Squeak and Blat: Mozart Opera and iPod Seria and Buffa!

Q: Dear Squeak: I'm heading out on a much earned sabbatical and one of my goals is to study Mozart operas. I have quite a collection on DVDs and Netflix has many I can rent to review. I'm looking for a way I can put these on my iPod (or my iPhone if I get some grant funding to upgrade) so I can take them along for study while traveling. Can you give me a few tips as to how to do this? Thanks. 

-Fan of Wolfie

A: Dear Fan of Wolfie, congrats on getting that sabbatical. The short answer to your question is that, yes, you can convert DVD video to a format that can be added to iTunes and then to an iPod or iPhone. And, once everything is set up properly, the process can go quite smoothly. However, just as there are many subtleties to Mozart operas, there are several issues to deal with before starting to work with your iPod and DVDs. You might say we need to examine iPod seria before getting to iPod buffa!

Let's start with the copyright issue, definitely opera seria. Blat and I are not lawyers and the copyright topic is murky water, but fundamentally, you cannot copy video that is copyrighted just as you cannot copy music or other copyrighted material: the two exceptions are fair use allowances for educational use and making archival copies for your own use of DVDs you own (so copying DVDs you rent from Netflix is likely out of bounds here). You might want to check out James Frankel's newly published book (Hal Leonard 2009), The Teacher's Guide To Music, Media, And Copyright Law for some clarity on this and reach your own decision on what you can legally copy to your personal iPod.

Now, what about the iPod versus iPhone? The first iPods to display video have a screen size of 360x240 dots or pixels; the newest iPod Touch and the iPhone have a screen size of 480x320. So, if you create video for the older iPods they will not take advantage of the full screen size on an iPhone or iPod Touch. A widescreen movie, for example, will be pretty narrow on an iPod, 320x134, but better on an iPhone, 480x222. Some advise creating the original video as 640x480 in size and then let iTunes resize the video to best fit the device.

Another consideration is the time it takes to digitize. The Marriage of Figaro, in one DVD version, is 150 minutes in length; with the video recorded at 30 frames per second, that would be 270,000 frames to be digitized. So, you need to set up the conversion process and find something else to do. Needless to say, the speed of your computer and your hard drive, the efficiency of the software, and what other tasks are running on your computer will affect the time it takes to convert the video. I set my conversions up before bedtime, and let them "bake" overnight.

Finally, let's address the software required. Because of the copyright issues, converting video for your iPod needs to be done in two steps and with two different software applications: one step for translating the encryption codes (decryption) and another for digitizing the video. Key to the second step is compressing the video to both reduce the size of the file and optimize it for the device (e.g., the iPod or iPhone).

There are lots of options out there. For cross-platform solutions for PC and Mac, there is open-source freeware (Handbrake and Videora iPod Converter are two examples) and commercial software (iSkysoft, Wondershare, and Cucusoft all have DVD to iPod/iPhone Conversion software for $29; I also like DVDRemaster from metakine.com for Mac only). For Windows/PC users, for decrypting there is DVD Decrypter and DVD43, for example. The commercial compression software usually recommends decryption software for you to install that works well with their software. But to give you some idea how this works, I'll describe my solution for doing this on a Mac.

Until recently, I used MacTheRipper (the free version) for the decryption step, and then Elgato's Turbo.264 (under $100) for digitizing and compressing. Turbo.264 comes with a USB dongle that has a video compression chip the software uses to increase the video processing speed; on some movies the compression speed is up to 50+ frames per second (that means about 1.5 hrs to digitize The Marriage of Figaro). I recently found a neat application, Fairmount, for the decryption and now use this in place of MacTheRipper. I find Turbo.264 excellent and appreciate the speed boost and the automatic format settings for the iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, and many other devices.

Again, we are not recommending any of these, just pointing out the many options from free to commercial alternatives. Googling "DVD to iPod or iPhone" will bring up options and reviews for you study and I've created a set of links to many of these at http://delicious.com/davedbw/dvdToiPhone for you to use.

Fan of Wolfie, we hope this gets you started. Digitizing video to your iPod or iPhone is pretty straightforward and easy to do once you work through the issues of copyright and making your software choice. Enjoy that sabbatical time and make sure you have a nice balance of buffa and seria during your time away!


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Last modified on Thursday, 19/12/2013

Peter R. Webster and David B. Williams

Peter R. Webster (a.k.a “Blat”) and David Brian Williams (a.k.a. “Squeak”) have presented workshops and other presentations together for CMS/ATMI conferences and workshops for more than 20 years.  Their collaboration has led to publications and presentations internationally on music technology as well as the co-authorship of the textbook Experiencing Music Technology (Cengage Learning/Schirmer Books, 3rd edition Update, 2009), a widely adopted and highly acclaimed music technology textbook for high school and college students. Dr. Webster is emeritus professor of music education at Northwestern University and Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Southern California; Dr. Williams is emeritus professor of music and arts technology at Illinois State University, a freelance consultant, composer and musician, and immediate past president of The College Music Society.

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