January 13, 2006 3:58 AM PST

Why's it so hard to get 'Buffy' on my iPod?

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A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

reporter's notebook SAN FRANCISCO--Buying an iPod is easy. Filling it with video turns out to be much more difficult.

Apple Computer's iTunes store, of course, offers a few TV downloads for purchase at $1.99 each. Those include a smattering of shows from NBC, USA Network and the Sci-Fi Channel.

The selections are likely to improve, just as the iTunes lineup has gradually expanded to include additions like the Grateful Dead.

special coverage
Apple's new crop
Sink your teeth into all the news from this week's Macworld Expo.

But that won't help anyone who owns a video iPod today and wants to watch something beyond "Lost" or "Desperate Housewives." It especially won't help someone with a library of DVDs that would make perfect iPod fodder.

Some products announced at the Macworld 2006 conference here this week try to make this task easier.

Elgato Systems' new EyeTV 2 is a visually appealing upgrade to the company's TV tuning software. It requires that you have one of Elgato's external USB or Firewire-connected tuners. (They're Mac-specific, but plenty of Windows equivalents, such as the Cats Eye USB HDTV tuner and MyTV ToGo, exist.)

After plugging the $350 EyeTV 500 box into my Apple PowerBook, I could select which broadcast TV programs I wanted to watch. The EyeTV 500 receives only digital signals, which yielded about a dozen channels in downtown San Francisco. The software is straightforward, and the reworked layout now resembles iTunes: Click on a program name to record, then manage saved recordings in playlists.

All that was painless enough. The problem came when translating my saved high-resolution TV shows to the lower-resolution, typically 320x240 pixel format that works best on the iPod.

On an 18-month-old PowerBook with a 1.3GHz G4 processor and 512MB of RAM, the process was painfully slow. Converting a 1920x1080 version of a single episode of "Malcolm in the Middle" took more than three hours. The poor little laptop just wasn't up to the task.

The good news is that once the conversion was finished, the show automatically popped up in iTunes. And it's possible to set an option to convert TV programs as soon as they're recorded, which means the process takes place in the background--as long as you don't mind waiting.

The copyright law obstacle
But my fiancee and I have relatively few TV shows recorded, and we have far more DVDs. Because we're flying from San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., later this month, I wanted to transfer some of her "Sex and the City" episodes to an iPod.

Unfortunately, the software to do so isn't legal to distribute in or import into the U.S., thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Section 1201 of the law bans software designed for "circumventing a technological measure"--in this case, the CSS, a copy-protection algorithm in commercial DVDs.

That's led to a bizarre legal result. Because of a twist in the law, the software to move DVDs onto a video iPod is illegal to sell but probably legal to use--if you can get it.

"You're permitted to do it, but nobody's permitted to help you," says Peter Jaszi, who teaches copyright law at American University in Washington D.C.. "And you're not permitted to help anyone else." (Although, Jaszi cautions, that's "not a perfect argument" because it relies on a legal theory that hasn't been tested in the courts.)

Fortunately, the DMCA doesn't apply internationally. I found Macintosh OS X software called HandBrake that's available from a server in France. (Windows users have options like DVDx and DVDDecrypter.)

HandBrake turned out to be almost as straightforward as EyeTV 2. After scanning a DVD, it lets you choose which titles to save (movies tend to have one long title, while TV shows have multiple). On a PowerBook G4 with a 1.67GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, ripping a 48-minute TV show took about two hours.

The wait was worth it. At 320x240 pixels, DVDs look stunning on the iPod's screen, and a 48-minute TV segment took up 300MB. That means about 200 shows can be squeezed onto a 60GB iPod--far more "Sex and the City" episodes than anyone really needs.

The Usenet option
The problem with both of these techniques--over-the-air TV and DVD conversion--is that they're slothful. Waiting for a video file to be converted on a computer that's not top-of-the-line feels like a throwback to the 1980s, when BBS users waited hours for an 800KB file to be sucked through a modem's tiny pipe.

One solution is to download pre-converted files already in the iPod's relatively low resolution. File-swapping networks are one way to do this, but for those people worried about ending up on at the business end of a lawsuit, there's Guba.

Guba is a Web-based front end to Usenet, optimized for unlimited downloads of TV shows for a $15 monthly fee. At Macworld, the company announced an RSS feed that alerts customers to when new video are posted that match keywords they specify. (Guba says that, for copyright reasons, it "does not index feature-length films or MP3s.")

The catch, though, is that the video quality depends on the person who uploaded the show in the first place. An episode of "Alias" that I randomly selected turned out to be 384x208 in resolution and 77MB in size. Although downloading was speedy, the quality was fair to middling compared with my manually converted 300MB shows from a DVD.

Many shows are limited. A search for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" turned up 14 episodes, some of them duplicates and four mischaracterized. The "Star Trek" newsgroup, on the other hand, featured 103 videos. As you might expect from Usenet, pornography is disproportionately represented.

One handy option that Guba now offers is an "iPod download" feature. I tried it with the "Buffy" episode called "Wrecked" and it worked flawlessly, converting a larger AVI file into a 320x178 MPEG 4 movie that took up 106MB. It was probably converted from a DVD because it had no advertisements.

