12/30/14

Tagging in iTunes - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

If you have a lot of DVD's that you back up, record a lot of TV shows to watch later or just have a ton of files in your iTunes library, you know what a pain iTunes tagging can be. You don't want TV Shows to show up under movies. You don't want Movies to show up under Home Video and why do all the episodes of Doctor Who show up in 5 separate places? The fix for all this is to use a dedicated tagging application.



Some people ask me why I don't just edit the file after I add it to iTunes. Yes, you can do this and change the file so it's a TV show rather than a movie, add in all the TV show data and save the file. But here's the first problem. If you ever remove the file from iTunes and re-add it, all your work will be gone. That means re-editing the same file again if ever want to move the data to a new iTunes library. Not a good use of time. So the question is what can you do to permanently change the tags of a file? One answer is to use a dedicated tagging application.

There are a bunch of applications & scripts that will tag your iTunes files: MetaZ for example. These apps are free but most aren't easy to use or have other shortcomings. Whatever you use, make sure to have a plan before you start. The application that I found works best is called iFlicks 2



The Good

If you have ripped a movie from a DVD and want it to show up in iTunes with all the correct metadata then just open or drag the video file to iFlicks. The app will automatically search online movie databases to find the right movie, add the metadata as well as the movie poster artwork.

If you wish you can edit any of the data yourself and when you have it just the way you want it hit the start button at the bottom of the screen to write the metadata to the file. Here's a nice feature: If you want to, you can select to just update the metadata or you can update the metadata and transcode it at the same time. Cool!


I won't bother to go into all the bells and whistles that iFlicks has. Their website has some great information and tutorials. 

In the iTunes tagging world movies are easy to deal with. So what about TV shows? As I've learned over the years they can be a real pain.  

The Bad

Let's take the new CW TV show "The Flash". I've always loved DC comics and love the TV show. I'm also old enough to know that there was another TV show called "The Flash" that aired in the early 1990's.  If you drop your video of The Flash (that you just finished recording, editing out the commercials and encoding for iTunes) onto iFlicks you may end up with something like this.

If you are new to the tagging world you might not know what to do next. The answer is to know that the accepted norm is to add a year to the Show title. So in this case if I manually change the show title from "The Flash" to "The Flash 2014" and hit the small reload arrow my data will update and look much improved.

Another "Bad" point about tagging is what to do with special files. My family does the majority of their workouts at home and love AppleTV to view their workout videos. So how do you handle something like that? 

With any video file you have to decide how you want to categorize them. In my case I decided to collect all workout videos as TV shows. If I did them as movies you would have to scroll for miles to get to the video you wanted. Because iTunes concatenates TV shows by season you can group similar videos together. 

Looks great but there's a lot of manual work on my part to get things to sort and display the way I want. I had to make up a show name for all workout videos. In my case I decided to name them "Exercise" and then the name of the person leading the exercise or by the type of exercise. If I wanted I could also create faux-seasons by naming groups of the same 'video sets' as a specific season and they would then display within a show as a separate group.

It's a great deal of work to make it all work out. In the case of these exercise videos all of the metadata is added manually including cover art and this is where the Ugly part of the article comes in.

The Ugly

Recently I ran into a problem with my AppleTV. My recently encoded workout videos would not work. They played fine on my Mac both in iTunes, Quicktime and any video player I would try them in but they wouldn't play on my AppleTV.  I know that there are video bit-rate and resolution limits to every AppleTV and I knew I haven't exceeded them. So what was the problem?



After 2 days of encoding, re-encoding, re-re-re-enoding and using every trick in my video ripping arsenal I finally found the answer. It was the cover art. WTF?!?!

Because my family is a visual bunch I try to exactly match the DVD cover art of the DVD I just ripped to the file I create. Most of the time I can find the cover art online but in some cases it's easier to just scan the cover in myself. 

In past I've never had a problem dragging my JPEG file to the iFlicks Artwork frame, writing the file, loading the file into iTunes and watching it on AppleTV. It was only after exhaustive tests and problem solving that I found my problem. 

If my JPEG or PNG cover art was too big the video would cause the AppleTV to display an error. WOW! Who knew? I didn't want to spend a lot of time figuring out just what the maximum (file size, image size or resolution) was but just know that smaller is better and if it fails to load on your appleTV redo it with an even smaller file. 

Conclusion

I really like Apple products and love the built in integration between them, but nothing is perfect. Organizing iTunes to display the information I want, the way I want it takes work. At times a lot of work. If you don't have a large video library or special files you may want to just manually edit your files or use a free application. But if you're like me an application like iFlicks 2 can be a great addition to your tool box. But like I said, nothing is perfect. 

  






11/25/14

Fixing The Mac Kindle App - Yosemite

Here's a quick tip for all you Mac users who have the Kindle application installed. When you install Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite you will behold that Kindle is an incompatible application. So what do you do?


