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A lowdown on the best free software you can use to manage your audio and video content.
Call it a side effect of the digital revolution. The way multimedia content has been digitised in the last decade or so, Cyberia is now full of audio and video content that is not only badly managed, but - in most cases - also incompatible with different devices. The result is a mess where an average user has a few thousands songs strewn across his PC, digital music player, cellphone, and in CDs and often in different formats. And then, there are DVDs that can't be played on tablets. Similarly, there are HD clips that are recorded on video cameras that might not be playable on netbooks. So, what's the way out? Well, read on...
LET THE MUSIC PLAY
Currently, there are two primary legal ways to get music: CDs and digital downloads. In India, CDs are the more popular method. Now - as it happens - most digital music players (unless it's a Discman-like device) cannot play music CDs. Solution? Rip the songs from the discs. And the easiest way to do so is to use...
Windows Media Player:
If you are running a Windows computer, you can use the bundled media player to rip songs. The process is simple. Pop in the CD, open Windows Media Player and click the Rip tab. And the programme will save the songs on your computer. From the same tab, you can also pre-select bit rate and format (such as WMA, MP3 and WAV). The downside? Power users - those who like complete control over audio quality - may find the options inadequate.
Now if you are a Mac user, you can't use the Windows Media Player. But there is a good alternative in the form of iTunes. Just fire up the software, pop in a CD and you will be greeted by prompt asking if you want to import songs from the disc. Say yes, and you are done. Of course, you can use iTunes on Windows as well. Still, the software has a few limitations such as fewer ripping options (AAC, AIFF MP3, WAV) which might not exactly please a serious audiophile.
Exact Audio Copy:
If you need something better than Windows Media Player and iTunes, you could try Exact Audio Copy that can be downloaded from www. exactaudiocopy. de. Crucially, this programme is also your best bet if other ripping software have failed to import songs from scratched or old CDs.
ANYWHERE, ANYTIME VIDEOS
Music is just one half of this story. Making sure that your videos are playable on all devices - from your tablet to your DVD player - is a bigger problem because unlike music, where MP3s have become ubiquitous, there are several popular video formats.
Know your codec:
Codecs are pieces of software code that that determines the video settings like quality, colours and file format. Let's start by taking a look at the popular video formats. To begin with, there are movies on DVDs. While almost all devices can play DVD content, which is encoded in the MPEG-2, one can't play these discs on tablets and netbooks that don't have a DVD drive. Video clips downloaded from the web or shot with digital cameras, meanwhile, mostly use codecs such as H. 264, DivX, Xvid and X. 264.
Some DVD players can handle these formats perfectly if you write the content onto a DVD or CD. But many can't. Similarly, most smartphones and tablets can't play these formats even though most notebooks and desktops can. Finally, in some cases, even though a few devices may support the video codec, they might not be capable of handling 1080P high-definition content.
Just the way music is ripped from CDs, users can convert videos from DVDs. The best way, arguably, is to use Win X DVD Ripper, a free program that not only grabs your movies from DVDs, but can also convert them into formats such as AVI, MPEG and MP4. Win X DVD Ripper can be downloaded from www. winxdvd. com/dvd-ripper.
Once you have the video content on your computer - whether from a DVD or from some other source - you will have to re-encode it using the codec supported by the device on which you are planning to play it. (To know what are supported codecs for any particular device check its specification sheet). Now there are several free programs available for converting video from one format to another, but for the average user, Freemake is the best bet. It has an intuitive graphical interface and there are several one-click options to convert videos to the format of your choice. Download it from www. freemake. com.
Playing it on a DVD player:
To play a movie downloaded from the internet on a DVD player, you will have to 'author' the video file before you burn it onto a DVD disc. Authoring a DVD is different from just copying the data onto the disc as it requires a person to format the video and audio content in a particular way before writing it on to a disk. In the case of DVDs, authoring means creating VOB, AOB and IFO files.
To create video DVDs, use either DVD Flick or AVStoDVD - two very good free authoring programs. DVD Flick is easier to handle, but AVStoDVD gives you better control on the authoring process. Both programmes will allow you to add subtitles and menus to your DVDs. You can download the software at www. dvdflick. net and www. sourceforge. net/projects/avstodvd respectively. Once the authoring is complete, you will get a folder with all components of DVD - VOB files, etc - on the disc. Now just burn this folder onto a DVD using any free burner such as Burnaware Free, which is available at www. burnaware. com. If you have done everything right, you will have a disc that will play on any DVD player.
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