Back up your iTunes media files

As time goes by, and our digital media collections grow, we need to ensure that we don’t lose the music and video files that we’ve spent our hard-earned dollars (or, in the case of ripping our own CDs and DVDs, considerable time) on. Music, videos, and audiobooks can add up until your iTunes library fills your hard disk and then some. In addition to storing the original files, you have to make sure you keep backups, because in many cases you can’t download such files again.

What do you need to back up?

Apple recently changed its policy, and now allows you to re-download much of the content you purchased on the iTunes Store as part of its iTunes in the Cloud functionality. You can get fresh copies of music, TV shows, apps, and books, but you can’t currently re-download movies or audiobooks. And, in the categories available for download, you may not find everything you purchased.

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Four changes I'd like to see with the Apple TV

[Editor’s Note: As several readers have pointed out, I somehow overlooked the fact that my Apple TV was set only to display playlists for music, not all content. This makes some of my first item moot, although I still believe that the way iTunes and the Apple TV handle movies could be much better. To make sure you see all of your playlists, on the Apple TV go to Settings -> Audio & Video -> Show Playlists and choose All. The Apple TV is smart enough that if you’ve mixed TV shows and music together in the same playlist you’ll see only the appropriate content for that kind of media.]

Last week, Apple updated the software for its second-generation Apple TV to add streaming of purchased TV shows and support for the Vimeo video-sharing service.

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Panasonic TC-P50ST30 50-inch Plasma 3D HDTV

You might expect a 50-inch 3D plasma set from a respected manufacturer to put on a great show. In that regard, however, the Panasonic TC-P50ST30 might disappoint you. Sure, it has all the right features—Wi-Fi, a generous selection of Internet feeds, and multimedia via USB, SD, and DLNA. But the picture quality leaves much to be desired, and the audio will make your ears hurt.

In our image-quality tests, the TC-P50ST30 had particular problems with motion. The landscape vibrated significantly in our diagonal-panning test, for instance. To be fair, that torture test is designed to exaggerate problems that would be slight in real-world use. But we saw plenty of motion problems in our real-world tests, too. Moving-camera shots from the Blu-ray releases of Mission: Impossible III (chapter 7) and The Dark Knight (chapter 9) produced shimmering. In our baseball test, one judge noted that the pitcher’s mound was vibrating.

Color and contrast problems cropped up as well. The TC-P50ST30 tended to apply red or orange tints over light colors, so pale skin tones often ended up looking sunburned. Scenes often appeared dark or oversaturated.

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How to convert audio and video files for free

Scenario: You’ve obtained an audio or video file that’s either in a format unsupported by the device you intend to play it on—an iOS device, traditional iPod, or your Mac, for example—or in a form that you’d prefer to not use (large AIFF or WAV audio files, for example). There are scads of utilities you can use to convert media files (and some of them aren’t marketed by spammers), but what might you use when you want something converted quickly, without a lot of fuss and bother, and that costs nary a nickel? Try these on for size:

Audio and video

OS X Lion An operating system? Yes. Among Lion’s new features is an Automator trick that allows you to easily convert compatible media files right from the Desktop. Control- or right-click on an AIFF, WAV, CAF audio file or .mov, MPEG-4, and H.264 video files and choose “Encode Selected [Video/Audio] Files” from the Services menu at the bottom of the contentual menu pop-up. A small window appears where you can choose your encoder settings.

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Apple TV now streams purchased TV shows, Vimeo videos

Owners of the second-generation Apple TV can now stream previously purchased TV shows directly from the iTunes Store, as well as watch videos from the popular video-hosting site Vimeo, thanks to a software update released on Monday.

Up until now, you could stream any TV shows purchased from the iTunes Store housed on a computer using Apple’s Home Sharing feature or via AirPlay. Both, however, require that the computer be turned on and accessible on your network—and that the files themselves are still on your hard drive. With this latest update, any TV shows you’ve purchased (or downloaded, in the case of free TV show episodes) are instantly available to stream over the Internet as what appears to be an extension of Apple’s iTunes in the Cloud functionality.

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How to sync large iTunes libraries with small devices

As time goes by, you acquire more and more music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, apps, and books. It’s probably becoming increasingly difficult—or, more likely, impossible—to fit your entire iTunes library on your iPod, iPhone, or iPad. To deal with the data-storage disparity, you’ll need some alternate strategies. Here are some ways to choose what to sync, and how to save space going so.

How much space do you have?

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Apple and Hulu: Not so strange bedfellows?

Why the heck would Apple want to buy Hulu?

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard that question since Bloomberg reported last week that the two companies were in early talks. Apple, with its already extensive iTunes Store catalog of TV shows and movies, would seem to be a strange bedfellow for the predominantly TV-streaming site that’s jointly owned by big media names like News Corp, Comcast, and Disney.

While the attention has focused around why a Hulu-Apple deal doesn’t make sense, in some ways the two make perfect partners: Hulu has a large catalog of video content that consumers want to watch, and the licenses to stream them; Apple has proven experience in delivering content to users on a variety of devices. Despite what might seem like a considerable amount of overlap, there are good reasons why Apple might seriously consider acquiring Hulu.

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