Video Conversion for iPhone Using Quicktime or iTunes

If you own a recent iPhone then you will probably need to convert video from time-to-time. It may be that you have a movie that you purchased or perhaps you recorded a video blog on your camcorder and want to transfer it. If you own the iPhone 4 with its beautiful retina display you might even be somewhat fussy about keeping the video as pristine as possible.

It wasn’t that long ago that video conversion was an arcane skill, an alchemists soup of compression algorithms and secret formulas to ensure video would look its best. Now it’s quite simple using freely available software, but there are a few helpful things to understand.

Convert Video for Your iPhone

Using Quicktime

One of the most straightforward options to output the correct format is to use Apple’s own software, Quicktime. (Note: First you may need to install a free component called 'Perian' that expands the types of files Quicktime can work with).

  • Choose File, then export, and make sure that Export “Movie to iPhone” is selected.
  • Pick a file name that is meaningful and choose a place where you will be able to find the movie once it is converted.
  • Click ‘Save’ and the export will begin.
  • Depending how long the movie is and how fast the processor on your computer is it will take minutes or longer. Be patient.

Once your movie is exported you need to transfer it to your iPhone.

  • Connect your iPhone and open up iTunes.
  • The easiest way to transfer the file is to open the Finder (Mac) or Explorer (Windows) window and drag the movie into iTunes onto your phone icon.
  • Voila! The movie is transferred.

Using iTunes for Video Conversion

Okay, but what if you have a movie that is already in iTunes that you’d like to place on your iPhone? These also need to be converted and it will be easier if you do it right from iTunes itself. Dragging the file won’t work unless it’s already the correct format. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Select the movie you want to convert and scroll down to “Create ipod or iphone version” click and away you go. 
  • Now you will be able to drag the new version onto your iPhone icon and transfer it. That’s it!

There also are other ways of converting video such as the xilisoft video converter or handbrake both of which can be useful for complex jobs, but I will save that for another article.

Helpful Video Compression Terms to Understand

Helpful terms to understand when compressing video:

Compression Ratio

The compression ratio describes the amount of information squashed into a given bit of data space. For example, if you have 1000 bits of data and you compress it down to 500 you end up with a 2:1 compression ratio. When video is highly compressed it appears ‘blocky’ and pixilated but it takes much less space. With video you can compress up to about a 20:1 ratio and you probably won’t notice the difference.


Codec means “compression-decompression”. Think of it as the secret code that allows you to squash video into a small space and recompose it again (almost) as good as the original. There are thousands of codecs, but don’t worry, there is no need to memorize them. Here are a few examples that you may have seen: MPEG-4, DivX, H.264. The best format for the iPhone is H.264. H.264 is the successor to MPEG4 and they are both ways to compress video to make it as tiny as possible. H.264 does an even better job. When you use Quicktime Export or iTunes conversion it is automatically selecting the correct codec for you.


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