These video-to-iPod techniques do work, but they're needlessly complicated and irksome. So why aren't thousands of shows available for $1.99 through iTunes?

Most movies and many TV shows are already on DVDs, so the hard work of digitization has already been done. Now it should be just question of Hollywood realizing that it's in their business interest to cooperate and increase their revenue. Until then, I guess, there's always Guba.

 

Correction: This story incorrectly stated the number of shows that can fit on a 60GB video iPod. About 200 episodes can be squeezed onto the device.

See more CNET content tagged:
copyright law, DMCA, Apple video iPod, Apple iPod, copy protection

31 comments

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Another Option
you'll be able to get there soon enough if you have tivotogo:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.tivo.com/cms_static/press_66.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.tivo.com/cms_static/press_66.html</a>

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Handbrake
"Fortunately, the DMCA doesn't apply internationally. I found
Macintosh OS X software called HandBrake that's available from a
server in France. (Windows users have options like DVDx and
DVDDecrypter.)"

Hate to say, but this sounds like importing to me.
Posted by asterizk--2008 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is importing...
Declan, you just confessed to committing a
felony on your employer's website -- you go,
dude! Stick it to the man!
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
Math problem?
"a 48-minute TV segment took up 300MB. That means about 20 shows can be squeezed onto a 60GB iPod".

No. 300MB x 20 shows = 6GB, not 60. You could fit *200* shows that size on there.
Posted by mickmel11111 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
right
Thanks! I don't know what I was thinking when I did that calculation.
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
There's a better way...
Windows users have it pretty easy...

A company called <a href="http://www.pqdvd.com/">PQDVD</a> that will convert a DVD to to correctly formatted MPEG4 for either an iPod, a PSP, or other handheld devices.

I use the PSP version, and it works flawlessly. It also converts at 2x - 3x normal viewing speed, so ripping a 42 minute TV episode takes about 15-20 minutes. You can also tweak the quality setting to produce smaller or larger files.
Posted by JediPii (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Agreed
I use PQDVD to convert both video files and DVDs, and it works great! Well worth the $30something registration fee.
Posted by mickmel11111 (7 comments )
Link Flag
FireWire and BitTorrent
Connect a simple FireWire to a digital cable box to record TV shows
on a Mac.

Use BitTorrent to download TV shows off the net.

There's free software for both of these.
Posted by macslut (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Faster transcoding...
Though not easy to use in their own right,
mencoder, ffmpeg, and transcode are brutally
efficient in doing this sort of conversion.
You'll want to fiddle with the settings, but you
can eke-out faster-than-realtime transcoding on
a 1.4GHz machine.

Obviously, the DVD decoding part is still not
legally kosher -- but nobody is going to push
the matter lest it go to court and the DMCA be
outted as unconstitutional.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Reply Link Flag
By faster-than-realtime, I mean...
at least 2x, maybe up to 4x (ie, an hour show
takes 15 min or so to convert).
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
I just got Monk and watched it.
What are you talking about?

The process was entirely painless (since it was a promotion I wasn't charged a cent.)

I also love the fact that there were NO COMMERCIALS.

The small screen size is offset by its resolution. At a few inches from my face it fills as much of my field of vision as the large 42" poster on the opposite wall of my living room.

I hope Apple is planning to introduce an HD iPod with the tablet they patented a while back.
Posted by CharlesRovira (97 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hardware Converts
What I don't under stand is why is the software illegal when their are so many hardware converts. Most the converts are for TV, camcorders and such but I would think you could simply plug the RCA cable from your DVD player into a hardware convert like the Divx converters here and <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.divx.com/products/hw/browse.php?c=6" target="_newWindow">http://www.divx.com/products/hw/browse.php?c=6</a>
press play on the dvd and record the program in any format you want on your computer it should take the time it does to watch the show
Posted by aburt46 (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not so easy...
Have you tried what you suggest? It won't normally work so easily. DVD players are required to have Macrovision protection. This would defeat the ability to copy video by hooking a DVD player into an encoder.

Next, even if you could do this, you are talking about recording an already compressed source over a quality degrading composite video connection. Using s-video would be a little better, but it still doesn't allow for a perfect transfer.

The only practical way to convert video is via transcoding software as it would degrade the video quality the least. Unfortunately here in the US such a thing cannot be done legally.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
Guba is Crazy
Ok, this Guba thing is completely silly, if not illegal. Why are people paying such premium for this obvious nonsense. A lot of the content was recorded off cable or whatever tv service they were subscribed at the time. Going by all the logos from NBC, to MTV, and VH1, I can safely assume that no one, other than Guba, is getting paid for their content. Shameless.

That's why iTunes rules. Everyone gets paid. People can dog Apple all they want. But, Apple has done for the music business, and now video, what no one else has; make it profitable and legal.

Now, if you don't mind, I must get going to get my new iPod.
Posted by Dead Soulman (245 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DVDx is dead
DVDx is dead... don't bother
Posted by 203129769353146603573853850462 (97 comments )
Reply Link Flag
TV Show Tags
Now the problem comes in tagging your videos as TV Shows. Up until now you had to use a 3rd party app to edit the meta data from command line. Was sort of a pain, especially if you had a lot of videos to edit the tags in.

