Scenario: You’ve made or bought an audio or video file that’s either in a format unsupported by the hardware you intend to play it on – an iOS device or your Mac, for example – or in a form that you’d prefer to not use (a large AIFF or WAV audio file, for example).
There are heaps of utilities you can use to convert media files (some of which are marketed by spammers), but what if you want to convert a file quickly, safely, without a lot of fuss and bother and using a tool that costs nothing? Try these on for size:
AUDIO AND VIDEO
Automator and iTunes can help with your audio and video conversion needs.
OS X Lion. An operating system? Yes. Among Lion’s features is an Automator trick that allows you to easily convert compatible media files right from the desktop.
Control-click (or right-click) on an AIFF, WAV or CAF audio file or on a .mov, MPEG-4 or H.264 video file and choose ‘Encode Selected [Video/Audio] Files’ from the Services menu at the bottom of the contextual pop-up menu. A small window appears where you can choose your encoder settings.
For audio files you’ll find several AAC options (regrettably there’s no option for converting files to MP3). For video files your choices are 480p, 720p or 1080p H.264; Audio Only; and Apple ProRes. Note that the encoder won’t upscale, so if your original file
is encoded at, say, 480p resolution, choosing a higher resolution won’t do you any good.
Select the option you want, click the Continue button at the bottom of the window and your file is converted. By default it’s saved to the same
location as the source file, but you can change that by unchecking the ‘Same As Source File’ option and choosing a new location via the window’s pop-up menu.
Automator. If you haven’t upgraded to Lion, there’s still hope. Snow Leopard’s Automator includes this same capability. You simply have to create a workflow.
For audio conversion, create an Application workflow and string together these two actions (found under the Music heading): ‘Encode To iTunes Audio’ and ‘Import Files Into iTunes’. From the Setting pop-up menu in the Encode To iTunes Audio action, choose the encoder you want to use – High-quality, iTunes Plus, Apple Lossless or Spoken Podcast.
From the Destination pop-up menu, choose a place for those converted files to be temporarily stored – a Converted folder you’ve added to your desktop, for example.
In the Import Files Into iTunes action, choose New Playlist and name it ‘Automator Converted’. Save your workflow as an application and place that application on your desktop. When you next want to convert an audio file (no Ogg, FLAC or Windows Media files allowed), just drop it on top of this workflow. Converting video files is a similar operation. Go to Mac OS X Automation’s Services downloads page (www.macosxautomation.com), download the Movie Services and then install them.
Launch Automator, again choose an Application workflow and create a workflow that contains these two actions: ‘Encode Media’ (found under Movies) and ‘Import Files Into iTunes’ (found under the Music heading).
In the Encode Media action, choose the encoder size from the Setting pop-up menu (480p, 720p or 1080p), Greater Compatibility or Higher Quality from the ‘Encode For’ pop-up menu and a destination. Name and save the workflow and place it on your desktop. When you need to perform a quick video conversion, drop a video file onto the application you created.
iTunes. If you drag a compatible file into iTunes – AIFF, WAV, MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless or .mov, but not Ogg, FLAC or AVI – you can convert it to a format compatible with the iPod, iOS devices and the Apple TV. To do that, select the media you want and make your selection from iTunes’ Advanced menu: ‘Create iPod Or iPhone Version’, ‘Create iPad Or Apple TV Version’ or ‘Create audioformat Version’.
To select exactly which audio format appears in this last command, open iTunes preferences and, in the General tab, click Import Settings. In the window that appears, choose the encoder you want to use from the Import Using pop-up menu. In the Setting pop-up menu below that, you can fine-tune the encoder by changing its bit rate.
There are other options for converting audio, both within iTunes and elsewhere.
iTunes. If you often convert to different formats, another method for audio conversion in iTunes is Doug Adams’s Convert And Export AppleScript (dougscripts.com/itunes), which lets you select multiple audio files in your iTunes library and then easily convert them to an iTunes-friendly format (AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, MP3 or WAV) without changing iTunes’ settings.
Others. If you prefer to work outside of iTunes or need to convert files that iTunes can’t handle, such as FLAC and Ogg Vorbis, then X Lossless Decoder (tmkk.pv.land.to/xld) is a great choice.
You can easily convert almost any video to a Mac- or iOS-friendly version.
HandBrake. The open source HandBrake (handbrake.fr) is a great DVD ripper and video converter. To convert your video, launch HandBrake and, in the navigation window, select the video file you want to convert.
Then expose the sidebar and choose the device you’d like to convert the video for – the iPad or the Apple TV, for example. Click Start and your video is converted. HandBrake supports lots of different file types and batch processing too.
Video Monkey. Chris Marrin’s Video Monkey (videomonkey.org) is another favourite of ours. Just drag into its window the movies you want to convert, choose a device to convert it for from the Convert To pop-up menu, select a desired quality setting, enable the Add To iTunes option if you want it to do so and click Start.
DON’T BE TAKEN IN
As I hinted earlier, the internet is choked with media conversion applications. You’ll routinely find these things linked to in questionable forum posts and even less-believable shareware and ‘reviews’ sites.
If such a utility features a very generic ‘box’ and garish interface — and you’re asked to pay between $30 and $50 for it – you’re generally looking at one of the dozens of spam- promoted products that slap a poor interface on Unix and QuickTime tools that underlie the Mac OS.
And why bother when, for the price of your next breath, you can have a free tool that gets the job done?