iPod Video Conversion Shootout
I really love the new iPod. I think it looks great and has a lot of potential to change the way we feel about video on the go. In the first few weeks since it came out, there has been a flurry of conversation with regards to getting your own videos onto it. As a video editor and purveyor of this film website, I have been extremely interested in this.
My main concern was getting my own, freshly cut, videos encoded into a format that will both work in iTunes and on the iPod itself. I am not concerned about trans-coding other videos. But rather, material directly out of Final Cut Pro. So this shootout is mainly aimed at FCP editors looking for that perfect solution to getting video onto iPod. While, at the same time, making files that are good for videocasting. You have to future proof right?
When encoding my work, I am most comfortable making a Quicktime reference movie of my sequence and then bringing that into the encoder of my choice. This is a very small file that directly references my sequences and their associated media files. There is no compression or quality loss. This to me seems the most intuitive, so this is how I fly.
There are two file formats that can be transferred to the iPod. In the future there may be more, but for now only h.264 and Mpeg4 will work. H.264 is the new codec that is absolutely beautiful and very efficient. It has some limitations (decoding is processor intensive, requires QT7), but those will be overcome soon. Mpeg4 is slightly older and doesn’t look as good as h.264. But it still looks good. For the purposes of this shootout, I chose to encode to h.264. Future proofing…
Ok, finally. The conversion apps I tested in this shootout are…
I used a 22 second clip.
Quicktime Pro $30
I’m sure by now you’ve all heard the rumors. Encoding for the iPod with QT is painfully slow. This is true. But QT is also really easy to use. And it produces nice quality video using multipass encoding. This is why it takes so long. My 22 second clip took 2 minutes and 43 seconds to encode. I tried setting the poster frame, but it did not work. (This is the picture that will show up in the video menu of iTunes. With the little reflection…) The resulting file was 1.2 mb. Not bad.
Podner by Splasm Software is a great little app. (“Partner” get it? Look at the icon.)
Its just as easy to use as QT Pro and has a few more options that are better suited to iPod video. It lets you encode using single pass. Which, while not as high quality, greatly reduces encoding times. My 22 second clip took 39 seconds to encode. The fastest of the apps tested. Setting the poster frame is a snap and this time worked in iTunes. Podner even automatically adds the movie to your iTunes library. The resulting file was 1 mb.
MoviesForMyPod is a little freeware app by Digigami. This app may be the easiest to use. I just dragged the QT reference movie onto the icon, chose h.264, and hit encode. However it simply uses Quicktime’s settings to do the work. Encoding took almost exactly as long as QT (2:46, 3 seconds longer) and the file was nearly identical at 1.2mb. No poster frame option. It’s a good solution if you don’t want to spend the cash on QT Pro. But if you’re using reference movies out of FCP, you already have QT Pro.
Ahhh, the great ffmpegx. The swiss army knife of Mac video conversion. I’ve always loved this app, even if it is a bit tricky to use and a bit buggy. It can pretty much convert anything you throw at it. Well it couldn’t handle my reference movie. It simply would not convert it. I went back to FCP and exported a DV stream which is an uncompressed (if you’re using DV) version of my sequence. ffmpegx could handle this, and using this tutorial found at Ars Technica, I was able to convert my file. Using the normal settings, encoding took 53 seconds and produced a 596kb file. Easily the smallest of all the files. And it still looks very good. Using the higher quality settings, encoding took 1 minute and 28 seconds and produced a 604kb file. You have to tweak the video and audio settings a bit, which can be difficult. And not everyone uses DV so the DV Stream option wouldn’t be available. There is also no option to set a poster frame. But encoding times are reasonable and file sizes are great.
iSquint and Video2Pod are both freeware apps. I love freeware apps. However, neither accepted my QT reference movie or DV stream and so therefore were not helpful in my quest. I’ve seen iSquint in particular get good reviews for trans-coding other files.
So in conclusion. Of all the apps, in my estimation, Podner was the best option. For 10 bucks, you get an app that is easy to use and works well. Encoding was almost in real-time and the file size was more than reasonable. The video quality is great. Podner was also the only one that was able to correctly set the poster frame. All in all, a great trade-off between performance, price, and video quality. Besides, look at that Podner. Its no wonder this cowboy won the shootout.