Automate Your PC's Media Library
Using your PC to store your photos, videos, and music might save you the trouble of having to dust off photo albums and alphabetize your CD collection, but it can still be a pain to keep your media converted, stored, tagged, and uploaded.
Here's how to automatically download, convert, and sync your video files, dump your photos to Flickr, and take the pain out of tagging your music library.
Automatically Convert Your Videos (and Sync)
Built-in Webcams, phone cameras, pocket camcorders, HD video on point-and-shoot cameras--you can take a video with pretty much any gadget lying within arm's reach. However, depending on what you plan on doing with those videos, you'll need to convert them into different formats, which can be a fairly time-consuming task for your PC.
If you just need to convert a folder of videos into a certain format (to play on your iPod Touch, for example), Videora iPod Converter can do this basic task. Select the setting recommended for your device, play around with the quality sliders as you see fit, and click the One-Click Convert button at the bottom-right of the screen to bring up a dialog box that will let you drag to select as many files as you want.
Unfortunately, some of Videora Converter's more advanced features don't work well. While it's possible to tell Videora to watch a certain directory for new files, automatically convert them, and add them to iTunes, I couldn't get the directory-watching to work at all, and the iTunes-adding seemed to work infrequently.
I wanted my PC to find the new videos, convert them, and sync them to my iPod Touch without requiring me to do anything, which meant I needed to switch tools. Instead of Videora, I opted to use Handbrake, another popular video conversion app.
Handbrake doesn't make it easy to set up an automatic batch conversion from the graphical user interface (you have to manually add each item), but it does include a separate command-line app that we can work with.
Dust off your DOS skills, ladies and gentlemen--we're going to write a quick batch file (.bat) that will tell our PC to take all the files in the immediate folder (or any nested folders), pass them off to Handbrake to convert into an iPod-friendly format, name them ("filename-ipod.mp4"), and then hand them off to iTunes, which will add them to the iTunes library and sync with my attached iPod.
Automatically Convert Your Videos, Continued
An app called Alert and Convert that works with Handbrake tries to do the same thing as the batch file described here, but I wasn't able to get it to work 100 percent of the time.
So we've posted a batch-file template in the PCWorld Downloads library, called Automatic Batch Video Conversion. Note that batch files can do lots of things to your PC, and if you're not careful you might be converting a lot of videos.
Right-click on the convertvideotemplate.bat file and select Edit to open it up in Notepad. You should see this:
@for /r %%F in (*.[filetype], *.[filetype]) do (
"[location of handbrake CLI]" -i "%%F" -o "%%~pnF-ipod.mp4" --preset="iPhone & iPod Touch"
move /-y "%%F" "[location of processed videos dir]")
@for /r %%X in (*ipod.mp4) do
(move /-y "%%X" "[location of Automatically Add To iTunes folder]")
start "" "[Location of iTunes app]"
In order to adapt this batch file to work on your PC, you're going to need to fill out each of the bracketed expressions with your own information: For [filetype], put the three-letter suffix of the kinds of files you want Handbrake to process. If I put in (*.mp4, *.flv, *.3gp, *.avi), that means Handbrake will look for all MPEG-4, Flash Layer Video, 3GP, and AVI files.
For [Location of Handbrake CLI], you'll need the path to the Handbrake CLI app. It's typically in the same folder as the Handbrake GUI app, so just right-click on the Handbrake icon in your Start Menu and copy the location. You should end up with something like "C:\Program Files\Handbrake\HandBrakeCLI.exe".
If you're converting your video to something other than an iPod Touch/iPhone format, you'll want to replace the --preset="iPhone & iPod Touch" with a different set of encoding instructions. Here's a list of Handbrake's different preset encodes.
We want to put the original files somewhere else once they're done being processed, or else this script will convert them again on the next go-round. I made a folder on my desktop called "Processed Videos" and pasted that into the [location of processed videos dir] section.
iTunes 9 and later has a folder called Automatically Add To iTunes; we'll use this folder to add our new movies to the iTunes Library. You can find it by going into your User folder and selecting Music, iTunes, iTunes Media, Automatically Add To iTunes. Copy this file path into the [location of Automatically Add To iTunes folder].
Finally, find the path to the iTunes application itself--typically "C:\Program Files\iTunes\iTunes.exe"--and paste that in the [Location of iTunes app] spot. Assuming your iPod Touch is synced to your PC, iTunes should automatically sync on launch.
Once completed, your script should look something like this:
@for /r %%F in (*.mp4, *.flv, *.3gp, *.avi) do (
"C:\Program Files\HandBrake\HandBrakeCLI.exe" -i "%%F" -o "%%~pnF-ipod.mp4" --preset="iPhone &amp;amp; iPod Touch"
move /-y "%%F" "C:\Users\pmiller.PCWORLD\Desktop\Processed Videos")
@for /r %%X in (*ipod.mp4) do
(move /-y "%%X" "C:\Users\pmiller.PCWORLD\Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Automatically Add to iTunes")
start "" "C:\Program Files\iTunes\iTunes.exe"
Now, we have a script that will grab all the videos of a certain type, pass them off to Handbrake, and add them to iTunes when they're done--try and run it with some sample files if you haven't already. Make sure to put the script in the directory you want it to watch for new videos before proceeding any further.
