iTunes 6: What you need to know

We’ve hunted down the answers to your frequently asked questions about the latest iPods and iMacs. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the latest version of Apple’s music jukebox software.

What’s the quality of the videos being sold on iTunes?

Right now, the TV shows on iTunes are at iPod resolution, or 320-by-240 pixels. That’s one-quarter the resolution of standard-definition television. It’ll look great on an iPod, and on your TV set it’ll probably look passable, although if you’ve got digital cable or satellite you’ll probably notice that the quality isn’t up to snuff. The further back you sit, the less you’ll notice the flaws.

On a modern computer screen, all of which offer a higher resolution than television screens, you’ll notice the low resolution even more. These iTunes downloads won’t ever be mistaken for DVDs, but if you’re not overly concerned with image quality and you sit far enough away, you’ll find them to be perfectly watchable, although not remotely pristine.

Whatever happened to the year of high-definition video?

Clearly that doesn't apply to videos sold on iTunes, at least not this year. Maybe next year.

What videos can I add to my iTunes library? Just MPEG-4 and H.264 videos?

No. Although the iPod is limited to those two formats, iTunes will accept just about any video that’ll play in QuickTime. But you’ll only be able to transfer iPod-compatible videos to your iPod for playback.

Can I create playlists of my videos?

Yes indeed, both in iTunes and on your iPod. You can even mix and match audio and video files in your playlists in iTunes’the program will warn you that “most users” don’t want to do it, but you can do it if you like. However, your iPod won’t recognize mixed audio- and video-file playlists.

Where do my videos get stored?

In your iTunes Music folder, by default—the same place your music gets stored.

Does iTunes do a good job of playing videos?

If you ask me, no. It’s a bit slow, and tends to pause a bit more than I prefer. But any video that plays in iTunes also plays in QuickTime Player, which feels much more responsive than iTunes. It’s too bad you can't set iTunes to automatically play videos in QuickTime Player, but you can right-click on a video, choose Show Song File, and then drop that file on QuickTime Player.

What kind of limits does Apple place on the videos I buy?

Just as with iTunes music, you can play videos on up to five computers and an unlimited number of iPods. However, you can’t burn videos to DVD as you can burn music to CDs. You can burn your video files to CD-R or DVD-R for backup purposes, but not to video DVDs.

Can I use iTunes to rip DVDs as I can CDs?

Creating software to extract video from the copy-protection system used on DVDs is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act—even if it's only meant to extract video from a personal DVD collection for own personal use—and apparently Apple hasn’t convinced any movie studios that DVD ripping is something that consumers should be allowed to do. However, this is a barrier that is entirely political and legal, not technical. There are numerous programs, including Mac the Ripper, that will let you extract video from your DVDs; and there are numerous programs, including Handbrake, that will convert extracted DVD video into H.264 or MPEG-4 video; those video files can then be added to your iTunes Library.

So the answer is complicated. Yes, you can download software that will let you extract videos from your DVDs and convert them to iPod/iTunes-ready format. But iTunes itself cannot, at least for the time being.

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