In the world of gizmos, stuffing content onto devices is key

It must have been a merry Christmas for makers of iWhatevers, smart phones, pocket computers and assorted micro gaming devices.

Two years ago, when I last flew to Key West, Fla., everyone was listening to their iPods, both at the airport and on the flight. This time, I'd guess about 30 percent of the people, including my daughter, weren't listening — they were watching or playing.

The trouble, of course, is getting content into these devices. Hollywood and its partners prefer you pay full price for video that's been down-sampled to fit a tiny screen and is difficult to get out of the device and onto your regular TV set. The teen-preferred method is to download pirated video via a BitTorrent client, which has the advantage of being trivially simple and free, if illegal.

Crabby Old Lou's preferred method is to start with a nice, full-size program source, say, a TV show recorded to your PC or a DVD that you own. In the case of the DVD, you break the encryption using DVD decryptor or a similar program (see for details, including your largely theoretical legal liabilities).

An hour and a half of video gives you one big honking file of 5 to 8 gigabytes that you store on your computer's hard drive. On a high-definition television, the output from a PC looks better than that from a run-of-the-mill DVD player, especially if you use my favorite video program, VLC media player, to de-interlace and up-sample the files.

But there's a problem: The files are too big to fit more than two on a tiny Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) card, which top out at 16 gigabytes. So now you need to transform your content to a more manageable size. Root around on the Internet, and you may find a dedicated converter for your device.

I saw a couple for iWhatevers, the BlackBerry and even, good grief, Nokia phones. Some cost; some are open source. I tried one that Nokia issued for my N800 tablet PC: The program, which ran under Windows XP, crashed.

In searching for a more robust solution, I ran across another gem of an open-source program, Super, which is a Swiss Army Knife of video converters.

What's neat about the program is that it doesn't do much work itself — it merely ties together the best open-source video programs and codecs (compression systems) in a user-friendly graphical shell. Last time I wrote about video converters, I tried a few and found them uber-geeky and head-bangingly painful to use (even the names will make you crazy: ffmpeg, mencoder, mplayer, x264, mppenc, ffmpeg2theora & the theora/vorbis RealProducer plug).

These are now built into Super, so all you need is a little knowledge to point and click and get things working. Codecs that are compatible with various devices, including iPods, Zunes, Nintendo and Sony Playstations, can be picked from a menu. Contemporary codecs are more efficient than the ones used to encode DVDs, so you'll see a major shrinkage of your files.

You'll want to play with the trade-off between file size and video quality, too. A standard DVD outputs files at 720 by 480 pixels, the latter being "interlaced" (that is, alternate lines are displayed every other frame). This is really overkill on a tiny screen. You have the option of reducing the size, the bit rate and number of frames that are played per second.

I cut way back to 320 by 176 pixels for the Nokia, which looks pretty good on the tiny screen, and yields files about a 10th the size of the original. "Blade Runner," for example, went from 5.2 gigabytes to a mere 483 megabytes, so I could fit upwards of 35 movies on an SDHC card. The quality is fine on the tiny Nokia's 4-inch screen, but it isn't anything you'd play back on TV or even on your 19-inch computer monitor, at least not if you're fussy.

I didn't run any time tests, but you can queue up a pile of videos and let the thing run overnight, which is what I did, and had about 20 films ready to go by morning. Then I pulled my SD card from the Nokia, inserted it into the PC, and copied over the files. I'm still not 100 percent happy with the output, which doesn't quite match the screen dimensions, but I'll get it right eventually.

Super runs on Macs, PCs and various flavors of Linux. You can download it at

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service

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