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.


Dave M.

There is only one company other than TiVo that I would trust to have a really good user experience when it comes to a DVR and that is Apple!

If Apple put out a DVR device that worked like AppleTV (probably called AppleTV), I would buy it in a heartbeat!

I’ve used ReplayTV and still have a working unit, but it’s sitting in a corner collecting dust since I now have a Series 3 TiVo. I don’t currently have HD content coming into it yet thanks to Charter Cable, but I hope that Charter will get their act together and do a better job of installing the CableCard’s so that I can get HD content soon.

Til then or Apple puts out a true DVR, I’ll stick to my TiVo/MacBook (or Mac Mini) combo.

Todd D

Glad to see this topic! When I heard the announcement for DRM-free iTunes tracks, I had hoped an update to my Tivo software would follow. So far, not a peep.

I’m with Dave – I’m not kicking Tivo to the curb for Apple TV (yet) – but if the two sides don’t start playing nice, and if an Apple TV records television and offers HD, we may be showing Tivo the door.

How about it, Tivo?

Eddie Hargreaves

Charles, I don’t believe that’s true. iTunes Plus looks at all the tracks purchased by the account you’re logged in as. I checked on a separate computer that contained zero purchased tracks in its library and iTunes still found all 22 of my eligible tracks.


You can upgrade just the selected tunes you want. Just remove the files you don’t want to upgrade from your library (temporarily) before running the upgrade command. Then add them back to your library after the upgrade. iTunes will only see the files in your library at the time you issue the command, if they’re not listed, no upgrade to iTunes+.

Dave M.

But it was limited to MP3 files until a hack was discovered to make LAME transcode AAC files to MP3 on the fly.

This “problem” is hardly a bug! If the TiVo software was hacked to make it play AAC files, then when Apple changes something in their software, the “hack” isn’t going to work.

Either TiVo has to support true AAC files (does it on the Mac? It never did for the Windows version), or it’s users will have to do the transcoding by hand. How hard can it be. I only had 52 tracks that were updated to the new format. That means 52 tracks that would need to be transcoded if I were using a TiVo to play my music on my home entertainment system.

As it is, I’m using my MacBook to act as a way better AppleTV. I really want to get a Mac Mini to do the job so I can use my notebook as a notebook. Until I get a Mini to do the job, I’ll stick with the MacBook.

I gave up on TiVo playing my music way way back when I was still on Windows. I still had the same problem of not being able to play music I purchased from the iTMS. I managed to convert most of my library to MP3 files back with PlayFair was still working, but I have newer files now and PlayFair doesn’t work anymore. I don’t like the idea of burning an audio CD and re-ripping it just to get the DRM out. Now that tracks are starting to be sold DRM free, I’ll convert that way.

As for replacing my TiVo with an AppleTV. Never. I need a way to record TV shows and I want to be able to record HD content. My TiVo does this. So far, AppleTV doesn’t. When it does, I’ll consider the switch. Until then, TiVo is the only way to go for recording television.


TiVo probably just checks if the tracks are “Purchased AAC Audio file.”, because till now these files wherent playable. Now there are DRM-free and DRM-Files that have probably the same tag, but TiVo still “thinks” all of these aren’t playable.

TiVo has to update their track-checking-routine, nothing else.

Ian Betteridge

I suspect this is a weird bug in Tivo’s implementation of AAC support; certainly iTunes Plus songs play fine in Amarok running on Linux.

Roger Wong

Just to reiterate: Transcoding (converting the “purchased AAC” to another AAC or MP3) will result in quality loss. You’re probably right in that it won’t be much, but it may be noticeable. It’s just like making a photocopy of a photocopy or a tape dub of an already dubbed tape.


Screw TiVo (sorry to be crude). I’ve been a subscriber for years, and I’m fed up with their pathetic Mac support. All talk and no walk. I’m dumping them for an AppleTV the second Apple announces HD TV shows in iTunes.

Note: for my music, I’ve been using AudioFaucet to remotely control iTunes, which then streams the music to my Airport Express, connected to my receiver via optical cable. No transcoding for me, thanks.

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