Mac 911 - Sept. 2007

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Converting unprotected DVDs

Q: Over the past 18 months, I’ve taken about 15 hours of video of my baby. I loaded the videos into Apple’s iMovie and then burned DVDs in iDVD. (I didn’t have the hard-drive space to keep the videos on my Mac.) Now I want to make a highlights video—but when I load the DVDs, I can’t find the original files. What do you suggest?— Carrie Roberts

A: The data you need is contained in each DVD’s Video_TS folder. However, iMovie can’t read or edit the VOB (video object) files within, which hold your precious video. You need a different application to turn those files into something editable.

For this job, try Squared 5’s handy and always free MPEG Streamclip 1.8. With the help of Apple’s $20 QuickTime MPEG-2 Playback Component, it can convert those VOB files into something you can edit in iMovie (see “Extract Unprotected Video”). I recommend opening MPEG Streamclip, choosing File: Export To DV, and then selecting NTSC, 720 x 480, 29.97fps from the Standard pop-up menu. The resulting file is huge, but it maintains the quality of the original footage.

If you’re willing to spend some money for greater ease of use, you’ll want to check out two programs. The first is DVDxDV’s $25 DVDxDV 1 (   ). With it, you can extract movies from a Video_TS folder or individual VOB files and save them in any QuickTime-supported format.

Likewise, Miraizon’s $60 Cinematize 2 (   ) lets you export files in a variety of formats from a Video_TS folder, though it can’t extract data from individual VOB files. In addition, it breaks movie files into “scenes,” defined by areas of black in your movies. Neither utility requires that you have the MPEG-2 Playback Component installed.

Diagnosing the Apple TV

Q: I’m not sure my Apple TV is working properly. It’s slow to respond to commands, and sometimes it can’t “see” the Mac from which I want to stream movies. Is there some way to check whether it’s working properly?— Matt Graham

A: Hold down the menu and minus (-) buttons on the Apple Remote until the Apple TV flashes a yellow light. It will eventually restart and display a Language screen. Select the language you wish to use, and press the play/pause button.

You’ll see an Apple TV Recover screen, which lists three options: Restart, Run Diagnostics, and Factory Restore. Select Run Diagnostics and press play/pause. You’ll see the familiar spinning-gear icon along with a message that reads “Running Diagnostics” until the test is complete. At that point, you hope to see the mes-sage “Your Apple TV is working correctly.” If so, click on Done to return to the Apple TV Recover screen, select Restart, and press the play/pause button to restart the Apple TV. If you see an error message instead, it’s time to return the Apple TV to Apple for servicing.

If the Run Diagnostics test is successful but you still have problems, make sure that your Mac is awake and that iTunes isn’t locked up or unresponsive. Also check to see that you’ve got a decent network signal in the Apple TV’s Settings screen—two bars or more. You can determine this signal’s strength by looking at the Settings: Network menu on your Apple TV. (If the signal is too weak—and you can’t fix it by, say, moving your Apple TV or wireless router to a better location—try using a different network connection such as wired Ethernet.)

If you’ve got a strong signal but the Apple TV remains hesitant to play music and videos, you can try restoring it to the original factory settings. Choose Factory Restore from the Apple TV Recover screen. Doing so wipes out your network settings and removes any media you’ve synced to the Apple TV.

AirDisk and Apple’s Backup

Q: Can I use Apple’s Backup in conjunction with a USB drive attached to a new AirPort Extreme Base Station?— Calvin Johnson

A: You can. And there’s a good reason to do so if you have a bunch of Macs: using this scheme, you can back them all up to a single drive, because it will be available to any Macs you have on your network.

To start, hook up the external USB drive to the AirPort Extreme Base Station’s USB port. Then verify that the Base Station recognizes it by launching AirPort Utility (in /Applications/Utilities), opening the configuration profile for the Base Station, and clicking on the Disks tab. You should see your drive listed there (see “Wireless Backups”).

Back in the Finder, choose Go: Connect To Server. Click on Browse in the resulting Connect To Server window, find the name of your Base Station, select it, and click on Connect. Select the drive in the window that appears and click on OK. Then enter your AirPort password to mount the drive. All you need to do after that is launch Apple’s Backup (   ) and choose that networked drive as the destination for your backup plan. (If you don’t have Backup now, you can get it by subscribing to Apple’s .Mac service.)

Although this method is generally convenient, it does have a significant drawback. It’s slow— really slow. I found that backing up 50GB of data from my MacBook Pro took most of the day over a wireless 802.11n network. If you’re backing up just one computer, it makes a lot more sense to connect the backup drive directly to that computer.

Also, be aware that Backup can’t mount a drive attached to an AirPort Extreme Base Station. You need to make sure the drive is mounted before you begin the backup.

iSight alternatives

Q: Now that all new Macs come with a Web cam built in, Apple has discontinued the iSight. But that’s a problem for me and my older Mac. There don’t seem to be any Mac-friendly Web cams out there—in other words, ones that “just work” without additional software. Any suggestions?— via the Internet

A: The simplest solution is to find an old iSight camera. Some non-Apple retail stores have a few in stock. You can also find iSights on eBay (but be prepared to pay a premium).

If that doesn’t pan out, you’ll find that tracking down a Web cam that works with the Mac is easier now, thanks to the UVC (USB Video Class) standard—an open standard for video devices. Apple added support for UVC Web cams with Mac OS X 10.4.9.

Just plug a UVC-compliant camera into a Mac running this operating system (or a later one), and it should work. (See a list of compatible Web cams.)

If you’re running an earlier version of Mac OS and therefore can’t take advantage of a UVC Web cam, try Ecamm Network’s $10 miChatUSBCam 2.2.1. This software allows Macs to use an even wider variety of third-party Web cams. It requires OS X 10.3 or later and is Universal (in other words, you can use it on either an Intel Mac or a PowerPC Mac).

But you might not need to buy anything at all. If you have an old FireWire camcorder with a built-in microphone, you can use it as a Web cam. Just attach it to a free FireWire port and switch it into camera mode. iChat AV should recognize it as a viable source. Read the camera’s manual to learn how to keep it switched on—most cameras will turn off after a period of time by default. For example, you may need to turn off an energy-saving setting, remove the tape from the camera, or switch the camera into its single-image capture mode.

[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iTunes and iPod Pocket Guide, second edition (Peachpit Press, 2007), as well as many other books about the iPod and Mac OS X. ]

Extract Unprotected Video: Want to create a highlight video from footage you’ve burned to disc in iDVD? No problem. With Apple’s QuickTime MPEG-2 Playback Component plug-in and Squared 5’s MPEG Streamclip, you can extract video from unprotected DVDs.Wireless Backups: You can use a USB drive connected to a new AirPort Extreme Base Station to back up your data, but it will be slow going.
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