When I saw that Kindle didn't work after I installed Yosemite I just figure I would use my iPad to download my Kindle books and wait for an update from Amazon. I waited, and waited for an update and there was no announcement or link telling me that new software was available. It would just crash every time I opened up the app. 

I was hopeful when OS X 10.10.1 was released but that didn't fix the problem either. Needless to say, I wasn't happy. So what's a voracious reader to do? In the words from the IT Crowd "Have you tried turning it off and on again?

Yosemite places all incompatible applications in a folder called, funny enough, "Incompatible Software". This folder is located at the root level of your hard drive. Open that folder and delete the Kindle application. 



Once that's done just open up the Apple App store and re-download Kindle. 



The version on my computer didn't change at all. It still showed up as 1.10.6. But once that's done the application will work just fine. Pass this PSA to all your reading friends. They'll probably thank you. 




10/20/14

Display iOS on your Mac - Yosemite

When Apple demonstrated AirPlay a few years ago I got excited. The ability to travel with your iOS device and use it as a way to present information on another screen was awesome. Unfortunately this feature only works for other AirPlay devices (AppleTV, Airport Express or other iOS device.)  

Apple lists the requirements as:
To use AirPlay, you need these:
  • iPhone 4 (or later), iPad, iPad mini, or iPod touch (4th generation or later)
  • For videos or photos: Apple TV (2nd or 3rd generation)
  • For music: Apple TV (2nd or 3rd generation), AirPort Express, or AirPlay-enabled speakers or receivers
So Airplay is convenient if you have a device that supports AirPlay mirroring, but Apple's current line of Macs don't have this feature. Here's the good news, if you updated to Yosemite you can now display your iOS screen on your Mac with ease. You can even record it if you want to! All you need to do is connect your iOS device to your Mac using a USB cable and use the new version of QuickTime.

After you connect your iPhone or iPad to your Mac via the USB cable start QuickTime select "New Movie Recording" from the drop down menu.
Once the "Movie Recording" has been selected a screen will pop up. I don't know why Apple has made the UI so difficult to understand in some Yosemite applications but the selection of the screen isn't obvious. 

Next to the red record button is a small down arrow. If you click that button you will need to select the camera to use,the Microphone and the quality. 

Once you make your selections your iOS device screen will appear. 

If you just want to view what's on the iOS screen you don't need to do anything. If you want to record what you do on your device just place your mouse in the middle of the iOS window and hit the red record circle. 



Make sure to hit the "stop" button when you are done recording and save the file. 



video



Another of the great reasons to update to Yosemite. Enjoy!





10/16/14

iTunes 12 - Managing the Mini Player

I'm one of those people that loves new things but at the same time I like the status quo. Today Apple released iTunes 12 and I'm conflicted. I like the new looks but I struggle with all the changes. One of the biggest for me was the Mini player. 

I love the Mini player. My family loves the Mini Player. When I used the old version of iTunes getting into and out of the Mini player was second nature. Because iTunes 12 changed everything I'm going to take you through a quick tutorial on how to manage the Mini player window. 




When you first open the new iTunes you are greeted with a much different screen. The look and feel has changed and the sidebar has, for the most part, disappeared. I won't go into the changes here but for those that haven't loaded it yet here's the new look.


Notice that the normal minimize button on the upper right of the window is now gone. So how do you switch to the Mini Player. You could use the "Window" menu.


If you are a die hard keyboard user you can also use the key combination listed in the menu. But if you are used to just clicking a button like me you can use the secret hidden button I finally discovered. 

If you hover your mouse in the center of the iTunes window where the Apple logo is located a small icon appears. Click on it and your view will change to the Mini Player.


Voila, Mini Player!



So how do you return to the normal player you ask?  Good question, and counter to intuition all you need to do is hit the "X" in the upper left corner of the Mini player. The Mini player window will close and the full sized view will return. 

So what happens if you are playing music? What then? Well the look changes a bit but the action is the same. Again hover the mouse in top, center of the screen but this time over the album artwork.



There you have it. A quick guide to handling iTunes and switching between the large view and Mini player view of your media. Aren't you glad I figured it all out for you? I know my family is. And since I don't handle family insurrection well I am too. Now everyone is happy.



10/11/14

Boys Day Out

This past weekend Seattle held BrickCon. The most awesome collection of LEGO I've ever seen. Being a long time LEGO lover myself it didn't take a lot of persuasion by my 12 year old son to convince me to go. 


Just like my geek day off at the Emerald City Comicon I thought I would share the adventure with the MacITHelp readers.


Enjoy!




 My son Samuel had a great time!



Brickcon was filled with Castles, Robots, Spaceships & Pirates. There was a lot to see.












The even had LEGO Art






Batman was well represented








Other Movie & TV Shows were also around


Berk from How to Train your Dragon

STTNG - Borg

Godzilla

The Goonies


The Simpsons Time Toaster

Transformers


Smug



THIS IS SPARTA!!!



There were also a ton of great cars and other vehicles












Of course there was lots to buy



Eventually we had to leave be I think I know where I will be next year


Seattle Brickcon