When did entertainment get so complicated? So many files, and so many formats. Our no-hassle tips for iTunes music and digital video will let you play what you want, where you want, on any device you own. We'll also show you how to enjoy and share your photos and video, wherever you may roam.
Convert Your Tapes and Records to DigitalEffort: High
Cost: Free to US$60
We understand that you have all sorts of nostalgia for your collection of analog media, but if you want to free up space by ditching your old turntables and tape players, or if you need to create a digital archive for posterity, we've got you covered. First, you can convert your old vinyl records or cassettes on the cheap by plugging their respective players into your PC's audio-in port and capturing the sound with the free, cross-platform Audacity. If VHS digitization is the capability you seek, you'll have to make a purchase: Either you can buy a DVD recorder and use your old VCR as an input, or you can buy and install a video-capture card (such as the Hauppage WinTV HVR-1800 MCE) for your computer, and then connect your VCR to it.
Eliminate DRM HasslesEffort: Minimal
The entertainment industry is desperate to control how you use your digital media, but you just want to enjoy what you've paid for, wherever you happen to be. In many cases, removing DRM from media is a breeze. If you have a lot of music to convert, DRM Dumpster automates the process by using a rewritable CD. Alternatively, check out Tunebite, another commercial app that strips DRM from virtually any piece of media you throw its way. Don't want to pay? Try the oldest trick in the book: Burn the DRM-protected file to a CD and then rerip it as an MP3.
Take Terrific Pics With Your Digital Camera, EasilyEffort: Moderate
You don't need a $1000 camera to get killer results. With a few tried-and-true tricks up your sleeve, you'll notice a dramatic improvement in the quality of your pictures. For starters, if you like snapping photos of your friends, try taking candids for a more natural outcome rather than posing your subjects. While you're at it, consider applying the rule of thirds when composing your photographs. Imagine drawing two lines horizontally and vertically over your photograph so that you have nine equal boxes, and then try placing your subject or focal point at an intersection of those lines. You're not limited to this rule, of course, and the great thing about digital cameras is that all your experimentation costs you nothing, so go nuts!
Clean Up Your Music's MetadataEffort: Minimal
Because of its close ties with the iPod and iPhone, iTunes remains one of the most popular media players around. Even so, it could be a lot better. To that end, give TuneUp Companion a try. This free download automatically scans, identifies, and updates your music's metadata with appropriate album art, plus song, artist, and album info--making it easier for you to find and build playlists and enjoy some high-quality album-art eye candy.
Sync iTunes Across Multiple PCsEffort: Moderate
You would like your iTunes library to follow you wherever you go, but iTunes isn't all that obliging. In fact, you might say that Apple's player is downright hostile to the idea. That's where SuperSync comes in. This commercial app automatically syncs your iTunes library across multiple computers--even over the Internet. It even syncs videos, playlists, play counts, and pretty much anything else.
Get Tunes Off Your iPodEffort: Minimal
With the largest-capacity iPod today weighing in at a whopping 120GB, Apple is proud to point out that you can fit up to 30,000 songs on the device. Unfortunately the Apple folks have no interest in helping you get any of the songs off your iPod. Simply put, Apple wants to discourage any method of sharing music that doesn't involve your taking a trip to the iTunes Music Store. But you have plenty of legitimate reasons to move music from your iPod to your PC--which is why we're happy to point you toward Pod to PC and Pod to Mac, free tools that quickly and easily transfer music from any iPod or iPhone to any computer.
Try Video and Photo Sharing From the RoadEffort: Moderate
Cost: Free (apps); $50 to $100 (Eye-Fi)
If you're a fan of the photo-sharing site Flickr, grab the Flickr Uploadr, a free app that makes uploading, tagging, and sharing any picture or video via Flickr a breeze. If instead you're partial to Google's desktop image-management tool, Picasa, that program sports simple tools for sharing your photos via your Gmail account or online with Picasa Web Albums. Ready to kick your photo sharing up another notch? Consider Eye-Fi: It looks like any other SD memory card, but after you've walked through its simple configuration wizard, your Eye-Fi card wirelessly uploads any picture or video from your camera to your PC, to Flickr, or even to YouTube.
Use Your Netbook as a Media CenterEffort: Moderate
Your netbook is tiny enough that you can take it along wherever you go, but with that small footprint comes similarly small capacity--meaning that the machine doesn't have a ton of room for you to store all your media. But there's a silver lining. Assuming that you generally have Internet access (it is a netbook, after all), you can stream any media from your more capacious home PC to your netbook with Orb, a free application that broadcasts any media on your computer to virtually any other device--including your Wii, your iPhone, and, yes, your netbook.