// Internet Duct Tape

How to Play Downloaded Videos on Your iPod, Xbox 360, or DVD Player

Posted in Group Writing Projects, How I Use, Software, Technology by engtech on January 27, 2008

Software

I’ve been slumming through the support forums at answers.yahoo.com lately and this is a question I see come up often: how do I download a video and put it on my electronic device? More and more consumer electronics devices that can play videos, but that means we have to learn more about the big, bad scary world of video codecs.

The steps are simple:

  1. Find a video source (source)
    • video from your camera/phone, off the Internet, or from a DVD you own
  2. Get the video on to your computer (source/download)
  3. Convert the format of the video to something your portable media player can play (convert)
  4. Copy the video to your portable media player (destination)

…but the devil is in the details.

What is a Codec?

Codec stands for coder-decoder. It’s a mathematical algorithm that stores the video into a file. It’s like VHS vs beta or HD-DVD vs Blu-ray — different codecs have different formats and they aren’t interchangeable. There are many different video codecs, and that’s where the headache with downloaded content comes from. Your computer can play many more codec formats that your iPod, Xbox 360 or DVD player.

What Codecs Can My iPod, Xbox 360 or DVD Player Play?

This is the hardest part, especially when you aren’t familiar with video codecs. You’re going to have to do some research and find out what your portable media player supports. This is how I find information for any electronic device I’m having problems with:

Once you’ve found the information make sure to save it somewhere you can find it again. I keep a folder on my computer with PDFs of the manuals for all my electronic devices so that I can quickly find the information again later.

Here’s a list of codecs for popular devices to get you started.

Sample of documentation on supported video codecs
From my DVD player manual

How to Copy a DVD to Your Computer

These guides will show you how to copy a DVD to your computer’s hard drive so that you can work on it with other software to change the format to something you can play on your portable media device.

How to Download Videos

I’m not going to go into detail because of the questionable legality. There are videos out there that you can legitimately download but there are even more where you would be breaking the law if you downloaded them. I’ll let my friends at Lifehacker give you the skinny on downloading videos instead:

How to Watch Any Video Format on your Computer

If you’re downloading videos from unknown sources, quite often you’re going to end up with a file that your computer doesn’t know how to play back. The solution is to use the free VLC Media Player that is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and a million other operating systems you’ve never heard of.

Quick tip: always test playing a file with VLC before you do anything else with it. If it doesn’t play in VLC, chances are you won’t be able to convert it to work with your portable media player.

When VLC doesn’t work, there’s the Combined Community Codec Pack to the rescue.

How to Tell Which Codec Format the Video Uses

The best advice I can give anyone who is downloading content from unknown sources is do not trust the file extension. Just because the file says .divx or .mp4 doesn’t mean it’s is. Use the free GSpot software to find out the real details of what codec format the file you downloaded is.

I’m not going to lie to you — GSpot isn’t the most userfriendly application I’ve ever seen. But it gives you the two pieces of essential information you need: the video codec and audio codec the file is using.

Using GSpot to analyze video codec information

How to Convert Codec Formats

The world of video codecs is very confusing, with lots of formats that sound similar but have minor differences that will prevent them with playing on different devices. I use Any Video Converter when I need to change codec formats of a file. It has a very simple interface that requires only three clicks to convert a file:

  1. Add a file
  2. Choose the profile for the output format I want
  3. Encode

Any Video ConverterAny Video Converter also has pay versions with added features like easy converting to iPod, Zune, PSP. But the free version works well for converting if you set up the profile for the output file format correctly. The free version also supports YouTube.

It is often easier to find specialty software that supports the electronic device you want to play videos on. When looking for how to specific software for converting video the first thing I do is go to lifehacker.com and do a search. They often discuss free software for video converting, and the comments are full of excellent information.

Specialty Software for Converting Video

Here are some examples of software that converts specifically to the file formats you need. I haven’t tried all of them, and some of them are pay software with trial versions while others are freeware and available for multiple operating systems.

This was written as part of the Daily Blog Tips tutorials group writing project.

