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Click here to not work on iPod

Since getting the iPod Classic, I’ve been putting more and more video on it… in part because my collection of 660 CD’s only fills half the iPod’s capacity.

Along with buying the anime series Rumbling Hearts from the iTunes Store and subscribing to some video podcasts (which tend to be either massively over- or under-produced, but that’s for another blog), I’ve been ripping DVD’s with Handbrake.

Behold the “advanced options” pane (click for full-size), which is selectable once you’ve provided a source VIDEO_TS folder and chosen one of the various H.264 settings, such as “iPod Low-Rez”:

Handbrake H.264 advanced options

Now here’s the thing with this pane: using some (or any?) of these options will produce a file that can be played by QuickTime, but not by the iPod. Maybe the iPod doesn’t like B-frames, maybe it doesn’t like some of the other settings, but I tried to make some sensible choices given the nature of the source material (e.g., I was ripping anime, so I set the B-frames fairly high, as the above tooltip advocates), and the result was a file that iTunes refused to copy to the iPod, with the error message saying that it won’t play on the iPod.

With a four-hour encode down the tubes, I’ve gotten more conservative and since then, the only settings I’ve messed with are size, aspect ratio, and bitrate. I may try some more experiments with smaller sources to figure out which of these options are iPod-friendly.

One thing that Handbrake gives you an immediate appreciation for is the sophistication of video encoding. As much as common discussions drift into a trite sort of “H.264 good, VC1 bad” kind of nonsense, just mousing through the tooltips gives you a sense of just how much the H.264 settings can be tweaked. Moreover, you also appreciate that a good deal of care and thought can and should go into these settings. The human element of encoding is somewhat underappreciated, at least until you meet real encoders (Ben Waggoner is the obvious example), and you realize there’s a lot more to it than clicking an “encode” button. Sometimes you can see it when the same source material gets encoded by different people. The original one-disc version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid looks like it was encoded by a five-year-old as part of a theme park attraction: it’s blocky and noisy. The two-disc version that came out a few years ago is striking by comparison (though the backgrounds of hand-painted Disney movies still seem noisy to me).

Comment (1)

  1. […] a few days back I was wondering aloud about what H.264 settings you can use on an iPod. This happened to come up on the kicktam list, and someone spelled out the levels of H.264 […]

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