Inside Android

Hello again everybody!  This week we're leaving all the techie stuff behind and we're going to have some fun.  Android phones are great portable media playesrs -- we just have to get used to a different way of encoding and syncing our media.  While there are lots of way to get it done, we're going to focus on two that use free tools to make the most out of your Android multimedia experience.  So put your ringer on silent, send the kids out to play in the yard and read along after the break.

I mentioned that we're going to go over two different methods here, so to begin let's talk about doubleTwist.  Like many of you, I was skeptical about the whole iTunes style of media sync on my Android phone.  Boy am I glad I decided to try out doubleTwist anyway.  While I haven't delved very deep into syncing my music and pictures with it, the way it encodes and syncs video on the fly is great.  If you're like me and just want to enjoy a movie every now and then on your phone, let doubleTwist handle things and you won't be disappointed.  If you are a videophile fear not - we have you covered a bit later.

Getting started with doubleTwist

The first order of business is to download and install doubleTwist.  Fire up your computer and head on over to doubleTwist.com and grab it.  Don't forget to watch the video walkthrough and read a little about the app while you're there.  Once you have it installed open it and set yourself up with a free account.

signing up for doubleTwist

signing up for doubleTwist

When you have it all set up, go ahead and plug your phone into the computer and set it in mass storage mode.  Select the Videos entry from the Library in the left pane of the doubleTwist window.  Yes, this does look familiar ;) .  The right pane will show what videos doubleTwist has found on your computer.  Protip - you can set which folders are included in your libraries in the doubleTwist menu bar Library -> Add Folders if it didn't find them at startup.  To add a single video to your video library, you can just drag it over.  In the picture below, I'm dragging a DVD rip of 2012 so that I can add it to my phone to watch next time I'm waiting for my wife to buy shoes and purses at the mall :)

dragging over a video file

drag a video file into the doubleTwist window

Next highlight and right click on the video you just dragged (dragged? drug?) over and choose to add it to a playlist.  If you just installed doubleTwist you probably don't have a playlist setup, so you can also create one right from the menu list.  I told you this was going to be easy. I also moved the Clash of the Titans trailer and the neat wildlife video that comes with Windows 7 over and added them to my playlist.  You can add as many things as you like, just be mindful of the storage space on your SD card.

add to a playlist

adding a video to a playlist

Now if you look back to the left pane of the doubleTwist window, you'll see a line entry for your phone.  Select it, and choose the Videos tab on the right pane of the doubleTwist window. Have a look at the screenshot below for the details. 

setting up playlist sync

setting up a playlist to sync

At this point, I'm sure many are wondering why I'm going through this when I could just drag and drop the files in mass storage mode.  Well, here's where the genius of doubleTwist comes into play. The 2012 file I drug over is a Divx ripped from the letterbox version of the DVD at high quality.  That's not going to play on my phone as is.  But doubleTwist knows this, and knows how to fix it.  It gets the information from my phone to identify it, and automagically encodes the video for playback on my device during the syncing process.  Yep, just like iTun...err that other platform does.  Just a quick click on the sync button, then relax or go grab a cup of your favorite beverage and let doubleTwist work it's magic. 

sync in progress

sync in progress.  Don't unplug your phone!

When it's finished, you can hit the Videos line entry under your device and see that it transferred everything over, ready for playback on your device.

sync'd!

synced files on your phone

The result?  Video optimized for playing on YOUR specific device, at pretty good quality.

2012

2012 on the HTC Hero

High quality video encoding

Most of us will be more than happy with the videos doubleTwist encodes and syncs to our phones, but I know some folks will want to push the limits and like to encode their videos at a higher quality.  While it's nowhere near as easy as using doubleTwist, Handbrake will do exactly what you want.

Apple TV peeps likely know all about Handbrake.  For the rest of us, it's a piece of cross platform software that does video conversion and it really flexible with its output settings.  You can find Handbrake here here, it's also a free download.  We love free.

Once you have Handbrake downloaded and installed, open it so we can adjust a few parameters.  The first thing we want to do is set up the folder to save our videos to.  Also, at this step we want to be sure that files are set to save as .mp4 files.  Open the Handbrake options window from the programs menu bar.  The image below shows the things we want to specify.

output parameters

setting the output path

Click the browse button and tell Handbrake where to save your encoded movies, and be sure to uncheck the box that specifies that the files will be saved in iTunes format.  Next, point Handbrake at the file you want to transcode.  See the image below.

the source

setting the video source


Just browse to the file you want to convert and select it.

Next comes the important part.  You will need to set up the output resolution of the file. On the right side of the Handbrake window, choose Apple -> iPod. If your source file has a higher resolution that your phone, set the Width: to match your phone's screen resolution.  Click the Keep Aspect Ratio box and erase anything in the Height: box.  Handbrake will resample and scale your video much better than your phone will, so doing it here makes a lot of difference in playback.  Look below to see exactly where and what I'm talking about.

output resolution

setting the output resolution

If the source file is smaller than your screen resolution, you can set it higher, but this isn't necessary. It also results in a larger file size, so I suggest leaving it alone unless it's too large.

If your source file is a DVD or BluRay disc, you will have to be careful about file sizes.  In the image below, we see where we can set a maximum output size for the encoded video.  If you're encoding a disc or a huge file, be sure to set the Target Size (MB): at a number smaller than 2 Gigabytes.  If it's a file you've made yourself, or a download from the internet, just set the Avg Bitrate to a number less than 1000.  If the number is less than 1000 to start with, ignore it.

output file size

setting the output file size

One last thing to do before we start it up, uncheck the 5th generation iPod box.  I'm not 100 percent sure what this does, but leaving it checked left me with files that didn't play - so uncheck it unless you know of a good reason to leave it checked :)

uncheck the 5g box

uncheck the 5th generation iPod box

Next, get it started by hitting the Start button in the top icon bar of Handbrake.  After a second or so, a command window will appear with the progress of your job.  Don't close this.  In case you've never done any video transcoding, be prepared for a looooooong wait.

Handbrake cli

the Handbrake command window

When it's finished, hook up your phone and copy over the encoded file and enjoy high quality video on your Superphone.

Handbrakes version of 2012

2012 from Handbrake on the HTC Hero

A few notes here - Handbrake is a resource hog.  It does a good job, but needs the computer hardware to back it up.  This is not something you'll be doing on most laptops, and don;t even think about using a netbook.  If Handbrake quits before it's finished, hit the Handbrake forums for some tips to get it running a bit smoother.  this is one of those rare cases where the Linux and Mac guys have it better than the Windows users.  Handbrake, like many other media editing software titles works better on non-Windows machines.

Until next week!

Jerry