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Mac Gems: iFlicks tags and converts video files for iTunes with finesse

There are plenty of apps that can transcode video from one format to another, and there are a number of nifty apps that let you tag media files with useful metadata. But Jendrik Bertram's $20 iFlicks (Mac App Store link) does both, and I've found none better at combining the two tasks. iFlicks does its job with a clean, responsive, and very Mac-like interface that makes working with the software intuitive and fun.

Like the free Video Monkey, iFlicks can help you tag movies or TV shows you've ripped from your DVDs, recorded with an EyeTV-powered device, or downloaded from elsewhere--it supports adding artwork, genre, description, release date, episode titles and numbers, and more. It can also convert videos to smaller versions to save bits and bytes on space-crunched iOS devices, or to take files that iTunes can't understand and make them playable on your Apple TV, to name just a couple examples. (As with other similar apps, iFlicks can convert only media files that aren't protected with digital-rights-management [DRM] technology, which means it can't convert video purchased from the iTunes Store.)

Choosing your options

iFlicks's Preset pop-up menu, where you choose the output format for files you plan to process using the utility, offers nine options: Reference File, iTunes Compatible, Universal, iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, iPad, Apple TV 2, and New Apple TV & iPad. Most of the options are pretty self-explanatory, but it's worth noting that the confusingly named iTunes Compatible option is what you use to add metadata without re-encoding. (It's also worth noting that the iPhone preset maxes out at 480 by 360, so if you have an iPhone 4, 4S, or 5 or a recent iPod touch, you'll want to choose the Apple TV preset, which provides a higher-quality video that still works with the latest iPhone models.) You can set any preset as the default.

The Destination pop-up menu lets you choose where you want iFlicks to save the resulting file: To your Movies folder, an iFlicks Folder inside the Movies folder, the same location as the original, or another location of your choosing.

Click the Add To iTunes button (toggling the button to the "down" position) and iFlicks will copy the final file into iTunes (this option disables the Destination pop-up menu). Where, exactly, in iTunes? iFlicks's preferences window lets you choose between the main iTunes library, a specific playlist, or an option called Add Videos To Playlists In The iFlicks Folder. With this option chosen, iFlicks creates a playlist folder in iTunes and populates that folder with two playlists: Movies and TV Shows. The utility then automatically places processed videos into the appropriate playlist in that folder.

A similar toggle button, Move Original to Trash, gives you the option to move the original file to the Trash when iFlicks finishes encoding/tagging it. That's handy, and it's also better than deleting the file outright just in case the resulting file is unplayable. (Some users have reported that some files won't play after encoding/tagging--the even app warns you to back up your media files before using the app.) I've been using the app for several years now, and I've noticed such problems only on very rare occasion--and not at all with recent versions of the software--but it's still better to be safe.

You can, of course, change these settings for each video you process, but if you tend to use the same settings every time, it's easier to just configure everything at the start and then get to work.

Simple processing

When you drag a file or group of files into the iFlicks window, the software searches the TheTVDB.com and themoviedb.org online databases for matches with each file's name--including, for TV shows, the season and episode numbers if part of the file name.

If you don't see the correct info for your file(s), you can click the Search For Details button at the bottom of the window (it looks like the non-standard OS X search button). In the window that appears, you can enter a new name to search--as you type, the app suggests titles that it thinks might match. You can toggle between TV Show and Movie results, and you can choose from among 23 different search languages.

When you find a match, click OK. You can then customize any of the fields to suit your needs before writing the metadata to your file. You can improve auto-detection by properly naming your media files (for example, futuramaS07E15) before dropping them into iFlicks.

If a file is already encoded in the proper format for your destination device, choosing the iTunes Compatible preset and clicking the Start button instantly writes the metadata to your files. Similarly, if you have iTunes-compatible files in an MKV container (such as HD video ripped from a Blu-ray movie that you own), iFlicks can handle tagging and prepping the video for iTunes using that same preset, though the process takes a little longer because iFlicks has to mux (join together) video and audio streams. (It still takes much less time than actually transcoding video.)

Alternatively, iFlicks can transcode video from one format to another. A common use of this feature is creating a file with a smaller frame size and bit rate--and, thus, a smaller file size--for portable devices. Thanks to the included open-source libavcodec, iFlicks is also useful for converting non-iTunes-compatible video files to something you can sync and watch on your iPad or Apple TV.

Getting advanced

Although iFlicks offers lots of options for manually tweaking files, clicking the Rules button lets you configure some cool scripting features for automating such tweaks. For example, I have iFlicks set up so that if the show name (in the file name) contains Daily Show, iFlicks sets the show tag to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, as that's how the show is named in the TheTVDB.com database. Similarly, you could tell iFlicks to automatically set the artwork for a certain show or genre.

The app includes a dozen pre-built scripts that are either complete (for example, setting the HD tag based on the file's resolution) or half ready to go (identifying movie files of a particular genre, for example, with the outcome portion left blank for you to fill in).

It takes a little trial and error to get used to the app's language--for example, name, show and filename are different input options whose differences may not be obvious--but when you figure it out these rules can automate some of the drudgery involved in tagging media files.

Bottom line

If you do a lot of video-file tagging and conversion, you'll be hard-pressed to find another Mac app that performs these tasks as gracefully and as well as iFlicks. If you balk at the $20 price tag and need to tag files only occasionally, you can probably get by with Video Monkey, but with iFlicks you get what you pay for--a more capable and complete app.


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