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. 


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. 


1 comment:

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