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Burn Your New iTunes Movies to DVD (and Protect Your Other iTunes Purchases)
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Burning Playable CDs and DVDs

The .Mac and iTunes 7 backup procedures create data discs. These are not the CDs and DVDs you normally play in your home entertainment units. Instead, they store your music and video as data files that can be read back by your computer. Consider burning audio CDs instead (File -> Burn Playlist to Disc). Burning your purchased music albums to CD is actually a surprisingly effective way to create not only a reliable backup, but also a disc you can listen to on your CD walkman. Not everyone owns or uses iPods.

Sure, to recover music back from a burned CD, you'll have to "rip it:" insert the CD, wait for it to mount in iTunes, select its tracks and then use Advanced -> Convert Selection to AAC (or MP3). Still, music CDs are portable and useful. You can play them in your car's CD player. You can walk one to a friend's house and listen to it on their stereo. In short, you can do more with a burned music CD than with a data CD, in addition to using it as a backup.

Burning TV shows and movies proves a little more complicated. Because of digital rights management, you cannot burn your videos directly to DVD. iDVD and iMovie won't even read them properly. If you want to transfer your purchases to disc, you'll need to exploit the so-called Analog Hole. The Analog Hole refers to the way that digital media has to produce an analog signal in order to be played back on traditional television sets. This analog signal cannot be scrambled or encrypted, otherwise your TV would not be able to play it. So the analog signal can be recorded.

I described in an earlier article how to hook your iPod to your TV to produce a watchable analog signal. This same watchable signal can be hooked up to your DVD recorder. You can record the video as you play back your iTunes purchases. This creates a copy that backs up your purchase and allows you to watch it on non-Apple hardware and software.

To test this, I purchased a copy of Grosse Pointe Blank from the iTunes store. I played it on my iPod while copying it to DVD and then watched the DVD both on the computer and TV. It was watchable, but certainly not as good a quality as the video sent directly from the iPod. There's no obvious protection scheme--like Macrovision, for example--that I could detect being used. However, when played back full-screen on my Mac, you could definitely tell there were some shakes and wiggles involved in the data file. A video stabilizer failed to improve the recording quality, as it would with a Macrovision title.

As with music CDs, there were several wins. I could play the DVD over at friends' houses. One friend has all her TV connections hidden in a cabinet without easy access to the video-in plugs. I couldn't just bring over the iPod for playback with that setup. Copying to DVD allowed me to play the movie at her house and also in my car, which is set up for DVDs but not for connecting to the iPod. Overall, however, the quality was decreased and my copying to disc skated the boundaries between backup and fair use.

Tip: A reader from the O'Reilly Mac Blog bought a lower-quality video just ten minutes before upgrading to iTunes 7. He noted, "If you own a video bought on iTunes but want the higher definition one, you have to pay again." Can people who purchased videos within a certain time frame of the iTunes announcement request a new download in the better resolution? According to Apple, customers who request a higher-resolution version of a purchase are considered on a case-by-case basis. And what about people with limited hard drives/iPod space? Will Apple offer the option to download at a lower resolution? Apple declined to reply, noting that they're unable to provide more specific information, or speculate about future offerings.

Copying Data to Other Computers

Your iTunes library is usually stored in your home music library. It is a simple collection of folders and data files. You may find some or all of the following items in your library (Figure 3):

  • iTunes Music folder. This highly structured collection of folders contains all your music and video assets. Top-level music and TV folders are ordered by artist (Barenaked Ladies) or TV show name (Spongebob Squarepants). Inside these folders are subfolders that represent either albums (Music) or seasons (TV shows), and inside those folders are the actual data files: .m4p, .m4a, or .mp3 for music files, .m4v for video files. Movies are stored in the top level of the (appropriately named) Movies folder and use .m4v extensions.
  • iTunes Library and iTunes Music Library.xml These files store all the information about how your iTunes library is put together--playlists, music, track data, metadata, etc.
  • iPod Games folder. This folder contains your all your purchased iPod games files. The files are simple--one file per game--and use an .ipg extension. (As I've mentioned on the O'Reilly Mac Blog, .ipg files are actually .zip bundles and you can open them up to explore what's inside.)
  • iPod Games Library. This file is the games equivalent of the iTunes Library file. It stores information about the contents and order of your iPod Games collection for iTunes.

Figure 3
Figure 3: The iTunes library in your home music folder usually contains all your purchased iTunes items, including movies, music, TV shows, and games.

Tip: By holding down the Option (Alt) key down when launching iTunes, you can select which folder you want to use as your iTunes library.

The data files you'll most want to protect and back up are in the iTunes Music and iPod Games folders. You can copy all or part of these folders to other computers or to other devices to protect them as well as to share them.

When you want to transfer music to another computer, you can just send the music files over your local network or throw those files onto a USB pen drive to copy them over. That's because transferring iTunes music is not just a matter of copying data. It's also about authorizing that data to play back.

When you attempt to play back purchased music on a new computer, iTunes will prompt you to authorize that computer. You will not be able to play your purchases on a second machine until you authorize that machine for your account. Apple allows you to authorize up to five computers for playback at a time.

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