Help Key: Putting Video Onto Your Apple TV

So you’ve got an Apple TV yet, for some strange reason, you’re not satisfied with $9.99 downloads of Disney classics. What is a fan of HDMI-enabled video playback devices to do?

Here’s a quick tutorial on getting video from almost any source onto your Apple TV.

The real key to moving video is conversion. This is the Achilles heel of most device-to-device transfers and, for the most part, what all the anti-DRM futzing is really about. Say what you want about freedom, babies, and love — trying to make devices work together is almost impossible when DRM is involved. We’ll break this tutorial into three steps: acquisition, conversion, importing. I’m also OS X-centric, so please bear with me. I’ll try to find solutions for both platforms.


Alright, dirty birds. If you don’t know how to get content onto your hard drive, I’m not about to teach you how to download or even show you how to find torrent files of your favorite content.

You can also get content from TiVoToGo, for example, and using free tools and the keys you already have in your TiVo, convert them to a normal MPEG file. You can then convert that content over to iPod compatible formats.

You can also rip DVDs to add to your collection. I use HandBrake now called MediaFork. This is a free, open-source solution and essentially pulls out an MPEG-4 file of your content
for Windows. This is obviously the choice of last resort as this is a 1-to-1 download and converting time, which means it will take you 2 hours to capture a 2 hour movie. Granted, you can schedule these devices to grab content over the week, but that’s boring, Sidney, boring.


. This is an MPEG-4-based standard and conversion from standard formats like DivX and XviD is sufficiently trivial.

Converted quality depends the video you input, but except for dark scenes and scenes with lots of on-screen action, I’ve had no problem with a ripped DVD on a 56-inch rear projection screen. It’s not ideal, but it’s acceptable. Set the format in ffmpegX to “iPod h.264 640w.” The program also supports SRT subtitle files which you add in the Filters tab. This can get a bit wonky, however, so don’t depend on it.

, but that requires some set-up.

Now you’ve got your video in a format iTunes can read. Happiness awaits.


Now you’re ready to start dropping content into iTunes and syncing with the Apple TV. You can use something like iPodifier to send video to iTunes almost automatically under Windows, but why make it easy? It would be so much cooler just to have it automatically send our video over as soon as it converts under. OS X fans rejoice – there is an easy way to do that. We simply attach an action to our “converted items folder.”

Using code we blatantly stole from the excellent site, we create an AppleScript:

property extension_list : {"mp4", "mov"}
-- These are the two extensions made by ffmpegX. We can also look for .ff. in the filename, another surefire signal, but this is a bit easier and assumes we use ffmpegX only.

on adding folder items to my_folder after receiving the_files
repeat with i from 1 to number of items in the_files
set this_item to (item i of the_files)
set the item_info to info for this_item
if the name extension of the item_info is in the extension_list then
--Debug display
--display dialog "Adding " & the name of item_info & " to iTunes"

tell application "iTunes"
set this_track to add this_item to playlist "Library" of source "Library"
end try
end tell
end if
end repeat
end adding folder items to

Dear MPAA: This is a home video of me and 300 of my closest Spartan friends. Do not sue.

Now, attach this script to a folder by copying the script into /Library/Scripts/Folder Action Scripts and selecting the downloads folder. Assign this script to that folder and every time something is saved there, it will automatically go to iTunes and/or sync with Apple TV. For example, I save all of my downloaded files in a folder called ~/Downloads. I simply added the action to that folder and now whenever something is downloaded and converted, I’m ready to ride.

With a little planning, you can automate almost the entire process. Because many files come in rar format, you can use Applescript to unrar your files, convert them using AppleScript and then pop them into iTunes without your intervention. Just remember to pop into that folder occasionally to make sure it doesn’t become a 500 GB behemoth.

As we see, creating an Apple TV conversion workflow is quite painless. Using a few free or inexpensive tools we can create a mini movie theater in the den.

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