Convert HD MKV's for the AppleTV for iTunes

by postbreak

I have covered how to convert HD MKV video on the AppleTV for playback using XBMC, but now I want to cover how to use iTunes to play back the same content. I have since moved away from XBMC on the AppleTV due to lacking support compared to the Mac version Plex and to also make it much more intuitive for friends and family to use. Asking someone who has never used an AppleTV to open up Launcher, then XBMC, then navigate to Movies/TV Shows is quite a daunting task. By keeping everything “official” on the AppleTV you can simply go to Movies and see all of your movies without any struggle.

The first thing you will have to do is read DerNalia’s guest article on the automated script he wrote to install the necessary tools to convert MKV DTS audio to conversion friendly AC3. You need to convert DTS to AC3 because currently you cannot convert video while maintaining audio pass-thru (you’ll be left with amazing video and stereo audio that is unacceptable).

Once you have run the installer and everything checks out fine you will have two commands at your disposal: mkvinfo and mkvdts2ac3.

Mkvinfo is a great tool to determine what video, audio, subtitle, and other tracks are within your MKV file. To get started simply type “mkvinfo path/to/mkv-file.mkv” Look through that information for stream 1 or 2 (usually) and if you see AC3 you can skip this step; notice DTS and you need to convert it.

Converting DTS to AC3 is as easy as running the command assuming the automatic installer worked without a hitch. First you need to understand that when you run the command you want to strip out the DTS track otherwise the conversion can be corrupted. Make a backup of the MKV incase you want to keep the DTS track.

To convert the DTS to AC3 and remove the DTS track simply run “mkvdts2ac3 -n path/to/mkv-file.mkv” The option “-n” tells the script to remove the DTS track. Leave that part out and you’ll end up with an MKV file with both AC3 and DTS, something you don’t want.

So now that you’ve converted the audio or it was already AC3 it’s time for the easy part. Download Handbrake for free here. Select your MKV file, go to the presets and select “AppleTV Legacy” under the legacy subcategory. It’s important you select Legacy otherwise your video’s resolution will be lowered which is odd but that’s what happens. You can see a screenshot of my settings while I convert a sample video file.

AppleTV Legacy

Click to see full size

The audio settings are quite odd. After conversion there will be two audio tracks, the first being stereo and the second being AC3 5.1 surround sound.

Click to see full size

Click to see full size

After about 6 hours on my three year old Macbook the conversion will be done and it plays back just fine on my AppleTV. The bit rate will be cut drastically however I can’t honestly tell a difference between the source and the finished product on my couch. You can tell the difference when you watch it on your computer monitor from a foot away but that shouldn’t be a surprise.

All in all I like this method the best because friends and family can use the AppleTV much easier without having to figure out where my videos actually are. The HD might be less “HD” but my eyes can’t tell the difference. Hopefully this helps someone out there cursing at there AppleTV asking why they can’t get HD videos on the thing.