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Converting Videos for the AppleTV 2nd gen.

apple tv
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License by Brian E. Ford

You’ve got your shiny new AppleTV, played around with it. Found you can watch all those great TED videos via its Podcast menu. And finally you start streaming all those videos from your desktop computer. Well, for many of them it works well, but some just won’t play. Your AppleTV seems to start playing, but suddenly stops while stating “An error occurred loading this content. Try again later”.

First of all, when this happens to you, go to Preferences and set “Digital Audio” to “ON” (default is AUTO). That will enable pass-through of Dolby Digital (AC3) encoded sound to your TV or receiver. AppleTV often can’t detect if your attached device is capable of decoding AC3. It then defaults to off and rejects any content (video) that only includes AC3 sound and no other tracks encoded as AAC or MP3. Obviously, this only works if your TV or receiver is able to handle Dolby Digital encoded sound.

Now for the encoding part of it. Say you have some nice video made with a camcorder or some stuff ripped from a DVD or Blu-Ray and want to encode it to a format compatible to AppleTV. Just follow these simple steps (taken from Handbrake forums):

  1. Get Handbrake
    Download the latest nightly build.

  2. Open your video in Handbrake (use the Source button)

  3. Select the iPad preset (open presets drawer with Toogle Presets button)

  4. Adjust Video settings
    According to your raw material you might want to adjust the Rate Factor (RF) in the video tab. The rate factor adjusts your encoded video for quality vs size. Handbrake’s developers recommend rate factors between 19 and 22 for SD sources (Standard Definition; i.e. DVD originated) and 21 to 25 for HD sources (High Definition; i.e. Blu-Ray originated). if you don’t care for iPad compatibility you can also set Framerate (FPS) to “Same as source”. That will allow framerates beyond standard NTSC 29.97. It’s very uncommon though. If you’re unsure, leave it alone.

  5. Picture Settings

    Open “Picture Settings” (button on top) and set “Decomb” and “Detelecine” to “Default”.

  6. Audio Tracks

    On the Audio tab select the audio tracks you want to have in your encoded video. AppleTV can pass Dolby Digital (AC3) to a connected TV or receiver that is capable of decoding it. If you do have Dolby Digital enable equipment, it’s a good idea to add audio tracks as “AC3 Passthru”, that means Handbrake will just take the original audio track from your source and pass it to the encoded video. That will give you great sound. If you don’t have Dolby Digital enabled equipment or you want the encoded video to be playable on an iPad, you have to add audio tracks as AAC (On a Mac use “AAC (CoreAudio)” setting.). That will create an AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) encoded mixdown of your audio track to Dolby Surround. Dolby Surround is in fact a Stereo audio track with a cleverly embedded rear channel that is playable on any device. It’s not as great as Dolby Digital, but works well on less capable equipment. If you have any DTS audio tracks, you’ll have to recode them to AC3 or AAC respectivley by setting “Codec” respectively. You can also add a mix of AC3 and AAC encoded audio tracks, making your encoded video playable on more devices with great sound.

  7. Don’t touch Subtitles and Advanced tabs!

  8. Create Chapter markers
    Check the “Create chapter markers” box on the “Chapters” tab. That will create chapters markers for any existing chapters in your raw material. If you like to, you can also name those chapters.

  9. Encode it
    Now just hit the “Add to Queue” button to add your video to the encoding queue. Then hit start. Handbrake will now start to encode your video. And as you added it to the encoding queue, you can just start over and configure and add another video to the queue.

  10. Have fun!