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Increase Your iPad Media Storage for Just $49

Here’s a cool iPad tip suggested by one of our awesome TidBITS readers. In “iPad Camera Connection Kit Works Simply and Well,” 22 April 2010, commenter “Mikey” asks:

"Can you use the SD Card Adapter to watch or import h.264 movies?"

The idea is that if you want to carry more than a few movies or other video content with you, you’d want a lot of storage on your iPad. The base model Wi-Fi-only iPad with 16 GB of storage costs $500. Its 16 GB doesn’t feel too roomy once you start syncing media files to it. But paying $100 more for the 32 GB model, or $200 more for the 64 GB model, may not be in your price range.

What if you could increase that storage for just $49 instead?

Using Apple’s $29 iPad Camera Connection Kit and a $20 8 GB SD memory card (or several), you can take an iPad on vacation without lugging a laptop, and still carry more movies than would fit on the iPad by itself. You could also repurpose older, lower-capacity SD cards you otherwise don’t use any more.

The iPad Camera Connection Kit is designed to import digital photos directly from an SD card or a camera, but because most digital cameras now shoot video as well as still images, incoming video files are supported on the iPad, too.

Not all formats will play, however. I discovered I could import clips from a Flip MinoHD video recorder to the iPad using the USB connector module of the kit, but couldn’t play them on the iPad.

Movies purchased from the iTunes Store, which are wrapped in Apple’s FairPlay digital rights management scheme, won’t play using the following method; those must be synced via iTunes.

To take advantage of this capability, load up the memory card with movies. Let’s say you’ll be gone for a couple of weeks and want to take just the iPad. Before you leave, encode titles from your DVD collection using a tool such as HandBrake, which offers a convenient Apple TV encoding preset. When a file is created, copy it to the DCIM folder on the SD card. I also successfully tested a short 720p HD video, exported from iMovie at the HD setting.

Eject the card from the computer and insert it into the iPad’s SD camera connector, which opens the Photos app in the Camera pane. You can’t watch a movie directly from the memory card, but you can copy it to the iPad’s photo library. Tap to select the movie you want to watch, tap the Import button, and then tap the Import Selected option that appears.

After the movie copies, you’ll find it in the Last Import collection under the Albums pane (as well as the Events pane if you normally sync the iPad’s photos with iPhoto). The movie stays within the Photos app, not in the Videos app. Tap its icon to start playing it.

After you’ve watched a movie, you can delete it from the iPad’s memory by tapping the Trash button at the far right edge of the toolbar. Then load another movie from the SD memory card and watch it at your leisure.

Other higher-capacity card sizes are also available: A 16 GB card runs as little as $36 currently. 32 GB cards are also available, but at $75, the cost savings over upgrading the iPad diminishes.

Unfortunately this trick doesn’t work with USB thumb drives using the USB camera connector, because only powered USB drives formatted as FAT or FAT32 appear as options to the iPad for importing images and videos. (For more on this, see “iPad Camera Connection Kit Works Simply and Well,” 22 April 2010.)

People are looking at the iPad as a laptop replacement, and although this trick doesn’t tackle other issues such as effectively working with business documents or printing, it can be good for travelers with long stretches of time that needs to be filled. Instead of bringing a laptop, with its capacious hard drive, you can bring just the iPad and a pocket full of inexpensive SD memory cards.

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