Portable video is a mess. This is a quick guide to some of the basics issues you'll encounter when ripping and converting video onto a portable player
Many media players support video files as well as music, but getting videos onto such a device is a little more challenging than simply ripping a CD. iPod users can download video files directly from the iTunes store, but that doesn’t help if you want to copy a DVD to your player.
It’s illegal to rip DVDs, so none of these players comes with the software to do it. You’ll have to rummage around on the web to find a solution, or obtain copies of the video files from some other source.
Once you have the files, the challenge is to get them into a format your player will understand. This is more complicated than it sounds, because although many video players support MPEG4 video (sometimes shortened to MP4), it isn’t a simple standard like MP3, but a collection of different standards.
The big schism to be aware of is between MPEG4 Part 2 and MPEG4 Part 10. The former is best known through the free DivX and XviD packages, while the latter is a more advanced system, known as H.264 or AVC. Although both are MPEG4 formats, they’re not mutually compatible.
To further complicate things, players typically can’t accept video files above a certain size, because they lack the power to decode larger frames. For the same reason, video files encoded at high bit-rates might stutter or fail to play, so a video file needs to be at a supported frame size and bit-rate as well as in a supported format.
HandBrake has presets for iPod formats and works with other players.
Finally comes the question of container format; you might see MPEG4 videos with filename extensions including AVI, MP4, M4V, MKV or MOV, and your player probably won’t support all of them. So what to do? Windows 7 can automatically transcode video for some devices, but there’s no official list of supported hardware. You can try dragging a file on to your device in the Windows Explorer and see if you get a requester offering to convert it. If you have a Creative player, the free Centrale software will perform a similar service.
There are conversion tools on the market that automatically transcode any file you throw at it into a format that’s compatible with your player. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, the free HandBrake has presets for iPod formats and works with other players.
The state of video on mobile devices is a mess. If you’re considering buying a portable device chiefly for watching movies and TV shows, you’ll need to make sure you can get your media on to the device first.