Apple TV (third-gen) Review and Encoding How-To!

Ever since the Apple TV came out I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it. It works great if all conditions are met. Do you have all your media stored in your iTunes library and want to watch that on your TV? Great! Just buy this device and stop reading here now. It will work great. No I am serious, stop reading and buy it. Go now!

You have movies or media stored outside iTunes wondering if you ever are able to play them without having to do some kind of apple TV hack? One option is to go for a Mac Mini HTPC Setup with software like XBMC or Plex. This works great however the cost is higher compared to the new Apple TV. What if you are on a budget or just don’t want to bother with another computer?

Hello Apple TV Conversion

This is the hard truth. Something needs to be done to your movie files so they are playable in iTunes. If it is playable there it should be able to play on your TV as well.

If you are below tech savvy, finding information about how to do this can be difficult. If you search for something like “convert to apple tv” in your favorite search engine you will get a lot of people wanting to sell you conversion software. How should you know what is best? Also, is it worth investing money into it?

Some times you don’t even need to convert anything or even pay for software, just change the container and/or audio format using freely available software. Yes that means without paying anything. (Subler, scroll down)

Writing about this topic and at the same time making it easy to understand is.. difficult. I will give you some examples of software that will help you with Apple TV Conversion but it is impossible for me to explain absolutely everything in detail. The first software suggestion will be the easiest way for you to get your media into iTunes. The best paid software I have tried. The next two suggestions after that are a bit more complex but the software does not cost anything.

(Paid) iFlicks – Keeping it simple

iFlicks

iFlicks is the most easy, straight forward conversion application I have tried. Easily explained: it takes your video file. Automatically downloads cover artwork and metadata from the Internet. Encodes the video and gives you a file compatible with the preset you have selected. There are presets for iPod, iPhone, iPad, ATV 3. generation and more.

This app will re-encode the video file and that use up a lot of resources from your computer. I usually start the conversion process at night when the computer is unused anyway. It can take many hours to encode just one movie but, the end result is often really good.

If you want to go for something simple that just works, iFlicks is for you.

(Free) Handbrake

handbrake screenshot

If you ask others, this is the application most people recommend and theres a reason for it because its really good, free and available for Mac, Windows and Linux. Under the hood it relies on known good encoders and produce great end results with the default presets. If you want to make your own settings you are free to do so but, read up on the subject first.

For the iPad 3 and ATV 3 use the “High Profile” preset. If you encode regular DVDs leave the RF slider to 20. If you encode high quality HD content (720p / 1080p) you could set the slider to around 22. Read more about Constant Quality at the handbrake wiki.

Get HandBrake.

(Free) Subler

Subler

Subler is great because it re-packages your video file without doing any re encoding. Lets say you downloaded a movie from some shady place .. Those are usually distributed in MKV format. Not that good for your device or iTunes. You could just take this file and throw it to iFlicks and be done with it. It would work but it takes some time. Subler takes a fraction of that time because it changes the container to a supported format and re-encodes the audio if you need it to. The video is not re encoded and that is one of the reasons this is faster. Of course, the MKV file have to contain a video stream that is supported by the Apple TV.

Subler (just like iFlicks) downloads metadata for you. Meaning you get cover art and information about the movie you are processing. This is really a neat feature! Makes it nice and tidy in iTunes.

Get Subler.

Conclusion

If you just want to watch some movies, following the instructions above should be enough. I am a bit more positive to this device now because the third generation finally supports 1080p output. The footprint of it is really small and, it just works fine if you pair it with iTunes. As of this writing there was no way of hacking the third generation but I am sure it will be possible soon.

I am currently using the Apple TV myself and for the price ($84) its really nothing to think about: Apple TV MD199LL/A at Amazon.

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