Then comes iTunes 6.02 which gives you the ability to tag something as TV Show but magically removes the option on your iPod.

So if you are picky about having your videos organized correctly, be forwarned about the latest version of iTunes, it has some bugs in it apparently. If you aren't picky, I would just keep them in the movies catagory.

There are several different apps for converting DVDs directly to iPod... such as ImToo and Xiliosoft. Then there are some indirect ways as the ones mentioned here. I love my 60gb video iPod but I really hate iTunes.
Posted by SeizeCTRL (1333 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't forget the Neuros MPEG-4 Recorder 2
The device records from any analog video source into video that plays directly on the iPod (right resolution, right audio, etc) without any conversion. It's legal, and available today in the US. See www.neurostechnology.com for details.
Posted by jborn (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
slow computers?
How much faster/easier would this all be if you weren't using Apple's slowest chip, the G4, to compress video? I suspect using something with a G5 or Intel Duo would have made this process less "hard."
Posted by wgates (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
you're right
Thanks for writing back.

But a lot of people have non-G5 computers, and my article was written for a general audience rather than early adopters.

Also, even if the conversion could be done in 10-20 minutes rather than 3-4 hours, it's not nearly as easy as clicking "buy" from iTunes, which was another thing I was trying to stress.
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
Google Video has It!
Google Video seems poised to leapfrog iTunes ... they now offer downloads in a variety of formats, including iTunes. They too, lack selection of purchaseable content at this point, but as a neutral third-party broker that isn't trying to sell any specific hardware of their own, I like them a lot better.

What I hope is that as different devices come on the scene, those who opt to sell video will chose to stick with the open, non-DRM-encumbered formats. With Google Video, DRMed video has to be watched in a Windows-only player. Non-DRM will work fine for iPod, Macs, Linux users ....
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
HandBrake encoding times
HandBrake on X.4.4 encloding times for X-files 45 min episode
via dvd:
G5 Dual 2GHz, 2.5GB - 46 minutes, 25 fps
Powerbook 1.67GHz, 1GB - 35 minutes, 33 fps

This is really surprising as the G5 used up to 180% of the dual
processors (150% avg) and has a 16x dvd vs 8x. The above times
don't include the 5 minutes or so it takes to scan the disc for
content, but I'm wondering how it could have taken 2 hours on
the same spec'ed Powerbook... maybe older X version?
Posted by nebby74 (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Codec formats
Codec formats do affect encoding times on Powerbook: using AVC/
H.264 video bumps time to about 1:30. G5 actually works faster:
est. 40 minutes.
Posted by nebby74 (14 comments )
Link Flag
HandBrake
Yep, the CNET-issued laptop is Panther. I didn't think this made a difference so I didn't note it in the review.
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
Faster in Tiger
I got similar results as Ben using an 1.5 Gigahertz PowerBook G4
with the latest upgrade of Tiger. Could be an OS issue, Declan.

I also think you kind of underestimated the offerings at iTMS.
Include free videos and video podcasts and there is more to watch
than I have time for already. And, it has improved significantly
since I got my 5g iPod right after the release. The trouble with
Google and Veoh is finding stuff one really wants to watch.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
bad tv
It is no difficult to spot where the money is: ipod tv. but it is
really bad for the tv audience. Some of the tv program format
already adjusted to the pod application. Instead of image of 3
people sitting at the table discussion issues, the latest tv showed
one shot for the full vision format and 3 shots of each people at
close up (I mean really close up = head and shoulder stuff) and
jump from one face to another following the discussion....
Nothing more irritating when you watch it on large screen TV. If
more station convert to the pod format, long live the pod and
down with the TV...(no wonder the sales guy insists the new
feature of split screen on some of the &gt;42 inch=you can watch
4 pods instead of 1... 4 different talking heads for 4 different
program... so much about hdtv)..
Why I need a hdtv at 1st place? hmmm, must be brain dead... Its
time thinking about to cut the cable...
Posted by 1st (104 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Try CloneDVD
Hey there,

Try CloneDVD" mobile... A friend told me about this and said it works great. I haven't tried it yet.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.slysoft.com/en/clonedvd-mobile.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.slysoft.com/en/clonedvd-mobile.html</a>

I don't have an ipod yet and was looking to get one to watch movies sometimes but he said something similar to your article.

Let me know how this works and ifit's an easy solution to this problem.

Thanks.

wecometoplay(at)yahoo(dot)com
Posted by Leppard (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Flawless
As with all these guys products, it works flawlessly, and can be tried for 21 days free of charge. This trial is a fully working piece of software, and its accompanying dvd decryption software - anydvd - will also prevent cd rootkits such as those from sony from installing on your computer, making such cds protection free.

This particular software is usually updated monthly to include the latest dvd protections, and will work alongside any dvd copying software such as Nero, CloneDVD, CloneDVD Mobile, etc.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Link Flag
sounds like there are many options, but still harder than it should be
Posted by daniel hobbs (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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