of open source: a collaborative community. It is all about the community, which makes sense given the freedom aspect of open source. Let’s use an example. Program A is released in January by Joe. Mark is a talented programmer that is interested in Program A. He downloads it to his computer and runs it. He enjoys it but feels that Feature A could be implemented better. Mark then rewrites Feature A in the code, recompiles it, and sends the changed copy (with the changed code, of course) to Joe. If Joe likes what he sees, he then releases Program A Version 2 which contains Mark’s addition. There are entire projects that thrive on user contributions. This is why open source software becomes so good. It may not be as good as some professionally-developed application at first, but after time passes and many experts look at it from different angles and contribute their opinions, it evolves into a viable alternative to the professional application. In this way, open source becomes a very respectable business model.

This is where my analogy comes in. I have found that the concepts of America as a nation are directly related to the concepts of open source software. America began as a place to escape the religious persection, and as a way to start things in a new, potentially better way. When it first started, people doubted that it would ever work; it was essentially an experiment. Open source software began as an alternative to an Operating System known as Unix. The two main variations of it at the time (late 80’s), Berkley University’s BSD and AT&T’s Unix, cost a lot of money to purchase and implement. It was a powerful system, but it was so esoterically implemented and expensive to keep up with that someone saught an alternative. Just like Separatists from the Church of England looked for a new way in America, the fathers of open source looked to open source development. Their model was just as radical and unprecedented as the Great Migrations of early America.

Of course, just like America, open source quickly began to shine and become recognized as a huge competitor to the closed source world. The community aspect of open source development works primarily because there are many different viewpoints coming together to form a new, better whole. In America, the Anglo-Saxtons, Scots-Irish, Africans, etc. all came with diverse social and cultural views but over time they all coalesced into what became known as American culture. This new emergence is much like open source’s wonderful early advances.

Every good thing is challenged quite a bit though. Open source succeeded pretty quickly in defeating the Unix it was battling against. Linux, the open source alternative to Unix, was first released in 1991. By the mid-90’s, everyone that was using Unix before had changed to the new, open source, and free alternative. Businesses loved it because they saved money, and pioneering developers loved it because they could modify it to fit their needs. But their victory was short-lived because the most hulking closed source application ever to be released entered the scene — Windows, or more specifically for this period, Windows 95. With its graphical interface, it put shame to Linux’s faster but boring text-only interface. The general public had never really been introduced to computers… the personal computer concept was never really that big until this era. As this general public adopted Windows 95, the successes open source software and Linux had gained over Unix were now eclipsed by Windows’ success.

America had many bad times as well. After the starvation, etc. was dealt with and it was a fairly stable nation, the Revolutionary era and subsequent War of 1812 with Britain caused much problems. Moreso, however, was the Civil War, where the country was literally split in half. Just as Linux became eclipsed by Windows, America’s early successes were forgotten when north-versus-south hatred entered the picture. America, as we all know, eventually overcame the Civil War debacle and is now in another era of success, thanks to the huge improvements after the World Wars.

So, time was all that was necessary to heal the wound to America’s greatness. Well, open source software, I predict, will work in much the same way. Windows XP, and not 95, is the new beast. Linux, however, as well as most open source projects, have also improved, now containing comparable features to Windows as well as superior stability and security. No longer are they just for enterprises hoping to save money, Universities, and the scientific community. Linux and open source are a great alternative for the general public nowadays, and the number of people who realize this are increasing every day. A perfect example of a recent open source success is the Firefox web browser. It is constantly gaining market share and will most likely surpass Internet Explorer, the closed source, Windows alternative within a few years. Representing the best successes of open source, Firefox is fast, stable, secure, and free for all to use (and abuse). It is distributed under the GPL just like most other open source software.

In conclusion, America’s beginnings, hardships, and outcomes bear striking resemblance to the open source movement. Though the outcomes of the said movement have yet to be determined, they will hopefully follow in the footsteps of America and become an overwhelming success. Open source essentially represents the presence of American ideals in the software world, fighting off the tyranny of closed source and flaunting a Bill of Rights known as the GPL. Whether you use open source software of not, it is an important concept to understand since I believe it will be the future of computing. Just imagine a world where any program you want can be downloaded off the Internet for free, and, better yet, can be freely distributed by anyone to anyone for any purpose. That world is among us today, but until everyone adopts open source then the majority of people will remain in the darkness that results from the collosal beast known as closed source.

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Smiley Fun + Frogger

Written by rob on February 2, 2006 – 6:09 pm -

I have added a small plug-in to the site. I noticed some people (*cough*Bruce*cough*) were typing in smileys incorrectly. So, the plug-in put a bunch of smiley icons underneath the comment box. When you go to post a comment, just click the smiley you want to use and it will automatically insert the appropriate text. There are a bunch you (and me) probably didn’t know were there, so now we’ve got all of them visible for the using.

Also added today is the My Games page under Links on the side bar. Frogger in Beijing has been uploaded and can be accessed from there. I only updated/fixed the Windows version, so if anyone needs/wants a Mac or Linux version of the fixed game let me know, and I will upload it ASAP.

