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PodcastsApple’s new iTunes 4.9, iPod color, allows you to view (and listen to) “enhanced podcasts” these are audio files that can have slideshows, URLs and some cool features we have discovered. Apple’s included documents and a Wiki was all I needed to make our MAKE enhanced podcasts, but I also wrote a how-to. Here’s how to get, make and all you need to know about enhanced podcasts! As a bonus, we put together some fun ideas we think many might use…Before we get started, if you’re a technical person- you might want to just check out the Voxmedia Wiki here (Props to Walter!) and download all the files you need from Apple and follow their guide, I’ve tried to keep this simple and also show a few experiments that might inspire some interesting content. Also, if you’re familiar with making enhanced podcast, skip to the end for some new tools and ideas.

If you just want to see what an enhanced podcast looks like (and you have iTunes on a Mac or PC) download ours here. Click this link and click SUBSCRIBE. If you don’t have iTunes here is a video of what it looks like on a PC (WMV) and on a Mac (MOV).

If the new enhanced podcast isn’t there- here is a direct link to the file. You might need to rename it so it only has the .m4b extension (some systems will add .txt) we’ll fix that ASAP. Or download the zip file will all the source files.

WATCH THE ALBUM AREA AS IT PLAYS! Double click the images as they play for a larger view. We got carried away with the images and examples, but that was the point, so enjoy!

What’s an enhanced podcast?
Enhanced podcasts are AAC encoded audio files (m4a or m4b, m4p) with new data inside them that can be time based, like an image or a URL to appear at a certain time.

APPLE DOCS: You can use Chapter Tool to create Enhanced Podcasts that work with iTunes 4.9 or later. Enhanced podcasts are podcasts that contain chapters. Chapters can be modified to display pictures or web links that can be displayed within the iTunes song artwork pane.

On a color iPod the “chapters” can be skipped to and a new image will be displayed as the playhead reaches the time stamp you created and display the image you wish.

Onpod01

Onpod02

In iTunes the listener can click on the image and/or the URL as the audio plays. There’s also a new bookmark section / icon so you can navigate all the “chapters”.

Itunespc

On a PC.

Chapters

On a Mac.
For us here at MAKE, we see this as another way to distribute how-tos, slide shows, and content that just works better with more information. We’re going to do a few different types of enhanced podcasts, as we experiment- you get to see our handy work! Here’s how we made our first one- a cool HOW TO with images and URLs!

Ingredients
To make an enhanced podcast you’ll need:

  • Chapter Tool Beta (Mac only at this time)
  • Mac OS X version 10.3.8 or later (Mac OS X version 10.4.1 or later is recommended)
  • QuickTime version 6.5.2, or later
  • iTunes 4.9
  • Text editor to edit a XML file
  • A Music / Audio file
  • iPod color / photo if you want to see the pictures

Download the Chapter Tool from here and drop the folder in your Music folder inside of your Home folder. Here are ALL our source files, audio, pictures, and the XML file.

Music Folder

You’ll now want to plan what type of enhanced podcast you’ll want to create.

Largerview

I made a slideshow-like how-to on making a USB charging cable for the PSP (Playstation Portable). It will have images and at the end a URL for more information. As the listener hears the content they can pause it or click the album art panel to get a larger view. They can also click the URL (link) to get to a page with more information.

Pictures

I put all my photos together in a folder called pictures…iTunes supports the GIF, JPG, PNG, and TIF picture formats.

Preview

The preview app is a useful “script” ti read from, just click the down arrows as you read and record!

Record the audio
Next up, you’ll need an audio file that will be the sound track. I recorded mine in GarageBand.

Garage

Some intro music, then just started talking.

Exporttoitunes

Then sent it to iTunes.

Convertmenu

Once you’re in iTunes, you’ll need to convert it to AAC (m4a format). Depending on how you iTunes is set up you might need to change the preferences to convert to AAC.

Importing

To change the “import” settings to convert to AAC go to iTunes > Preferences – Importing. I selected AAC and podcast for the encoding.

Encoded

Once converted you can get info and check the file to make sure it was encoded properly.
If you’re hardcore about recording podcast audio, be sure to check out MAKE issue 02 for our Podcasting 101 article, or just do a web search there are tons of great resources online on recording audio. Drag the new file to the desktop or a new folder, I called mine usbpsp.m4a

Making the XML file
Now we’re going to need to make a file that has all the times, the pictures and URLs (links) that the ChapterTool will look at to create the enhanced podcasts. I used TextEdit to start a new document and pasted in:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>

Next, you need to let the ChapterTool know there are chapters.

