The kludginess of video conversion for iPod in iTunes is another one of the things "I Don't Like About iTunes and iPod". I don't like the conversion process, and I particularly don't like the bug I think I've found.
Even before I got an iPod Video, I managed to accumulate a few videos in my iTunes collection. Mostly music videos, in various formats, but a few other things too. I've got a few from the iTunes Store, which transfer to the iPod just fine. However, most are different formats and need re-encoding.
Apple have not made this as easy as they could.
- "Movies" and "TV Shows" have their own sections in iTunes, but music videos appear in the music list. This is inconsistent with the iPod, on which music videos get their own section in the "Videos" top-level menu.
- As a result, it's difficult to focus just on the music videos for conversion. You can use a Smart Playlist, but you don't get full control of the items in a playlist: for example, you can't delete items without going to the main library list. This is important later, after conversion.
- You can't change the type of a video by bulk editing. On import, my non-iTunes-purchased videos came up as "Movies" rather than "Music Videos". To change this (and therefore decide where they appear on the iPod), you have to "Show Info", select "Video" and then change the "Video Kind" dropdown. This function does not appear in the "Multiple Item Information" window usually used to edit groups of items. The keyboard shortcuts for this procedure are also non-optimal, and this all translates to a lot of mouse work.
- After a track is converted using "Convert Selection for iPod", it is not marked in any way. The original is not unticked, tagged or labelled. Instead, you have to look at the kind, such as "QuickTime movie file" or "MPEG-4 video file", and it's possible those are the same. Otherwise, it's up to the Date Added column.
- As the original files aren't disabled, they still trigger the warning dialogue on the next sync, saying that they're incompatible with the iPod. The originals in my opinion should be unchecked so they don't get synced. I'd ideally export the files out and then remove them altogether. However, as there isn't an easy way to select those originals avoiding the converted versions, it's a chore.
Okay, all of those are design flaws. Fairly annoying ones, too. I've been of the opinion for a while that both iTunes and iPhoto were great packages in their day, but are in dire need of redesigns and rewrites. They've lost their simplicity and elegance. They're bloated.
Upon investigation, all of these files are named fairly oddly. They appear fine in the Show Info "Info" panel, but on the "Summary", there's a quirk: the names are spaced out, and the file path has alternating underscores. Checking the file paths and the iTunes Library XML file gives similar results:
I've seen this kind of thing before. It looks like it's almost definitely a Unicode interpretation error. As with most other modern string-handling APIs, NSStrings inside OS X (Cocoa) are stored with (at least?) two bytes per character, rather than the old-style one byte per character. It's easy to make the mistake of failing to convert this back and assume one byte per character.
In the example above, the artist name -- Röyksopp -- is clearly not plain ASCII, so I wouldn't be surprised if the programmers of iTunes's conversion interface failed to test for this problem. However, I did also encounter the problem with some videos with plain English names and artists, too: my copy of Leonard Nimoy's "The Ballad Of Bilbo Baggins" also came up blank.
To fix this problem, I just went into each item's "Show Info" in turn and retyped the names. Fine for the few items I imported, but not if I'd had any more.
I think Apple's point with all of this is that you should buy all your videos from them. Mine mostly came from "enhanced limited edition" CDs instead.
Incidentally, in the shots above, you might notice two different versions of the incredible "Remind Me" video by Röyksopp. I've discovered that there are (at least) two subtley-different versions of this video, and the one on the iTunes store isn't quite as good. Apart from the gratuitous cartoon boobie shot, the non-iTunes version has a couple of little hidden jokes in the background, and a few more scenes.
And finally, to top it all off, I'm not particularly happy with the way iTunes works anyway, as detailed in the next post.