8 Cool (and Useful) Mods for iPods and iTunes

Rip DVDs to Your iPod

Compatible with: All video-capable iPods

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It's great to have an iPod that plays video, but how do you get videos in the right format for your player? The open-source gem HandBrake can help. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, this simple utility converts DVDs into iPod-compatible MP4 video files.

Well, some DVDs, anyway: HandBrake balks at the encryption that protects most Hollywood movies; it's designed to rip unprotected discs. But a little Google searching will reveal several utilities (among them, DVD43) that can decrypt DVDs on the fly.

After installing DVD43 or a similar decryption utility, run HandBrake, click the Show Presets button, and choose a suitable preset: iPhone/iPod Touch, iPod High-Rez, or iPod Low-Rez. Now insert your DVD, wait a minute while your system recognises it, and then click the Browse button in the Source section. Navigate to the DVD's Video_TS folder and click OK. Next, choose a destination for the output file (your iTunes folder is a logical choice). Finally, click Encode Video and settle in for a long wait. Even on a fast system, ripping and encoding a typical DVD can take several hours. When HandBrake is done, copy the new video to your iPod as you would any other video file.

Convert MP3 Audiobooks to iPod Format

Compatible with: All iPods

It's easy to rip an audiobook CD that you borrowed from the local library, but a bit trickier to listen to it on your iPod. That's because the ripped CD usually ends up in MP3 format, and iPods don't know how to bookmark MP3s. Good luck trying to navigate back to wherever you left off in The Good Earth.

142300-MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter-large Fortunately, you can use MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter to turn ordinary MP3s into iPod-friendly M4B files. When you play the converted files, your iPod will remember your spot and let you adjust the playback speed--just the way you can with audiobooks purchased from the iTunes Store. This free, open-source utility requires Windows; the developer says that Mac and Linux versions will be coming soon.

Monitor Your Music Folders Automatically

Compatible with: iTunes

Seven versions into iTunes, the program still doesn't know how to monitor music folders for new tunes. Sure, it will update your library with songs purchased from the iTunes Store or ripped from CDs, but what if you want to add music from other sources? iTunes lacks the smarts found in just about every other music manager, forcing you to add files manually.

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Not anymore. iTunes Folder Watch, a free utility for Windows PCs, monitors designated folders and adds any newly discovered music to your iTunes library.

Install the program, and then run it by clicking Start, iTunes Folder Watch, iTunes Folder Watch (Background Monitoring). This series of commands will launch iTunes, create an iTFW New Tracks playlist, and add a new icon to your System Tray. Right-click the System Tray, click Open, and add one or more folders to watch for new tunes. Click the Check Now button, and iTFW will scan for tracks not already included in your iTunes library. If it finds any, you'll see them listed in the New Tracks tab. One more click will whisk the songs straight into iTunes, where you can easily copy them from the New Tracks playlist to whatever playlists you want.

Sync iTunes With Your Non-iPod Player

Compatible with: Any player that has a drive letter

When your iPod went to that great electronics graveyard in the sky, you may have replaced it with a non-Apple player--say, a Creative Zen. The problem is, your music library still sits inside iTunes, complete with painstakingly crafted playlists that you'd rather not lose. Do you have to switch to another music manager and re-create your playlists from scratch?

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Not if you put iTunes Sync to work. True to its name, this Windows utility can sync any iTunes playlist to many different portable players, including some cell phones. After installing iTunes Sync, fire up iTunes and plug in your player. Right-click the iTunes Sync icon in the System Tray, and choose Configure MP3 Players. Click the Add button, give your player a name, and click the button next to MP3 Player SubFolder to Sync to. Caveat: iTunes Sync currently works only with players that are assigned a drive letter when plugged in--a category that numbers among its members the BlackBerry Pearl, the Creative Zen Stone, and the Motorola Razr V3 (here's a complete list of tested players ). If your player shows up as an MTP device, you're out of luck until the program's next release, which the developer says will include MTP support.

After selecting the desired sync folder on your player, choose a folder structure (indicating how you want copied songs to be organised) and the iTunes playlist you want to sync with. If you want more than one, you can use iTunes' smart playlist feature to create a new playlist that includes the ones you want; then choose that playlist to sync with your player.

After making those selections, close the config window, right-click the iTunes Sync icon again, and choose Synchronise MP3 Player. Click the Sync button and sit back while your playlist breaks free of its iTunes shackles.

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