Speeding up H.264 encoding for iPods

I’ve gotten a lot of mail asking about alternatives to the QuickTime Pro Export to iPod preset for H.264 encoded media that will transfer and play to an iPod. The Apple preset is easy and yields excellent results, but apparently the deinterlacing algorithms are the cause of the excrutiatingly slow encoding process. Also, the 750 kilobits per second data rate makes for some pretty chunky files. My Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes are over 200 megabytes apiece. This is a fine setting for video destined to be played on an NTSC monitor, but it’s overkill if the iPod is the video’s final destination.

Here are my alternative settings. They render three times faster than the Export to iPod preset and take up about a third less disk space. I find the results look good on the iPod.

In the QuickTime Pro Player, select Export -> Movie to MPEG-4.

In the file format selection window make sure to select MP4 instead of the default MP4 (IMSA). That will make the H.264 codec available in the Video Format window. Select the 320×240 QVGA setting for Image Size. I haven’t experimented with the keyframe settings yet. If anyone has, please leave a comment below. I’ve set the data rate to 512 kbits, but if the content is mostly talking heads in a studio or other non-taxing content, then 250 – 350 kbits may be fine.

Next, click the video options button. Restricting the profiles to main and baseline yields a file that will play on first generation iPod. Switching to single pass encoding also speeds improves the render times.

Ars Technica has a tutorial that uses the shareware FFMPEGX utility. I haven’t gotten to create an iPod-friendly video yet, but will report back if I do. In the meantime I’ll continue experimenting with Compressor 2 as well.

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