March 8, 2007

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Use any file
Conversion software makes it easy
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Let’s talk conversion software — that is, tools that let you change a file from one format to another so a different program can be used to access it.

First off, let’s talk about converting plain text to MP3, for essentially creating your own audiobooks, like the ones we talked about in last week’s column. I had a couple examples of programs that could do this last week, but I later found a much better one. It’s called DSpeech, it’s free for Windows users and has no time or character limits as far as I can tell. It’s available for download at dimio.altervista.org/eng.

DSpeech does take a while to convert (it might have to record the speech in real time), but eventually, a listenable copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War was on my desktop. No reading required! I got the best results with text or HTML files with no extraneous line breaks. I also had the voice speak as fast as it could to speed conversion; I then slowed the recording down with the Change Tempo function in Audacity, a free, open source audio editor available at audacity.sourceforge.net.

Most conversion programs don’t do such a radical conversion. They might convert a specific format of text or word processing file into another format of the same type, like from Microsoft Word to Corel WordPerfect. Many editing programs already accept multiple input formats, but if the format of your file isn’t supported, a conversion utility will really help.

Let’s take video. iMovie for the Mac does not support Windows Media Video. Windows Movie Maker, conversely, does not support Apple’s QuickTime format. Unfortunately, there are very few free programs that support every video format, and by “very few” I mean “zero that I could find.” Video codecs must be licensed, so no one can afford to integrate all formats into one program to give away. There are numerous limited versions out there, though, so you can at least try things out. You might get only 30 seconds of conversion or a watermark, but hey, maybe that’s enough for your purposes. Check out AVS Video Converter (www.avsmedia.com) and DivX (www.DivX.com) to get started.

Audio is easier. Most portable audio players come with an application to play music and convert to the player’s preferred format. If all else fails, Apple’s iTunes rips your CDs to MP3 or AAC. For individual conversions, try the previously mentioned Audacity, which can open WAV, AIFF, AU, MP3 and OGG files and save as WAV, MP3 and OGG.

For images, there are a couple widely-used standards. IrfanView (www.irfanview.com) is focused on, you guessed it, viewing a whole bunch of obscure image formats. Someone sent you a Photoshop or CorelDraw image? No problem — look at it, convert it to a standard format like JPG and you’re free of worries. FastStone Photo Resizer (www.faststone.org) doesn’t support as many formats, but most common ones are there. You can download a portable version, meaning it’s only one file that doesn’t need to be installed, so you can keep it, say, on your camera’s memory card so you can reduce the size of all your pictures wherever you are and e-mail them to family and friends.

If your Internet connection is solid, take a peek at www.media-convert.com. That site has a lot of conversion options, but you have to upload your file and download again. It’s simple, but for things like video, it can take a long time. Less than the time you might waste searching for an actual program to change that movie you took of your friend’s kitten into a usable format, though.



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03/09/2006 Take in the Vista
03/02/2006 Cheap moviemaking
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02/09/2006 War of the machines
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01/26/2006 Free software made simple
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