APPLE DOCS: For ChapterTool to recognize that you are about to place chapters within an audio file, you must first specify the chapters tag, as follows:

<chapters version=”1″> </chapters>

Once you’ve specified the chapters tag, you may now begin to specify individual chapters for the audio file. All chapters must be specified using the chapter tag, as follows:

<chapters version=”1″>
<chapter starttime=”00:00″>
</chapter> </chapters>

The chapters each need to have a start time, the first one is easy 00:00. Start times must be specified in the mm:ss format. The ChapterTool let’s you add 3 attributes at this time- Title, picture and URL.

Title
We’re calling ours PSP USB charger so here’s our title:

title.jpg

If we didn’t want a picture or a URL, we would be finished, but we at least want a photo to get started. You also don’t need to have a title for each chapter, you can just have an image or URL.

Here’s ours with a title and image.

titleandimage.jpg

Make sure that we place the folder of pictures in the same directory as the audio file and XML file so the ChapterTool can find them.

Naming
APPLE DOCS: Please note that ChapterTool cannot read file names with spaces, such as “My Photo.jpg” In order for ChapterTool to work properly, you may either remove all spaces from within the picture file name in Finder, or type the URL within the XML with “%20″ instead of spaces, for example “My%20Photo.jpg”

Also, be sure to use – file:// URL or relative path.

Image sizes?
Apple’s examples use 300 x 300 pixel images, those fit nicely in the album art window and that’s what we used too.

Links
At the beginning and end of our PSP USB charger enhanced podcast we’re going to have a link to subscribe to MAKE Magazine. When the audio file plays it will display that URL for the listener to click and it will open a browser.

Here’s ours:

link.jpg

Notice how I put in an affiliate link, this could help folks pay for their podcasts if they’re doing book, DVD, product reviews!

APPLE DOCS: You may create links that direct iTunes directly onto specific iTunes Music Store pages. To do this, drag any picture or text link within the Music Store and place it within the href portion of the Link tag.

This is a really neat (and we’ll talk about some examples soon). But basically, imagine doing a concert enhanced podcast and the URLs all link to artists in iTunes, then if you want, buy their music. Or, you could create an audio “choose your own adventure” that let’s the listener make their own story as they listen, click and “unlock” new stories as they download new files.

Link be gone
What if you want more than one link? Once a link is displayed, it’ll stay there unless you clear it using a blank link like this:

linkbgone.jpg

Apple calls this inheritance: When working with chapters, it is important to remember that chapters will inherit attributes from previous chapters. This means whatever image and link you put up, stays there until you have a new one.

Compiling the enhanced podcast
Save the XML file to the same directory as the audio file and pictures folder, I placed all mine in my Music folder to make it simple. Now open up the Terminal (Utilities folder) application on your Mac and and navigate to the ChapterTool folder in your Music directory.

NOTE: If you’re not good with Terminal at all or what to use other tools, check out the end of this article for some helpful tools and scripts. We’re going to use ChapterTool to combine the XML file, the audio file all in to one file.

Here’s the syntax, the text that needs to be typed to combine the files.

./ChapterTool -x [xml_file_name].xml -a [input_audio_file].m4a -o [output_audio_file].m4a

Followed by the name of the XML file which contains your chapter descriptions. -a Followed by the name of the source audio file. This file must be a compatible MPEG4 AAC file. -o Followed by the name of the output audio file you wish Chapter Tool to create.

So, for our example we typed this:

pts-Computer:~/Music/ChapterTool pt$ ./ChapterTool -x usbpsp.xml -a usbpsp.m4a -o usbpsp.m4b

Why the .m4b? That’s a bit complicated.

m4b vs m4a From the Wiki…You may have noticed that the Podfinder and New Music Tuesday podcasts names their files m4a instead of m4b. If you name your file m4b then your AAC file will be “bookmarkable” on non-clickwheel ipods as well because that is the filename used for audiobooks, however clickwheel iPods with the new firmware installed will be able to bookmark m4a files too and also view chapters/chapter art/chapter links in m4a files as well. It is recommended that you name your file m4b so that even the nonclickwheel iPod listeners will atleast get the added benefit of being able to bookmark where they’ve left off in your podcast.

Protected

For now I am using m4b since it seems more people can use / view the files. But, that said- when I make a m4b, the file says it’s “protected”. It’s actually not, I think it’s just a remnant from the OS always thinking m4b files are protected DRMed audio books. The files play fine on any other system I tried. I suspect Apple never expect users to be making bookmarked files with images and URLs for podcasts when they first started iTunes, it’s cool that we can do that now.

