iTunes movies and TV shows are great. You can rent or buy, then download and watch from your Mac, Windows PC, or Apple TV. But what if you have a lot of DVDs or Blu-rays? Do you have to buy all your content again through the iTunes store? Thankfully not. There are many solutions available for ripping DVDs to iTunes compatible files. While there aren’t as many solutions for Blu-ray, and they usually require a few more steps, you can rip Blu-rays into iTunes compatible formats as well.
If, like me, you maintain a multi-terabyte hard drive of your ripped media, how do you get everything to look pretty, embed artwork, add the proper metadata for proper display in iTunes, make HD-SD pairs play nicely, and so on? Well, there is a way, and that way is called Subler. Let’s check it out.
Do I Really Need This?
Define need. If you like for things to be neatly organized, and you are obsessive compulsive about organization and metadata as I am, then yes, you need this app. If you rip or convert some source to an iTunes .m4v file and then drop it straight into iTunes, it will go into the movies section with no data about what the movie is, artwork associated with it, or if it’s a TV show or some other kind of media. I’m sure for some people this is fine, but it drives me absolutely crazy.
When I started making my movies and TV shows all digital, I found an application called MetaX which performs pretty much the same function as Subler. The problem though is that it hasn’t been updated since 2008, and it’s in need of a refresh. It’s clunky.
Sometimes I go on a batch ripping spree, then need to tag a bunch of files. MetaX has perhaps a better queue/batch system than Subler but it takes forever! It seems that MetaX re-writes the entire .m4v file instead of just tagging the file as it exists on the Hard Drive. Saving tags to a file in Subler on the other hand is nearly instantaneous.
I recently purchased the sampler Blu-ray disc for Star Trek: The Next Generation — Remastered. This disc contains 3 episodes which I quickly ripped and added to my library in place of the old DVD rips I have of TNG. I’ll use the episode “Sins of the Father” from the sampler disc (which is some of the best TNG).
Subler is a no frills, no fuss application. I usually open a file to be tagged (or files in the case) by dragging the files right on to Subler’s icon in the Dock.
After opening a file or files, you get a window for each one.
Now this is where Subler really shines. I want to pull some preset information about this episode from a database somewhere rather than just typing it all up myself. So I click the little search icon up in the top right, search for the appropriate movie or TV episode, and 99% of the time, Subler will find the right information.
Now, there is one problem we have yet to solve that I didn’t know how to for along time. When purchasing HD Movies or TV shows from the iTunes Store, you will get an HD/SD pair. The reason is some devices won’t play HD video files, or perhaps you don’t have room on your iPod to sync the HD version but you do the smaller SD version.
When ripping, I want the same thing. Handbrake has two very helpful presets, “Apple TV 2 Preset” for HD 720 (and I’m still ripping everything as 720 mostly for space considerations for my quickly filling media drive, and because 720 still looks pretty good), and “Universal Preset” for an SD file that works on pretty much any device. I rip to both formats, but how do I get iTunes to display them as one entry the way an HD/SD pair does from the iTunes Store?
You see, when dropping them both into iTunes, they display as separate entries even if all the metadata is identical (we could talk about how stupid it is that this is the case, but that wouldn’t do any good because that is the case and there’s not a lot we can do about it).
It turns out, there is a metadata item know as CNID, or as Subler now calls it in the latest version, contentID. So to add this metadata item, click the plus button dropdown in the lower left hand corner and choose “contentID”.
Now with a lot of movies or TV shows, you can get the CNID from the link to the iTunes Store item.
To get the content ID if the item is in the iTunes Store: go to the appropriate entry on the iTunes Store and click the little drop down next to the price/buy button. Select copy link and paste it into a text document. The CNID will be the last string of numbers on the end of the URL. For TV Shows it will be the number imidiately after “?i=” and for movies it will imidiately follow “id”.
But unfortunately for me and this particular file I’m tagging, TNG is not in the iTunes Store. I do have my own system for coming up with a unique CNID for files that are not in the iTunes Store (and it does need to be unique). It is possible that at some point in the future I would buy an iTunes Movie or TV show with the same CNID that I have used on a file already, but I have not had that happen yet.
Now, after entering the CNID, there is one thing further. Click on the other settings tab, and make sure Media Kind is set to TV Show or Movie depending upon which you are tagging. And this is important, for the HD version, check the HD Video check box.
Another nice thing about Subler: I’ve been tagging the HD version of the file, and haven’t yet touched the SD version of the file. But I can simply go to the Metadata Tab, use “Command + A” to select all, and paste it onto the SD file. Same goes for artwork. Once that is finished, you can now save and close both files. If all is well, when you drag both files into iTunes, you have a single entry for the HD/SD pair.
Tag sets are nice too. If I happen to have acquired an entire season or ten on DVD or Blu-ray, I can save a basic entry of tag data to apply to these tens of dozens of files.
This functionality is rendered mostly unnecessary if the search feature finds the metadata that you need. However, there have been certain occasions when it didn’t find all the metadata, or I wasn’t happy with what Subler found, and sets is very useful for that.
I wish Subler had better batch capabilities. But all in all, I find it very useful for my obsessive compulsive need to have a well organized and well tagged media library. I haven’t found the interface to be terribly confusing, that said, I could see how it might be a bit more confusing for non-geeks.
Then again, I don’t think non-geeks would be managing and organizing a media library on a hard drive connected to a Mac Mini as a media center either.
Add metadata to iTunes video files.
- Subler |
- Free |
- Damiano Galassi