How I Use Google Reader

Posted in Google Calendar and Gmail, How I Use, Software by engtech on October 18, 2007

Software

“How I Use” is a new series I’m starting about the software I use on a day-to-day basis. I want share tips and tricks and to learn tips and tricks from readers sharing with me in the comments.

Google Reader is a web-based RSS reader. Because it’s web-based I can access my Google Reader from multiple places (home PC, home laptop, work PC, visiting family, etc) and all of my information is stored and updated in one place. I use the Firefox web-browser with the Greasemonkey extension.

Google Reader is an RSS reader

RSS can be best described as a stream of news. Instead of visiting different websites at a time, you subscribe to them and you get all of the updates from the websites you follow in one place. For me that one place is Google Reader. This video will describe RSS and why you would want to subscribe to an RSS feed.

Subscribing to a Feed

I subscribe to feeds either by clicking on the feed link directly or by using the autodiscovery feed option in Firefox.

rss feed auto-discovery

The first time you subscribe to a feed, Firefox will display the feed in a nice, human readable way, with a yellow box asking you what you want to use to subscribe to this feed. Choose the Google option and chose the option to always use Google to subscribe to feeds.

always use google reader to subscribe to rss

Unfortunately, Google isn’t smart enough to remember your preference between Google Reader and Google Homepage — so you have to always chose the red pill or the blue pill. There is a handy Greasemonkey script to fix that though: always subscribe to Google Reader.

Accessing Google Reader

I access Google Reader by typing reader.google.com into my address bar or by clicking on the Google Reader icon in the Google Toolbar.

  1. Install Google Toolbar
  2. Install Google Reader button for Google Toolbar

Setting Up My View

Google Reader lets you save your view settings which ever way you like them. I like to view all items at a time instead of sorting them by tags (I’ll switch to tag view if I don’t have time to read all my feeds and I want to focus on a specific subject).

google reader all items

I click on the Expanded view tab in the top right hand so that I can see titles and the body of each item.

google reader expanded view

I turn off the left sidebar by clicking the left margin or pressing ‘u’ on the keyboard.

google reader remove sidebar

Then I click on the View Settings drop-down and choose sort by newest and set as start page.

google reader save settings

Now Google Reader will remember these settings every time I log in.

Navigating Feeds

I read feeds by

  • using the middle mouse wheel to scroll down the page with my right hand
  • my left hand hovers over the ‘j’ and ‘k’ keys on my keyboard
  • ‘j’ jumps past a post that I don’t find interesting enough to read completely
  • ‘k’ jumps back to the previous post if I decide that I do want to read it

I find quickly scanning through full posts like this lets me read many more feeds than if I have to click on the titles I find interesting.

Opening Links

I open links I want to read by

  • clicking on the link with my middle mouse button to open it in a background tab

When I get around 10 links I take a break from reading feeds and go through all of those open tabs, closing them as I’m done with them.

Read a Post Later

If I come across a blog post that’s too dense to read at the moment I’ll use the Readeroo extension to save it to delicious with the toread tag. Readroo will let me fetch it later, and mark it as read.

Leaving a Blog Comment

When I find a blog post I want to comment on

  • I hit the ‘v’ key to jump to the post on the blog
  • hit the ‘end’ key on my keyboard to go the bottom of the post
  • press ‘alt+c’ to fill in my name / email address / blog url thanks to the handy prefill comments Greasemonkey script
  • write my comment and click send
  • press ‘ctrl+w’ to close the tab and return to my Google Reader tab

Bookmarking a Blog Post

When I find a blog post I want to save for my ‘Best of Feeds’ series

  • I hit the ‘v’ key to jump to the post on the blog
  • click on the ‘TAG’ button in my toolbar to save it to delicious

Google Reader has it’s own mechanism for sharing and bookmarking posts but I don’t find it nearly as useful or as fast as delicious. That might change with time.

I’ve seen a Greasemonkey script that lets you bookmark the post from within Google Reader, but I prefer using the official delicious extension to bookmark posts because of other enhancements I’ve made to it.

How Do You Use Google Reader?

The reason for writing a post like this isn’t only because I want to share how I do something, but because I also want to learn tricks I might not know about. Got a trick I’m missing out on? Please leave it in the comments, or write your own blog post about it and send a trackback.