If there are any errors, or the files can’t be found, the ChapterTool should tell you what’s going one- for example, if you don’t type in the right file name or it can’t find an XML file.

Once the file is complete, you might see something like this…

Terminal

…And in the folder a new audio file.

Info

When you’re all done, you might want to add the m4b file back in to iTunes to add album art and info on the show.

NOTE: It doesn’t seem like QuickTime on a Mac will play the file if you try and open it, but…the Wiki says – You must choose to open the podcast through the “open movie in player” menu option instead of dragging and dropping the podcast into the player.

Qtpc

Here it is on my PC.

Viewing in iTunes Once the ChapterTool is done compiling your new enhanced podcast, double click the file- this will open up iTunes, import it in and play the file. It’s a good idea to to a little testing on how the file works and if all the time codes, images and URL works.

One thing you might notice is a new little book icon in iTunes, when you press and hold that, all the chapters will be shown with thumbnails, along with the titles.

Chapters-1

When you select one it jumps to that section.

Playing-1

In the album art section you’ll see the artwork change as the audio plays.

Largerview-1

If you double click the art it will pull up a larger view.

Buymake

If there’s a URL, a new button looking item over the artwork- when you click that it goes to the web site in the XML file.

Browser

Opens up Amazon to get MAKE!

On the iPod On the iPod, press the center button as the image appears to get a larger view. You can also click forward or back to navigate around the podcast.

Onpod02-1

And that’s that! I really like these, so much so, for the first time I’m considering only doing m4bs for awhile.

A bit of bad news…
Before we take a look at some ideas and examples- some disappointing news for some, enhanced podcasts only work if you encode with Apple’s AAC audio encoding (m4a/b) that means iPods and iTunes only as the way folks will need to view these at this time. I’m not 100% this is true, since there are a couple phones, devices and players that can do m4a, but I’m pretty sure nothing will display an enhanced podcast (yet). Chapters are awesome, that said – it’s too bad that it wasn’t part of a new open format that everyone can use, but here we are. You also need a Mac at this time, not bad news depending on your Mac quantities. At this time, iPod photo / color doesn’t output the images to the TV signal, so if you want to play a slideshow with music, you have to do it the old fashion way with iPod photo, iTunes, etc. I bet Apple will change that soon.

I’d like to see a new Macromedia Flash lite spec that wraps SWF type interactivity around or with a MP3 (SWFs actually play on many MP3 players now if there is a MP3 sound in them). We’d have all the same stuff as enhanced podcasts, plus the ability to make games and scripting. Of course, it should be an open source thing too, MP3 + SWF lite? OOG + SVG? …Anyway-

Uses for enhanced podcasts
Here’s comes the fun part, if you’re like- you may be think “oh my, this is amazing, there are TONs of things to do with this!” but if you’re not- here are some of things I’ve spotted, thought up, made, working on or a combination of all of that. One term on the Wiki that’s kinda neat is “pCommerce” …podcasters can discuss a product or website, place a graphic representation for it on the screen and simultaneously provide a hyperlink that, when clicked, would give the podcaster credit for that clickthrough and tie in to existing e-commerce systems (Amazon, etc).

Podcast tracking
On the same theme as pCommerce- Besides a download count, it’s hard to really know if someone listens to an audio show- while asking people to click a link to let you know might work, you could have a feedback system. The listener in iTunes will need to do something of course, but if there’s enough value in clicking a link on the album art, you may gather some useful data to make your shows better. You could even do a contest where the 100th person to listen to the show and click might “win”.

American Idol style – in music voting
Instead of (or in addition to) contestants on one of those American Idol like shows work with Apple to publish their songs / podcasts and we the audience download and vote by clicking the URL link. Any type of voting will work with this, just make the voting via a http:// call.

Diggnation type podcasts
I really enjoy the Diggnation podcast with Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht, they talk about all the cool links on Digg, now each segment of their show can go to the link they’re talking about with comments and more!

Choose your own adventure audio books
Imagine listening to an audio novel and based on your choices you automagically download a new audio file, with more choices. One of the neat things about the linking in enhanced podcasts is that you can link to other parts of the iTunes music store. APPLE DOCS: You may create links that direct iTunes directly onto specific iTunes Music Store pages. To do this, drag any picture or text link within the Music Store and place it within the href portion of the Link tag. Another examples, if you’re doing a podcast about something on NPR, just put a link in so folks could stop, click and download what you’re talking about.

