King KongA few weeks ago I got myself an Apple TV. I wrote a review soon afterwards which mentioned that video may need converting before being able to view it.

As the title suggests this post shows how I go about converting videos. This will make the video suitable for adding to your iTunes collection in a format which will allow you to stream the video to an Apple TV.

The idea is that this post can be a reference for anyone who is interested but may be a but on the dull and technical side for any casual reader so feel free to skip this one, just make sure you come back next week…


I personally use an open source program called Avidemux to convert the video as it has a few nice features but it can be a bit complicated. There other methods in fact I recently came across another method using another free, open source transcoder called Handbrake. You can see the details, including a video of how to do the conversion, over on Lifehacker. Make sure you read the second comment, by Dan Foy, though as this helps explain that some of the settings in the video may not be the best for every situation.

There are plenty of proprietary options out there as well that would probably makes things quicker and simpler—well you would hope so if you are having to pay for it—but I won’t go into them as I do not have any direct experience with any of them.

Video formats can be a bit of a minefield as each program you use can only handle a limited range of formats and then the output format may not be suitable for the next use. I have come across this many times in the past when creating photo slideshows for example. Using the software provided with Windows you get a proprietary Microsoft format which may suitable to put directly onto a DVD via Nero, but isn’t suitable for upload to YouTube. So you have to get used to converting videos at some time anyway.

Anyway I have used Avidemux previously for conversion to YouTube. So I thought that would be the best place to start.

Required Format

Here are the actual video format specifications provided by Apple. You don’t need to worry about the details too much but one thing to note is that if you make your video high quality to view on your Apple TV then you might not be able to view it on an iPhone, for example, without doing another conversion!

I am very particular about video quality though so I don’t see the point in having an HDTV with a high definition source and then pump out something really low quality and blocky all over the screen. Another thing of note is that the Apple TV only allows for 720p, or 1280×720, rather than the full 1080p. To future proof the video you are converting though it seems fine to convert the video to the full 1920×1080 as long as the average bitrate is below about 5mbps.

If the video you are converting doesn’t have that kind of quality to begin with then there is not a lot of point in upsizing the video. All this does is create a much bigger video file where the Apple TV will upscale the video on display anyway.

I did try converting the frame rate of some videos down to 24 frames per second, from the standard 30, to keep within the values Apple provide but it took me a few goes to get this to work and in the end I don’t think this is even required.

So to sum up I convert high definition sources to 1920×1080 (although you could use the recommended 1280×720 if you prefer), leaving the frame rate as is with a bit rate of up to 4.5mbps and set the audio track to 128, 160 or 192 depending on the importance of the sound.

Conversion Process

I was going to provide some screenshots but time is a bit short this week so I will just run through the steps involved. Hopefully this should be fully explanatory. If not the please let me know in the comments below and I will try and answer any questions you may have.

Right so lets go through the steps:

  • The first thing to do is run up Avidemux and open the video you want to convert.
  • Set the Video type to MPEG-4 AVC.
  • Click on the Configure button below the video setting.
  • Change the Encoding Mode to Average Bit Rate (Two Pass).
  • Change the Average Bitrate to 4500 kbit/s.
  • Click on the OK button to return to the main form.
  • Add any appropriate filters to crop or to add black borders, for example, to get the appropriate output resolution, using the Filters button below the video setting.
  • Set the Audio type to AAC (faac).
  • Click on the Configure button below the audio setting.
  • Change the Bitrate to 128, 160 or 192 as appropriate.
  • Click on the OK button to return to the main form.
  • Change to Format to MP4.
  • Click on the Save Video button to convert the video.
  • Enter the name of the new file, e.g. MyVid.mp4.
  • Click on the Save button.
  • Sit back and wait!

In case you want to change the frame rate from 30fps to 24fps then I eventually worked out how to do this. You just need to add in 2 filters. These must be done in order and they must be the first filters applied to the video:

  • Click the Filters button below the video setting.
  • Select the Interlacing filters.
  • Apply the Decomb Telecide filter.
  • Select the Strategy of 3:2 pulldown.
  • Click on the OK button.
  • Select the Decomb Decimate filter.
  • Leave everything with default settings and click the OK button.
  • Click on the Close button to return to the main form.

Image: Pete O’Shea


Gema Elward

Hey I was just looking at your site in Opera and the picture at the top of the site doesnt show up correctly. Just thought I would let you know.

    Pete O'Shea

    Hi Gema,

    The image at the top of the site is currently just my gravatar image, which is loaded from an external site. (See my Improve Your Image post for more details.) Maybe their site was down temporarily or something?

    Thanks for reading,

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