Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Converting FLV files for your iPod nano

Alvis always has enjoyed YouTube and other video-media sites.

Generally she searches out content that deals with her favorite bands, or cute animals caught doing really stupid things...you know, America's Funniest Home Videos kinds of things.

So since her new iPod Nano can support media files (.m4v, .mp4, and .mov) she naturally wondered if it would be possible to put some of her favorites on her iPod.

And do it easily, quickly with freeware for Windows users?


But...first things first...


It's important that you check the Terms of Use for each website to verify if you actually have the legal right to download content and then convert/save it to your iPod or other media player.

Each site has it's own ideas and rules, so check them out carefully.

I'm not a lawyer, but in ever-confusing world of digital media and publisher/user rights being as murky as the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston...it seems reasonable to make every possible effort to play by the rules.

Although, even with YouTube, it seems a bit confusing.

For instance, YouTube's Terms of Use has the following points:

4. General Use of the Website -- Permissions and Restrictions

H. You agree not to use or launch any automated system, including without limitation, "robots," "spiders," or "offline readers," that accesses the Website in a manner that sends more request messages to the YouTube servers in a given period of time than a human can reasonably produce in the same period by using a conventional on-line web browser. Notwithstanding the foregoing, YouTube grants the operators of public search engines permission to use spiders to copy materials from the site for the sole purpose of and solely to the extent necessary for creating publicly available searchable indices of the materials, but not caches or archives of such materials.

5. Your Use of Content on the Site

B. You may access User Submissions solely:

  • for your information and personal use;
  • as intended through the normal functionality of the YouTube Service; and
  • for Streaming.

"Streaming" means a contemporaneous digital transmission of an audiovisual work via the Internet from the YouTube Service to a user's device in such a manner that the data is intended for real-time viewing and not intended to be copied, stored, permanently downloaded, or redistributed by the user. Accessing User Videos for any purpose or in any manner other than Streaming is expressly prohibited.

See, it seems that it is ok to use an "automated system" to access YouTube, so long at it loads the servers no more than it would by a normal person using a web-browser. Seems fair enough. And search engines can copy materials, but not create cache's of the materials.

And it appears you can only use YouTube videos via YouTube functions, via streaming connections, and not copy them, store them, permanently download or redistribute them. In fact, accessing them in any manner other than streaming is "expressly prohibited."

What I find curious about this is that it seems entirely fair and reasonable for YouTube to want to control access to conserve its bandwidth and server loads, to keep the streaming good for all. And I understand it's desire to allow other parties to cache copies of their material. But I'm a bit confused about requiring its content access only through streaming and real-time viewing.

As we will see, depending on your web-browser and its settings, in many cases the simple of of viewing a streaming YouTube (or other site's streaming media) may leave a copy of the streamed video file in your local hard-drive's cache file.

So it appears that YouTube want's to preserve it's bandwidth and server loads, but at the same time, wants you to watch it's videos in Streaming format, and not save or re-view the video directly from your cache-file location once it's there. Does that mean I am required to delete my browser cache file once we are done watching videos?

I'm so confused...just read all the fine print and be a good/honest digital media citizen.

Getting the Videos

First you need to get video file before you can convert it to an iPod compatible format.

Most (but not all) streaming web-video sites use a Flash format for the video files (FLV).

You could use (check legality) a web-site based tool like that at TechCrunch: YouTube Video Download Tool. Just copy and paste the YouTube URL into the bar and it will download the file. Other such websites exist all over the Net.

If you are a Firefox user, there is the DownloadHelper Firefox extension which helps alert you to downloadable media and makes the downloading of the file very simple.

NirSoft has a standalone freeware utility WebVideoCap that can help. Fire up the tool and as you browse, it will identify and list media files it can download for you. Very small and very easy to use.

Finally, (assuming the site's Terms of Use allow it) you could do what seems like the responsible thing, and just watch the video, then use the media file right out of our browser's cache. NirSoft also has the freeware utility VideoCacheViewer which allows you to locate these cached streaming media files in your browser cache and then copy them, or view them again.

There is one other tool specifically for supported on-line video supported websites that I will mention in the next section that does both the downloading and conversion in almost an all-in-one bundle.

Conversion of the FLV file

Once you know what video file you are interested in converting for your iPod, and you have acquired it, it must be converted into a format the iPod can use and understand. Most websites use a Flash video file format, FLV. This is the format I will be addressing in this post.