Here’s how you would link to a past MAKE show about DIY Robotics with the link tag.

<chapter starttime=”00:00″>
<link href=”http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?playlistId=74069835&selectedItemId=138280&#8243; /> DIY Robotics! </link>
</chapter>

HOW TOs, Flash cards, learning…
It’s a pretty obvious one, HOW TOs. Not everything makes sense to have a tiny picture on a computer or iPod screen, but many things do. I really like what the K9cast folks with dog training. For MAKE, we’re going to release many of our articles in spoken word, and add pictures- this doesn’t work for all types of articles, but the MAKER profile is a great example of a good listen that only gets better with some extra info like links and photos. Seeing a word as you learn a language flash card style is also pretty helpful too. I’ve learned a bit of Japanese here and there, but now I’m thinking of re-learning, but with audio files that have been enhanced to have the words so I can see them as I learn them.

Lyrics
While you really can’t do realtime lyrics you can likely put enough of them and time it so the lyrics are on the screen. Or at least provide a link to where they are online.

“Brand”stand music links
There’s a neat site by Agenda called BrandStand that rates brands by their mentions in popular songs. Why not just have the brands appear and links to buy the products / learn more as they play. For example…

2004 BRANDS

  • The winning brand this year… CADILLAC, (taking over from last year’s winner MERCEDES). CADILLAC wins by just one point after moving ahead of HENNESSY in the final week of 2004.
  • Runners up… 2nd HENNESSY (69 mentions), 3rd MERCEDES (63 mentions), 4th ROLLS ROYCE (62 mentions), and 5th GUCCI (49 mentions)
  • The most brand-dropping rapper… KANYE WEST, who mentioned 19 brands in his 4 singles of 2004. He beats 2003 winner 50 CENT who drops to 7th place.

You get the point, Kayne West needs to make an enhanced podcast! You could also have a link to buy tickets to a show at the end of the cast too.

Flickrcast?
Well, maybe not a Flickr cast- but you “could” write a tool that pulls a photo set down, with an URLs in your Flickr set and then you just match the audio up.

Advertising (the good way)
I really like Hugh’s work on English cut, it’s a site about making suits by a guy who makes suits. Doing a few audio versions of what goes in to a suit, pictures of the parts, tools, stitching, etc and then finally a way to set up an appointment with one click would be great. You could really apply this to a lot of products and services, I tend to think the more special something is, the more folks might want to know what goes in to it.

PBS and NPR could have a pledge link at the end of their broadcasts.

My pal Leander Kahney wrote The Cult of Mac is working on working on the Cult of the iPod – his first book had so many amazing photos and stories, it would be cool to read a chapter and have all the images in an enhanced podcast as its read along with the links to who/where the iPod cultists are.

META tours & sound walks
Imagine walking around a town, listening to commentary and seeing photos, blueprints, and other meta on your iPod. In NYC lots of people are distributing their own museum audio tours to download before you head in, adding chapters and images only enhances it more (read about that here).

From the Wiki- Using ChapterTool to create gapless playback CDs The ChapterTool can also be used to create chaptered AAC files which allow the gapless playback of CDs where tracks run into each other (e.g. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon).

Tiny animations and video (sorta)
I think you could have an image each second of a podcast and make a tiny animation like a flip book, kinda silly- but fun to watch a little dog run or something as your audio played. Perhaps a dancer, or something like that. 1 frame per second could be interesting….you could also play a video one frame per second and just keep the sound track.

Gadget and product reviews
I’m likely going to make a few of my review of gadgets and products in the enhanced podcast format and see the response, so let me know what you think. You’ll likely see these on lots of the gadget sites soon that have a big iPod owner following.

Other tools
If you made it this far, you might be interested to know if there are any other tools that help make enhanced podcasts, and in the short time the ChapterTool has been out, there is. Walter from K9cast sent these along to me…

My ChapterTool XML file generator here.

Gijs van den Heuvel’s “Podcast Enhancer” here.

RB Software’s ChapterToolMe here (requires Tiger)

[Walter says] I’ve tried out Gijs’ tool and I can say that it works great. I haven’t gotten a chance to check out the RB Software tool yet though, but it looks promising. Of course you’ve probably read my howto: here.

Make Itunes

That’s it for now- I’ll post up more as interesting things develop of course- comments and questions welcome and please click this link and SUBSCRIBE to our podcast in iTunes 4.9, we’re going to experiment a lot and you’re likely to discover many new things (and get free stuff from the magazine too).

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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