Next, we just need to get it to run automatically. Enter Windows Task Scheduler, which you can find in Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Task Scheduler.
Start by clicking Create Basic Task on the right-hand side. Give it a quick name and description, click Next , and specify how often you want this task to run--we'll say Daily--and a time you want it to run (ideally a time when you're not using the computer, so you don't have to worry about the CPU getting bogged down by converting video).
Click Next again, leave it on Start a program, click Next , and paste the name of the directory you want the batch file to watch over in the Start in (optional) field. (You may need to put the path in quotes if there are spaces in any of the folder names.)
Next: Video Podcasts
Stay on Top of Your Video Podcasts With Miro
Wouldn't it be nice if you could use one app to keep yourself updated on your Youtube subscriptions, video podcasts (iTunes and otherwise), and Web/TV series? Grab Miro and stay tuned with minimal hassle.
For example, I've been using Miro to keep up with a few of my Youtube subscriptions because I hate checking the Youtube pages, and sometimes I want to watch them on my iPod Touch during my morning commute.
Open up Miro, go to the Sidebar menu and click Add Feed, then paste the following text into the URL: http://www.youtube.com/rss/user/[insert username here]/videos.rss.
Now Miro will automatically download the latest videos as soon as they go up.
Combine that with the auto-convert batch file we just configured, and you can get your Youtube subscriptions delivered to your portable video player of choice every morning.
Miro also includes a built-in BitTorrent client, so you can use your preferred RSS-friendly BitTorrent search engine (LegalTorrents.com is the default option) to stay subscribed to your favorite (legal) TV and Web series.
Just add the RSS feed for the search as a video podcast feed, and Miro will handle the downloads like any other file manager. While it's not as robust as uTorrent or other dedicated BitTorrent clients, you can still configure BitTorrent-specific settings (seed ratios, bandwidth limits, and so on) in the Preferences menu.
Miro works with iTunes podcast subscriptions, too--both video and audio. Open up iTunes, right-click on Podcasts (on the left-hand side of the main window), choose Export, and choose OPML as the format. In Miro, choose Import Feeds (OPML) from the Sidebar menu and select the file you just exported from iTunes.
Next: Flickr Updates
Keep Flickr Updated With Foldr Monitr
Keeping up with your Flickr uploads can be a pain, especially if your home Internet connection doesn't have the bandwidth to handle a bunch of big JPEG files. You can fix this with Foldr Monitr, a neat little app that can watch a directory for images and automatically upload them to your Flickr account.
Just download Foldr Monitr, run the Setup.exe app to configure it (you'll need to enter your Flickr account information and authenticate it on the Flickr Web site).
Click the Browse button to specify a folder to watch, and check the "Include Subfolders" box if you want it to search all the sub-folders as well. You can set Flickr Monitr to upload your photos to sets according to subfolder name, too--you can do this in the Options menu.
Once everything is configured, Foldr Monitr can just hang out in your System Tray and upload images in the background. If you want it to stick to times when you're not at home (so it won't stop you from using your Internet connection), just set up a task in the Task Scheduler, as we did for video conversion in the video section, that runs at night or during work hours.
You can also incorporate Foldr Monitr into other workflows using your images. If you use Photoshop Elements, you can batch-process a folder full of images by selecting Process Multiple Files from the File menu.
Just define what you want Photoshop to do (apply the Auto Levels and Auto Contrast filters, then resize to 606 pixels wide, and convert to a high-quality JPEG, say) and use the folder that Foldr Monitr is watching as the Destination folder. Once your images are cleaned up, they'll be automatically uploaded onto Flickr.
Next: Organizing MP3s
Use Mp3tag to Organize Your MP3s
Even the most vigilant music maniac can end up with a few dozen MP3s named "Track 1" from "Unknown Album," which is why there are quite a few apps out there that can help you keep your music library tagged, sorted, and properly album-arted. However, we keep on coming back to Mp3tag because it's really good--and it's free (well, donationware).
Just give Mp3tag a directory, and it'll list all your media files for your editing convenience. From here, select a group of files (an album, perhaps) and pick a tag source from the Tag Sources menu--freedb, MusicBrainz, Amazon, or discogs.
You can also pick up album art from Amazon (U.S. or Germany). If the standard ID3 tags aren't enough, you can also edit extended tags (iTunes podcast metadata, for example) in the View menu.
Mp3tag also gets a shout-out for including the oft-ignored Invert Selection option (Control-Shift-A, or choose it under the Edit menu) for those times when it's easier to pick out the three songs you don't want to tag than the 439 that you do.
Bear in mind that Mp3tag is a powerful tool, and you could readily design an organization scheme straight out of High Fidelity. However, if you're syncing your PC's music library to your MP3 player or smartphone, you may find that your reverse-alphabetical-by-drummer's-maiden-name tag system doesn't work too well with a 2.5-inch display. Keep your system simple, and it'll be easier to maintain later.
Have your own automatic media-managing tricks? Share them in the comments!