Organizing digital videos isn’t easy. The vast majority of music files have been in MP3 format since the digital music explosion, but videos are a different story: MP4, H.264, DiVx, Xvid, WMV, M4V, MOV, AVI containers. When you download a movie, you never really know what to expect, and neither does iTunes, which only plays a limited number of video file types. So users who download movie files are forced to use QuickTime or third-party software to convert them to another format, which is always a lengthy process. Fortunately, though, there is an alternative:
VideoDrive can stick just about any video into iTunes without the hour-long re-encoding process. Any video that can be played in QuickTime (and that’s pretty much anything, thanks to MacApper’s handy “Play Almost Any Video File On Your Mac” guide) can be added to your iTunes library within seconds. The application can even fill in metadata and cover art automatically using online databases to retrieve the information.
Simply select video files from VideoDrive’s interface, or drag a file onto the app’s dock icon, and the software goes to work. For iTunes-compatible codecs like MP4, M4V and MOV, VideoDrive fills in the movie type (movie or TV show), description, genre, year and art, and adds it to your library. For those pesky AVIs, VideoDrive quickly builds a small MOV video container that is placed in iTunes, linking to the original video file. Once linked, you can feel free to rename or move the original AVI file, and thanks to the wonders of OS X, iTunes will have no problems finding it. However, you must keep the original on your hard drive in order for iTunes to access the movie.
In reality, everything about VideoDrive can be accomplished manually: creating movie containers in QuickTime, filling in metadata, finding album artwork and adding to iTunes (with a nice little Growl notification when everything is done). Even its re-encoding feature hands the file off to QuickTime to do the heavy lifting. But the all-in-one convenience may be worth the price tag for some.
While VideoDrive does save a ton of time by doing just about everything for you (and even provides a nifty option to add processed videos to a playlist), it doesn’t do anything flawlessly. It’s good at pulling all the relevant information from IMDB to properly label a movie based only on the file’s title (and some of the ones I tested were pretty messy). When it comes to TV shows, though, it seems to have more trouble. Episode titles have to be filled in manually, and date info is rarely accurate. But even with these shortcomings, it saves a decent chunk of time, leaving you having to just fill in a few things later.
Cover art fetching is one of VideoDrive’s most attractive features. While iTunes features built-in album art fetching for music, I’m left scouring the Web to find images for my videos. It’s really a shame that this feature comes up short. VideoDrive grabs a few relevant images from Amazon, allowing you to flip through and choose the best one, however the picture quality is usually very poor. The low quality film posters don’t do the beauty of CoverFlow justice, forcing me back on my journey through Google for decent quality covers and dragging them onto the VideoDrive window.
“In some cases, the cover art is not of great quality,” says the lead developer for Aroona Software. “We are currently looking to additional/alternative sources for covers (e.g., Get Video Artwork) that offer better quality, but no decisions have been made. However, adding new sources can happen quite rapidly.” A nifty feature confirmed for version 1.5, which will be available Thursday, is the ability to add metadata and cover art to videos already imported into iTunes using VideoDrive, the developer says. Hopefully they also fix the irritating bug that opens QuickTime whenever I quit VideoDrive.
While I like the idea behind VideoDrive, I’ll be sticking to iSquint for conversion (an app that is in many ways a better encoder than Apple’s QuickTime), and manually fill in my tags and art. I keep all my media on my MacBook’s internal hard drive, and it’s no mystery that notebook computers don’t have unlimited storage space. Converting videos in H.264 can shave off anywhere from a quarter to half the file size with little quality reduction, and so I’ll try to save space any way I can. Sure, this way takes much longer, but you get a smaller, more compatible file in the end.
With VideoDrive, incompatible videos that were processed with the container method can only be played in iTunes, Front Row and QuickTime and cannot be transferred to an iPod, iPhone or Apple TV. But if hard drive space isn’t a problem, and if you only plan to watch the movies on your Mac, VideoDrive is a great option for anyone who downloads a lot of videos and wants to get them into iTunes in practically no time.
Aroona Software has given MacApper three licenses to give to our readers! If you want to enter the giveaway, comment on this review with a feature you would like to see implemented in VideoDrive. The giveaway will end on May 7th. And remember, if you don't win, VideoDrive costs $14.99.