Sometimes, I think I’m way too anal about some things. According to some of the comments on my previous posts, you agree. But nothing beats how much of a Nazi I am when it comes to my iTunes library.

Sure, I know the clamor is coming; iTunes sucks, use (insert alternative software here) instead. I’m on a Mac as I write this, I own an iPhone and an Apple TV and a few other Macs are planted here and there around the house. So it just makes plain sense for me to use iTunes.

But I hate the hoops you have to jump through to keep your iTunes video library in a decent state.

It used to be that I had to save my AVI movies as “pretend” MP4 files, or create separate reference files that just masqueraded as MP4s when they actually pointed to the original AVI. That was pretty bad, especially since the latter option created a bit of a mess in my folder structure and used up more space.

Then I got my iPhone, and then later on my Apple TV, and both of these only run MOVs and MP4s. You can hack the Apple TV and jailbreak the iPhone, but I’m too lazy to play with the iPhone’s innards (“What! You’re a Lifehack writer!” I hear you say) and I tried the Apple TV hacks and didn’t think the system was smooth or integrated enough.

So, the level of complexity in keeping a workable, networkable iTunes library together just got much greater. And we haven’t even spoken about music, though admittedly that does a much better job of organizing itself and it’s possible to fix simple things without relying on a script.

There are a few things that are important to having a functional and organized iTunes video library:

  • The files are correctly named.
  • The files are in well-organized folder structures, not straggled around the hard drive.
  • The file metadata is correct; the file actual name and the file’s title in iTunes aren’t the same thing and what works for one doesn’t work for the other.
  • The file works across all devices I want it to work across.

Before I import television shows in particular, I go into Preferences and tell iTunes not to make a copy of the file when it imports it. I manually go into the iTunes folder structure and create a folder for the show inside the actual iTunes TV Shows folder. Otherwise, when iTunes imports, it’ll make a copy in the movies folder. That’s not a well-organized folder structure! Part of the process we’ll be using actually fixes this automatically, but as I said, I can be strange about maintaining my library and you might want to skip this step (if you’re following along the whole way).

When it comes to movies, though, this isn’t so important, and if you like the way iTunes organizes music in folders you’ll want to turn it back on when you’re done (at the end of the whole process, that is, not just after you’ve created the new folder).

Before adding the files to iTunes, I go through and check the file names. For movies, I just want the title, nothing more or less. But for TV shows, I usually adopt a structure such as this:

Show – Episode Name – Season/Episode

So, that might be:

The Office – An American Workplace – S01E01

It can be hard to keep a TV series in order, especially when they’re long (like Stargate!). So if your iTunes database corrupts, you’re going to want a clear title that tells you everything.

Once your television show is in the right folder, drag the file into iTunes. The iTunes Movies pane is pretty shocking at handling TV Shows, which is why there’s a separate pane for them. But Apple doesn’t let you change the video type from movie to TV show manually. You have to use the Set Video Kind of Selected AppleScript for iTunes.

This AppleScript lets you set four things:

  • Whether the video is a movie, television show, or music video,
  • The show name,
  • Season number,
  • Episode number start.

This is great because you can import a whole season of television shows at once, select them in the movies pane, set them as a TV show, set the show name and season number, and then you just enter the episode number of the earliest episode in the series and it orders the rest for you.

When you set the file as a TV show, it will move that file into the TV Shows folder structure automatically.

But what do you do when the file is not an iTunes compatible file? You’ve got a few options.

  1. Go into QuickTime, go to File > Save As, and save a reference movie. It will point to the original video, but iTunes will treat it as though it’s an MOV or MP4 file. However, your Apple TV will not play it, and nor will your iPhone.
  2. Use the Drop to Make M4V Movies AppleScript. You can drop a bunch of videos onto this droplet and it’ll convert them all to M4V format, save them to your Movies folder, and then add them to iTunes. It requires QuickTime Pro, though.
  3. Get Handbrake, convert your stuff manually, and drop it into iTunes.

Once the file is converted and in iTunes, it’s a matter of using the Set Video Kind AppleScript to sort them into the right places.

And finally, I like to have metadata filled out nicely, mainly for the sake of my Apple TV—if I’m flicking through all ten seasons of Stargate SG-1 I want to have the description of each episode there, as it’s easy to get lost! There was an app I once tried that automatically converted videos in a “drop box” folder to an iTunes compatible format, put it in your library, and then automatically searched IMDB for all the metadata and filled it in. I didn’t like the app, but that was a great idea.

Now, I just make a quick trip to IMDB and fill in the episode descriptions—it’s quick and easy since they provide them in the season listing—but I’m definitely looking out for a quick way to fill these fields in automatically without using that conversion software!

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