iTunes Plus files unplayable by TiVo

TiVo danceTiVo owners who have connected their Series2 boxes to their home network have been able to play their iTunes library on their TV ever since TiVo released the Home Media Option in 2003. But it was limited to MP3 files until a hack was discovered to make LAME transcode AAC files to MP3 on the fly. And even then, Protected AAC files purchased from the iTunes Music Store were impossible to play.

With the dawn of iTunes Plus, I was looking forward to finally being able to free a handful of my purchased songs from the shackles of DRM and play them on my TiVo along with all the music ripped from CDs. So imagine my surprise when none of the new iTunes Plus songs were playable.

Although the suffix of the new files is the standard .m4a (the same as AAC files ripped from CD) the Kind listed in iTunes is “Purchased AAC Audio file.” The TiVo Desktop application has a problem with that. If you turn on debugging you can see the error message: “Rejected song because Song: format Purchased AAC audio file not mp3 or convertible to mp3″

I was unfortunately not able to test this out with just one track, because Apple does not allow you to upgrade individual songs. You have to upgrade all the eligible songs in your account or none. That was still a paltry $6.60 for me (divide by 30¢ to see how many tracks that was), but users should have that choice. Some may have so many eligible tracks that they’ll just refuse to upgrade their whole library and Apple will have lost out on the lesser amount those users were willing to part with.

The good news is that there is a workaround. Because the iTunes Plus files are not “protected,” you can convert them to other formats. Set your iTunes importing preferences to either MP3 or AAC, then select the track(s) and choose Convert Selection from the Advanced menu. The resulting files will be listed simply as “AAC audio file” or “MPEG audio file” and will show up just fine on TiVo. Also, because iTunes Plus files are 256kbps, converting them to 128kbps AAC files or 192kbps MP3 files shouldn’t result in much quality loss.

Obviously the TiVo Desktop application just needs to be updated, but considering how long it took TiVo to simply make it compatible with OS X 10.4 (and that they expect to return to red ink this quarter), I won’t be holding my breath.

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