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Digital audio players: iTunes

ITunes

Note: this article was originally posted on April 11th, 2007. Some of the mentioned extensions are no longer compatible with later iTunes versions.

Why?

ITunes is Apple’s audio player with versions for both Mac and PC. You can say a lot of things about it:

  • It always seems to ‘know better’
  • It is limited in supported playback formats
  • It feels a bit slow

Yet, :

  • It introduced smart playlists to the world. (which become essential once you get used to them)
  • It usually does know better 🙂
  • It allows you to play back your music using criteria you would also use when playing your cd’s. (What I mean is: no longer do you have to use the “let’s queue up all my folders from explorer and put my player to shuffle and see what happens”-philosophy) due to its music library. This system also allows you to find any song quickly.
  • most applications which implement a true library start to feel a little slow
  • It’s easy to use for beginners
  • It has excellent Ipod integration. (well, obviously…)
  • it can be scripted: Apple has released an SDK for it and a lot of vbscripts/javascripts are available for it
  • it has soundcheck. (a feature which makes all songs sound equally loud without altering the audio data, this is not the same as normalizing)
  • it has support for msn messenger’s ‘playing now’ feature
  • Rating system which allows you to rate individual songs with 1-5 stars from either your iPod or from within iTunes. Ratings you made on your iPod will transfer over to iTunes.

And even some falsehoods:

  • it does not put DRM on all your music

Starting version 7, Apple made some changes which make it quite usable even from a non-amateur perspective:

  • gapless playback support!
  • support for albumartist/mp3 band tag
  • support for downloading cover art from the itunes store.
  • new view modes allowing you to browse your collection by the album covers:
Cover flow view (click for bigger) Cover flow view 2 (click for bigger)

In short, my feelings about it are that, even though it suffers a bit from Apple’s traditional ‘all is well, do not worry’-approach to software, it is the only freely available media player which can be used when:

  • you have more than a few hundred tracks in your collection and still want to control what you hear
  • you need a sophisticated playlist system. (make me a 3-hour long playlist containing rock and pop songs which I have not heard for at least 3 months and which I have not rated as absolute crap)
  • you have an iPod.

Extensions:

  • Itunes folder watch: monitors certain folders and adds new audio files in them to the iTunes database.
  • ITunes library updater: remove dead tracks, scan folders for files not in your library and add them.
  • Itunes art importer: select files in itunes and get cover art for them from eg amazon. (allows for more control over the process than what you get with the cover art download support in iTunes 7)
  • Otto’s javascripts: several small but useful scripts. At the time of writing the page seems to be down…
  • Evillyrics: automatically get lyrics for the playing song
  • Itunes2MSN: supports using the cover art of the currently playing track as a display picture in msn messenger:

 

ITunes quirks, tips & tricks

About cover art

There are 2 ways you can enable cover art in an application:

  1. add a file containing the art to the folder holding the file
  2. embed the art in every song

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Apple opted for the second option. I feel this was a good decision as it allows you to copy a single song to another location and still view the artwork of the album it came from. Obviously, the disadvantage is disk space: when storing it only once in the folder holding the album you will only use the disk space needed for the cover art once. When you embed it in every file you will store it once for every track. However, if you take a little care when selecting art this is a non-issue with today’s drives. So, remember: Resize your cover art before embedding it. (I keep mine at 64 KByte maximum, which, depending on the cover, allows for jpegs with resolutions between 400 and 600 pixels on average.)

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