Some sites use Quicktime .mov files. Using these on you iPod is very easy. Grab the .mov file and just drag/drop it into iTunes. Good to go. (Exceeding easy if you have QuicktimePro.) But that will be another post...

For my FLV to MP4 conversion tests, I am going to be using the Just Giraffe video from Blip.tv as Blip.tv seems to have a fairly generous "fair use" description in it's Terms of Service

If you download or print a copy of any Blip.tv content for personal use, you must retain all copyright and other proprietary notices contained therein. You may not otherwise use, reproduce, display, publicly perform, or distribute such content in any way for any public or commercial purpose unless such use is expressly granted by a particular license.

VideoCacheView quickly located it in my Firefox cache location.

I copied it to a temp folder to use for some of the conversions.

In its raw FLV format, the Just Giraffe file size is under 11 MB.

Ares Tube

My first choice would usually be just to use the Ares Tube. This freeware program is a cinch to use. Launch the application and you are present with a browser-like interface. You may use it to browse to a variety of video websites from the default homepage that appears, or just copy the video's URL from your browser page directly into the address bar at the top and "enter" or press the little green arrow at the end of the address bar.

If the video/site is supported by Ares Tube, it will load and play in the window.

Note, you might need to clean up the URL first if it has "extra" stuff on it. For example, the original URL is http://blip.tv/file/569410?utm_source=featured_ep&utm_medium=featured_ep but I cleaned it up to http://blip.tv/file/569410.

To download/convert the video, click the little green button with the "+" at the end of the address bar.

This will add it to your download list.

Select the item and then click the "Download" button. This will begin to download the target FLV file to the target location (make sure the directory exists first or you will get conversion errors). Once downloaded, it will convert the FLV file into an iPod compatible video format, mp4.

Click the "Options" button and you will see that you can select the "Save To" location, set the default conversion format to iPod, MPEG, or AVI, as well as delete the original file once converted and import the converted file directly into iTunes when done (just drag/drop the file into iTunes).

The compression settings are pre-set and don't appear to be changeable. That said, in my tests, Ares Tube provided the lowest size mp4 files after conversion.

Quality was acceptable for viewing on the iPod nano but high-quality video files do take a bit of a hit over those of a lower starting quality.

Final mp4 conversion file size was just over 3 MB, but for some videos, that small file size does come with a bit of a price in final quality after converted.

Very simple and very easy to use.


Super is another freeware video conversion program. It is, well super-awesome. It can handle format conversions on a bazillion formats. OK, maybe not that many, but most of the usual ones.

The website is a pain to navigate to find the download link. You have to go through a couple of pages, but it is there, eventually, at the very bottom of the final page. Or you can just grab a copy off of a download site like MajorGeeks and save a bit of page-navigation frustration.

Once installed, launch Super.

The window is a bit intimidating, but stay with me and it is pretty easy.

First, at the top find the "Select the Output Container" and click the drop-down arrow. Pick "Apple - iPod" option.

Second, move to the "Select the Output Video Codec" and click the drop-down arrow. Pick "MPEG-4".

Third, move to the "Select the Output Audio Codec" and click the drop-down arrow. Pick "AAC" format.

Fourth, you should be able to go with the defaults showing in the Video section. For the Nano, I used video scale size of 320:240, Aspect 4:3, Frame/Sec of 25, bitrate of 672, and Options "Hi Quality and 48K Audio" change them at your will.

For the Audio, I went with the defaults of 44100 sample freq, 2-channels, and a 64 bitrate.

Now the only tricky part...selecting your output file save-to location.

Right-click on the reddish Output section and a menu will come up. Find and select the "Output File Saving Management" item from the list. Now pick your save-to location for the output converted file. pick the options as you wish. Save the changes.

Find your original FLV file (from your cache, download location, wherever) and drag/drop it on the gray area. It will appear with a checkmark.

When you are ready, click the "Encode (Active Files) link and the conversion will begin.

You get a nice status-bar to monitor the progress.

When done it will report done.

With these default settings, final mp4 conversion file size was just over 10 MB. Not much of a drop in size, however quality is almost perfect to the original. Drag/drop the converted file into iTunes.


MediaCoder is another freeware tool I located.

Download and install the application, then launch. At first it will open up a homepage in your default browser, but this may be disabled.

