HOW TO: Master Streaming Media With iTunes [ part 2 ]


Getting video into iTunes is just as easy as music: As long as it is a compatible format, just drag-and-drop. But what is a compatible format, and how do you get it that way in the first place?

The first thing that confuses people about video, is that on any computer, video files actually have a file type, or container, and a codec. Sometimes you’ve got the right file type, but the wrong codec, or vice-versa. That’s why some AVI files might play perfectly fine on your Mac, but others won’t. To be safe, and to take advantage of streaming and the other features we will be looking at, it’s best to keep all your video as MPEG-4 or Quicktime files with the H.264 codec. Fortunately Apple’s and most third party apps are good about keeping you on track. With iOS, Android, Blu Ray, Google and seemingly everyone else using H.264 those days, it’s hard to find a video app that doesn’t export in this format.

To add your movies to your library, just drag and drop them into iTunes. I like to show the “Kind” column so I can see what I’m working with. Anything that says Quicktime, MPEG-4 or Protected MPEG-4 are probably fine, so I’ll go through all the files I know aren’t right first, like AVI and MPEG-2 files. Select them, and choose File>Create New Version>Create iPad or AppleTV Version. This will create the right kind of file idea for playing back on an AppleTV. Once that’s done, you can delete the originals.


If iTunes can’t convert them, or you can’t even get them into iTunes in the first place, like MKV files, then you’ll need to convert them manually. QuickTime has a Share menu, but if iTunes can’t recognize the files, then QuickTime probably can’t, either.


This is where HandBrake comes in. HandBrake is a fabulous free app that has been around for years. It can convert files between almost any format, and it can rip DVDs (which you own, of course), but if your DVDs are copy protected, you will need to install VLC player first. You should probably do that anyway- its a fantastic video player.

Launch HandBrake, click the source button, and select a video file or mounted DVD. Some DVDs will be broken up into multiple titles or multiple chapters; the longest title is usually the movie itself, and the others are bonus content.


I could spend hours going into all the custom settings of Handbrake, but check out the user forums if you’d like to learn more. I’ve been perfectly happy with the AppleTV 3 preset. Click Start, and off it goes. If you have multiple files, you can click Add To Queue, then process the whole list when you’re done.


Oh yeah, many files and DVDs will have messed up titles. If you notice, I didn’t change them – don’t bother, I’ll be showing you how to automate the process later.

Batch processing

One thing I never liked about HandBrake, is that I have to add the files to the queue one by one. Sort of partially defeats the purpose of a queue, no? That’s where a little side program called HandBrake Batch comes in. Guess what it can do?


That’s right, just drag and drop ALL your files into it, choose one of HandBrake’s presets, and you’re off the to the races.

Okay, now that your video files are converted, drop them into iTunes, and you’re all set. All that’s left is the metadata. You could get info and enter it all manually, but that’s for suckers. Also, its very, very slow, because of the way iTunes has to open each video file and re-save it. AND, iTunes can’t even edit certain metadata, like MPAA ratings and HD tags. But there’s a program that can.


Subler is a fantastic little app I found while trolling the bottom of a lake in the Caucuses. (Okay, I found it with Google, but that’s hardly as exciting). Its primary purpose is for demuxing video files and adding subtitle tracks, but it’s metadata tools are so great, thats what I primarily use it for.

Just drag a video file onto the Subler icon, and it will launch. You can drag a file from your hard drive, or even right from your iTunes window. You can also drag multiple files, which will open all of them at once. They each open in a separate window, which is a bit annoying, but I suppose it could be worse.

Click the search button on the top-right, and it will find the right info from or Usually it’s pretty smart, but I do find that numbers mess it up. Die Hard 2, for example, will come up as episode 2 of a TV show, and it won’t be able to find it, so you may need to manually click Movie or TV as appropriate, and you may need to fine-tune the title slightly, then click Search again.

Select the correct title, and click Add. It will then let you select cover art, and it’s usually great at pulling up many selections, from theatrical posters to DVD art and even foreign art. Select the one you want, click Set as Artwork, and finally click Save, or press command-s. And you’re done!


Oh yeah, if the video was downloaded, and it comes with a subtitle file, usually in .srt format, you can add that in Subler, too. Just click the checkbox to include it when you save the file and it will be inserted. Then iTunes and AppleTV can turn the subtitles on and off, which is much better than subtitles that are burned into the video track, and can’t be turned off.

I don’t know exactly what Subler is doing behind the scenes, but it works much, much faster than editing the same data in iTunes, and even edits some fields that iTunes can’t. But because you’re doing this outside of the app, iTunes won’t immediately notice that you’ve made changes. You can play the movies one by one to make iTunes refresh them, but I find the easiest thing to do is simply select them all, choose Get Info, and change their Media Kind all to Movie, or TV, whichever they’re supposed to be. Even if they are already set correctly, making this change causes iTunes to “scan” the tracks again, and they will update with the new metadata.


You’ll never have to be bothered by missing artwork again. Now you can enjoy the new iTunes 11 interface the way Apple intended, and you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to buy all your movies through the iTunes store (the way Apple intended).


Next time, we will finally talk about Home Sharing, streaming and other ways to get your media all over your house.


This post was written by Alex Kaloostian who is an IT trainer and consultant in the Boston area. He specializes in Mac servers, video editing, and the technologies that keep them going. In his spare time, he likes cooking, comics, and neglecting his WoW account since he had two kids. He works for and his personal blog can be found at

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