Get blockbuster movies on your iPhone

3rd Oct 2008 | 14:58

Get blockbuster movies on your iPhone

10 top tips on how to watch the latest films on the move

We all know that the iPhone is no ordinary phone - it's also arguably the best iPod Apple has ever made. Its gorgeous widescreen display is perfect for watching movies on your daily commute. We're going to show you how to get them on there. Ready?

1. The iTunes Store

Yes, we know. It's kinda obvious, but it's also incredibly easy. Grab a movie from the download store and it's ready to watch on your iPhone. iTunes Store videos have a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels so you can also watch them on your regular Mac or PC too. Buying movies is a tad pricey right now, but renting makes perfect sense. You pay just £3.49 for recent hits like Cloverfield - and you don't have to convert it into a format the iPhone or iPod Touch understands either.

2. Take your time

Rentals from the iTunes Store don't have to be watched right away. You have up to 30 days to start watching each title you download. This enables you to queue up a whole bunch of movies ready for your daily commute. However, once you start to watch a movie you have 48 hours to finish it before it disappears into the ether. It's probably best not to start watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy then if your commute only takes 10 minutes.

3. Get handy with Handbrake

Handbrake, as if you didn't know by now, is a free, open-source movie ripper for Mac and PC that enables you to convert your DVDs into smaller iPhone and iPod Touch compatible versions. To make it work you simply stick a DVD movie into your computer's optical disc drive, wait for it to scan the disc, pick the longest title it finds (which is usually the movie), then select the preset you want and then hit start. You can queue up rips to run overnight. That way you'll have lots of fresh new content in the morning. Erm, but hang on...

4. A word to the wise...

Isn't ripping movies forbidden? We don't normally do this, but we're now going to paraphrase a bit of Star Wars for you - we cannot possibly condone a course of action that could lead you to war (with the authorities). Ripping DVDs that you own is totally, utterly, unquestionably illegal in UK law. There is no place for place-shifting, which is what ripping a movie to your iPhone is. PC Plod is unlikely to look favourably on your weasely excuses, and there is no Fair Use clause yet. Move to the USA if you want to use that as your defence. Even then it might not work... just look at the furore over Real Networks' Real DVD software this week.

5. Fair Use = FairMount

One piece of Mac software that exploits the US's Fair Use legislation is Metakline's FairMount. It can create clones of your DVDs, ostensibly for backup. Team the resultant Video_TS folder with the VLC media player and you get DVD playback on your computer. The only thing you need to do then is convert it into a format that the iPhone understands. DVDRemaster,also from Metakline, is ideal.

6. Set iTunes on it

If you have a movie file you want to convert you could do worse that get iTunes to do the conversion for you. Yes it can be grindingly slow, but it will give you the results you seek and it's so easy even your Gran can do it: Simply select the movie you want to convert then go to Advanced > Create iPod or iPhone version. Now go off for a leisurely cup of tea or 10 while it does the biz.

7. Fire up the Turbo.264

Turbo.264 from Elgato is a USB add-on for Macs that contains an H.264 co-processor. Its beauty lies in the fact that it can speedily convert almost any kind of video into compatible files that work with the iPhone. It also takes a massive load off the processors in your Mac, enabling them to be set free to do other things. It's particularly useful if you own a pre-Intel Mac, with iPhone rips hitting up to 70 frames per second (fps).

8. Push it to extremes

According to figures published by Apple, the maximum movie size an iPhone can playback resolution wise is 640 x 480 pixel H.264 running at up to 1.5Mbps; or 2.5Mbps if you're using MPEG-4. You can, however, push this to a breathtaking 5Mbps by tweaking the iPod High preset in Handbrake. 5Mbps is more than good enough for watching on a flat panel TV, although you won't be able to fit many movies on your iPhone - a 90 minute movie comes out at 4GB. Eek!

9. Get it off the TV

If you're lucky enough to have a Media Center PC with a built-in TV tuner, or a Mac with an add-on one, then you're in business. You can simply record the programme in MPEG2, then convert it into MPEG-4 or H.264 using some of the methods we've outlined above. Getting content off the telly is cheaper and more convenient than buying from the iTunes Store or the DVD. Unless, of course, you're paying through the nose for a digital TV subscription. In which case, not so much.

10. Lights, camera, action

If you're worried about prosecution and/or the high price your piracy is exacting on the moguls of Hollywood (no, you'll have to send the champagne back - we can't afford it!), you might just want to fill your iPhone with home-made content instead. Getting your masterpiece into the iPhone is easy - on the Mac select Share Project With iTunes in iMovie '08 and then choose the appropriate file size. The hard part is coming up with a plot, credible performances from people who aren't too ugly, non-wobbly special effects. Oh, and a camcorder, some lights, a non primadonna-ish director...

See also 'Get the most out of iTunes with these 21 great adds-on'

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