On the file-menu, find and select the "Extensions" option.

Select the "Digital Media Players" then "Apple iPod".

This will open a mini-window where you can accept the defaults or adjust them as you wish. I just kept the defaults.

Drag and drop the original flv file from your cache or saved location into the big window area on the left. It will be added to the list.

Pick your "Output Folder" location from the top bar.

Now click the "Start" icon button.

You will see two additional windows open up. The first shows the frame-by-frame conversion of the file. The second shows you the conversion statistics. On the main window you will also see the conversion progress.

When done, browse to the saved location and see your work. With the default settings the widescreen aspect was nicely cropped into a full 4:3 aspect ratio and the final size was just a hair over 10MB. Quality was very good.

On my system, this program performed the fastest flv to mp4 file conversions, with the Just Giraffe video only taking 77 seconds to convert.

Drag/drop the converted file into iTunes.

Videora iPod Converter

Videora iPod nano Converter is a freeware program that is a bit odd in application appearance.

Additionally, their main site has a number of versions for iPod Classic, iPod Touch, iPod nano, iPhone, and iPod Video converters. Pick as you need, but I am using the iPod nano version here.

Install the application and the application window appears. It is GoogleAd supported it appears, so if you don't like this "feature" then you might be turned off.

If you select the "Settings" link on the menu bar, you can set the encoding profile, the converter settings and file output directory (as well as automatically adding the converted file to iTunes), and basic user interface tweaks.

To begin conversion, you need to click on the "Convert" icon on the menu bar.

Click the "Video File" tab, and you can select either the "Normal Mode" or "Power Mode"

Click the "Normal Mode" and then follow the window's steps, nicely illustrated to assist you.

First browse for and select your flv file from where you saved it.

Next, confirm or pick the output directory.

When done click the orange "Next" button in the main window.

Step 3, give it a name.

When done click the orange "Next" button in the main window.

Check the Video Settings and adjust as you might want,

When done click the orange "Next" button in the main window.

Press the "Start Converting" button in the bottom-left corner.

If you want to see what is going on, click the "View Conversion Progress" link in the main window and you get a nice bar. There is also a checkbox you can enable to view even more details about the conversion process.

Videorea also allows you to grab and convert videos directly online if you select the "Online Video" tab. The process for getting and converting is very similar.

The final file size was just about 13.5 MB, actually a bit larger than the original file.

Quality was very nice and the wide-aspect ratio was maintained.

Video Websites

There are lots of great sites out there for finding and viewing on-line video.

As previously mentioned, carefully read and understand each site's Terms of Use/Service before deciding if you can use any of these steps/applications. You may or may not have a legal right to do so and this post in no way is suggesting you have the right to do so.

Some of my favorite sites for on-line videos are:

More lists of video sites

Happy encoding.



Unknown said...

I found this amazing website it is a WEB 2.0 that supports all media files conversion it is called http://youconvertit.com, they can do the following:
1- Convert document, images, audio, video and Archived files.
2- Convert any Youtube and other Online Video to popular formats or download the video
3- Send file(s) up to 300 MB to friends or post it on any forum for 7 days
4- Convert any type of units (Acceleration, Area, Torque and others)

what makes them amazing is you can add up to 5 different file formats, i used them to convert a document and couple of audio files.

Try them and give me your feedback http://www.youconvertit.com

Anonymous said...

LNA, it does look like the website has an extensive number of conversion options to pick from.

Very Web 2.0 look.

I'm curious why a DMCA Policy is needed for converting files if they will never be posted at the website itself. Is that a service that is coming down the road? Maybe because the site does offer to mail/host the files for a bit of time, perhaps?

However, I tend to be wary of on-line file conversion services in general as I don't know what actually happens with the file I send. It isn't likely, but it is possible a copy could be kept, retained and reviewed by those who run just such a service.

Since I don't have any way of knowing, I would only use these sites for casual-file conversions, and not anything of a secure or sensitive nature.

Thanks for sharing the website. I'm sure someone might find it a useful alternative.

budaha said...

FLV to Ipod has powerful software in converting FLV to Ipod both for windows and Mac Users

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the help, Claus! I greatly appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

If you want to install iPod Video Converter you can follow this guide: http://www.mconverter.net
iPod Video Converter for Mac is powerful, easy-to-use Mac video conversion software adapted to be installed for Mac users which convert video file between all popular video formats.