Also, I just wanted to take this opportunity to commend Trolltech, the company that makes Qt (not to be confused with the acronym for Apple’s Quicktime), which is the toolkit I used to develop Frogger in Beijing. The reason the old one ceased to work was because I was using the trial version of Qt version 3. However, Trolltech recently decided to release an open source version of Qt version 4, meaning I would not have to pay to use the full version. Being a supporter of the open source movement, I love to see new companies releasing their products under open sources licenses. And you should love to see it too because it means Frogger could be fixed by me, and used by you for free. By the way, if you know C++ and want to make graphical applications, I highly recommend Qt.

That’s about it for today. Lots of homework, and no time to add anything else. Though I am mentally preparing my Top 10 games…

Oh, and you may have noticed the new icon for the site (seen next to the URL in the address bar of your browser) is a Japanese symbol. It is Kanji for Festival. Just felt like throwing that on here, since this site is like a festival of my mind. Yay for metaphors.

Posted in General Stuff | 2 Comments »

About Me

Written by rob on February 1, 2006 – 7:18 pm -

Look in the links section to the right for a newly updated page called “About Me”. As you can probably guess, the page describes the various things I like to do and other things of that sort. It is a work in progress as of now, but it is close enough to being presentable.

Posted in General Stuff | 5 Comments »

Things to Look Forward To

Written by rob on February 1, 2006 – 5:05 pm -

I plan on incorporating some interesting things in the near future. The largest thing I am currently working on is getting some sort of list (these will hardly be final) going to my Top 10 of various things. The ones I hope to implement the soonest are Games, Movies, and TV Shows. Ranking movies is probably going to be the most difficult since I have seen so many over such a large expanse of time. It is really hard to compare a movie you saw yesterday to something you watched when you were seven years old, so I am going to try to compensate for that when determining the list.

Also, I am currently in the process of learning a new C++ library that will aid in the programming of computer games. When I get a reasonable amount of knowledge in that library, I plan on creating a game that involves Leon Kennedy (hero in the Resident Evil video game franchise; for those of you that are visual, click here to see a picture of Leon) that will play much like Manhunt except in 2D. The entire development process, from conception to completion, will be documented here. And of course when it reaches a certain level of completion and beta testers (will be hand-chosen by me) are necessary, I will distribute it using a password-protected post to this blog. And when the final release is ready you can expect to download it here. Also notable is the fact that I will re-release the game Frogger in Beijing that I made last year. The currently-released version had control malfunctions about a month after its release, and is thus unplayable. The new release will be the same exact thing, with no added content, but will have that unfortunate bug fixed forever (hopefully).

Now, all of that is what you as the reader have to look forward to. I figured I would also go into a few brief points of what I am looking forward to in 2006.

So, without further ado, I present to you, Rob’s Official Things to Look Forward To of 2006 List (I know, original title):

  • Playstation 3 – Released in Spring 2006, or (as analysts of the industry are saying) possibly later, this mix of elegant beauty and technological prowess will mark the beginning of true next-generation gaming. What the XBOX 360 faintly began, this device will finish. Transcending the gaming world, the PS3 will represent Sony’s entrance into the HD media industry with its Blu-Ray disc drive. Movies of the future will no longer be released on DVD, but instead on either Sony’s Blu-Ray or Toshiba’s HD-DVD. Which will prevail will remain to be seen, but it will be a large step forward in movie technology nonetheless.
  • Final Fantasy XII – I just had to briefly add this, the twelfth iteration of the Final Fantasy series, because of my undying loyalty to the franchise.
  • The End of 10th Grade – Definitely not one of the best years in school, I can’t wait until it is over.
  • 150th Anniversary of Nikola Tesla’s birth – On July 10 of 2006, Nikola Tesla will be 150. He has unfortunately been dead for over sixty years, but he is known as the father of technology. Whether it was his marvels in wireless communication in the late 19th century or his overall profound innovation, this man was a genius. His inventions opened the eyes of the general public to the absolute wonderousness of technology and the limitless possibilities of its implementation. Most of the modern technology we now enjoy is due to his advances in the subject.
  • The Evolution of this Site – I plan on adding to this site quite a bit in the coming months of 2006. Expect to see it evolve exponentially as time goes on, both visually and content-wise.
  • The Development of my Leon Kennedy game – No one can deny the thrill of looking at a finished product that they created. More entralling than that, however, is the process between design and final product… the actual implementation, which in this game is development. I will slowly see my vision be transformed into C++ commands and eventually into graphics on the screen.
  • Soprano’s and Prisonbreak return to TV; The Godfather and Shadow Hearts III video game – March 2006. Probably going to be the biggest month of the year. All four of these titles will be released in the US for my own personal enjoyment. I honestly cannot wait!

Like in everything I do, I probably forgot a bunch of stuff. But, the above is still the (in)complete list of what I am looking forward to in 2006. We will see if any of it actually meets my expectations in the coming months…

Posted in General Stuff | 5 Comments »