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Automator workflow of the month: Quick media manipulation

Christopher Breen | May 2, 2013
Much as we depend on text, a lot of us deal with images, audio files, and movies as part of our workaday world. And it's not unusual that when working with such files you need to perform a minor tweak--rotate a picture, convert a music track to something that better harmonizes with iTunes and your iPod, or trim a movie that won't fit through an email gateway. All these tasks are possible, but it's a bother to launch an application, import the media, and do the deed for such seemingly minor tweaks. Thanks to Automator, you needn't. All this and more can be performed in the Finder. Let's see how.

This action has many options other than Black and White. Explore the menu and you may find some other possibilities that intrigue you.

If you intend to convert a lot of images, you're better off creating this workflow as an application and then saving it to the desktop. When you need to perform your conversion, just drag your images (or a folder that contains them) to this workflow application.

Convert audio files 

Your goal in this workflow is to convert an audio file to the iTunes Plus format (256kbps AAC) and add it to your iTunes library. You might do this if you have a lot of uncompressed audio files (say in WAVE or AIFF format) that you'd like to make smaller.

This one is best employed as an application, so you can drop files onto it for conversion. Select File > New in Automator and choose Application in the template chooser. Click Choose.

From the Music library, drag the Encode to MPEG Audio action into the workflow. Additionally add the Import Files into iTunes action. From the first action's Setting menu choose iTunes Plus. Configure the menus in the second action to read Existing Playlist Library. Create a new folder on the desktop and call it Converted audio. Drag this into the Destination pop-up menu in the first action.

Save the workflow as an application and place it on your desktop. When you want to convert a file and add it to iTunes, just drag it on top of this application.

Note: If you're not interested in adding the file to iTunes, you can accomplish the rest of it without Automator. Just select your audio file and choose Finder > Services > Encode Selected Audio Files. An Encode to MPEG Audio window will appear where you can choose from four settings in the Encoder pop-up menu--High-Quality (128kbps AAC), iTunes Plus (256kbps AAC), Apple Lossless (no compression applied), and Spoken Podcast (ABR 22.05 Khz AAC). Gee, converting audio files seems so easy that doing the same with movies should be a snap too, right? It is.

Convert movie files

Gee, converting audio files seems so easy that doing the same with movies should be a snap too, right? It is.

As with audio files, you can skip Automator altogether if you just want to convert your QuickTime movie files. Select the video you want to convert and then choose Services > Encode Selected Video Files from the Finder menu. (You will not see this option in the Services menu unless you've selected a video.)

An Encode Media window appears from which you can choose from among five settings--480p, 720p, 1080p, Audio Only, and Apple ProRes. In the case of 480p and 720p, you have the option to choose Greater Compatibility or Higher Quality. Greater Compatibility means the files work on more devices (old-style video iPods, for example). Higher Quality means the files won't be compatible with those older iPods and will be larger (and, of course, they'll look better on these devices than those encoded at the lesser setting).


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