Friday, September 15, 2006

iTunes 7

On Tuesday, Steve Jobs announced a series of new Apple products. He unveiled the “remastered” nano, an “enhanced” 5G iPod and a super-mini shuffle. He also teased the crowd with a preview of a set-top box shipping Q1 2007, inaugurated the movie section of the iTunes store and demonstrated iTunes 7.

iTunes 7 (download) is a major release. There are a number of enhancements like improved sync management with iPod, easier file backup to CDR or DVDR and CD Text support that are reason enough to upgrade, and there are 3 substantial new features.

Gapless playback – A number of CDs are designed to play without break or skip. Examples are live recordings and mix CDs. Most programs that rip music to a compressed format (mp3 for example) handled these CDs poorly, and even when they were ripped correctly, few programs were able to play the compressed files properly without interruption.

iTunes 7 solves this problem not only for files purchased from the iTunes store and ripped by iTunes itself but also for those previously ripped by compliant programs like
LAME. After install, iTunes scans your collection to determine the actual length of each track, and once this scan is complete, gapless albums play perfectly. One tip: if you had enabled cross-fading in the Preference control panel, disable it.

Automatic cover art retrieval – Cover art has been a pain to manage. iTunes tracks have it embedded in the file tag, Windows Media Center requires that it be placed in a special directory, and most rippers ignore this nice addition to the playback experience. As a result, all my iTunes purchased music has album art and few of my other songs do. Luckily, iTunes 7 is there to help. After install and the scan for gapless music, iTunes can search the iTunes store and add all of the covers it can find to your music library. iTunes doesn’t have every album, but the process is fast and works well for what it can find.

Cover flow – a new way to flip through your music and video (pictured above). Less useful than cool, the motion of the reflections as you browse is an especially nice touch.

I purchase music from the iTunes store and have had the software installed since version 2, but I have only imported a small section of my music into my iTunes library. I preferred other separate programs for ripping, burning, search and playback. Although I will continue to use EAC for ripping, now that I have installed iTunes 7 and have tested it for a few days, I am ready to let it manage all of the other aspects of my music library. It is not perfect (compilations could be handled better and it doesn’t always display time correctly for VBR files), but nice job Apple!

Bonus link: an introduction to all of the new features in iTunes 7