Open any format on your PC, phone & tablet
& ON ANY DEVICE FILE CONVERSION SPECIA SPECIAL L ISSUE
Having the wrong file type shouldn’t stop you opening photos, videos and documents. Edward Munn reveals the best tools for converting files so you can work in any format on any device
PCs, smartphones and tablets are equipped to open and edit all manner of files, from AAC to ZIP. From time to time, however, you may find that you can’t open a file that you’ve transferred from one device to another or received from someone else.
If a friend sends you a RAW image file, for example, you may struggle to open it if you don’t have specialist software. Similarly, if you transfer a video that uses Apple’s M4V format to your Android phone, you probably won’t be able to play it. In this feature, we show you how to convert problematic files quickly on any device so you can continue to use them wherever you are.
We also show you how to perform conversions that you might not have known were possible, such as transforming printed photos and documents into digital files that you can edit, and extracting the audio from videos so you can listen to songs using your favourite music player.
If that’s not enough conversion for you, turn to our Web User Masterclass on page 64, where we look at the best tools for converting and editing PDF documents.
Convert any image file to any format
It’s frustrating when you receive a file from someone in an unusual format that you can’t open on your PC. The quickest way around this is to convert the troublesome file to a different format using a web tool such as Batchphoto Espresso ( batchphoto.com/espresso). This excellent free app lets you convert JPEG, TIF, PNG, BMP, GIF, JP2, PICT and PCX files to most popular formats and it includes tools that help you crop or rotate the image and apply a range of effects and other useful adjustments.
If you’d rather convert your files offline, or you have a file in a format that Batchphoto Espresso doesn’t support, try the brilliant Xnconvert ( bit.ly/ xnconvert430). It recognises more than 500 image formats, including RAW files from DSLR cameras, and can convert them to a choice of 70 file types. It’s available as a portable program, so you don’t have to install it on your PC, and offers more than 80 operations during the conversion process, including transformations, adjustments and effects. See our Mini Workshop below to find out how to use Xnconvert.
If you have an image that you can’t open on your Android phone or tablet, try Image Converter ( bit.ly/image430). It’s supported by ads but it can convert between a wide range of formats and even lets you resize, crop and rotate your files in bulk.
Scan and enhance old prints with your phone
Google’s Photoscan app for Android ( bit.ly/photoscana430) and IOS ( bit.ly/ photoscani430) makes it quicker and easier than ever to give your old prints a new lease of life by converting them into editable, digital versions. Install the app, open it and then simply point your phone’s camera at a photo and tap the shutter button. The app instructs you to move your device between four dots on the screen (without tilting it) so it can capture multiple shots to remove any glare. You can’t scan multiple images in a single shot with Photoscan as you can in Photomyne ( photomyne.com), but it produces impressively high-quality digital copies of your snaps.
To speed up the process, the app crops your scans automatically (although you can adjust this manually), corrects perspective and enhances the colours and contrast levels. You can turn the glare-removal tool off if you’re less worried about quality. We achieved the best results by rotating our phone to match the orientation of the photo we were scanning, and using natural light instead of the flash. Once you’ve finished scanning, tap Save All, which saves the scans to your device and also uploads copies to Google Photos, where you can use the built-in editing tools to tweak them further.
Microsoft’s Officelens (see page 42) is primarily a document scanner, but it also has a basic photo mode, which is handy if you prefer to keep your scans in Onedrive rather than Google Photos.
Downsize photos quickly for faster uploads
Uploading lots of high-resolution photos to the web can be tedious if you have a slow internet connection. Bulk Resize ( bulkresizephotos.com) makes the job much less painful by letting you reduce the size of multiple images at once, and you don’t even have to install any software. “But hang on,” you might be thinking, “won’t I have to upload all my
images to the website to resize them?”. Unbelievably, you won’t. The web app performs all the conversions on your PC, making the process as fast as possible. Specify the level of reduction by entering a percentage, the length of the longest side or an exact size into the simple interface. Click the Pro options if you also want to choose the quality of the image or convert your files to PNG or Webp format. If you’re uploading the pictures to your own website and you want to protect them with a watermark, Bulk Resize lets you do this too.
Compress images without losing quality
You may want to compress some photos to send in an email, for example, without compromising their size or quality. Several online tools can do this, including the excellent TINYJPG ( tinyjpg .com), which, despite its name, can handle PNG files as well as JPEGS. Drop up to 20 images onto the site (observing the size limit of 5MB per file), and it intelligently reduces the file size and shows you how much space you’ve saved. Alternatively, try Optimizilla ( optimizilla.com), a similar site that also handles up to 20 files in both formats. Note that you have to upload your images to use these sites, so you won’t save any more time than if you’d uploaded them directly to Facebook or Google Photos, but you will maintain the picture quality.
Download and convert videos from the web
HD Video Converter Factory ( bit.ly/ hdvid426) is a handy free tool that lets you download videos from Youtube and other video-hosting websites such as Vimeo. Once downloaded, you can trim, crop, merge and convert your video files from one format to another. The free download is actually a cutdown version of a paid-for product, which means there are a few restrictions to be aware of, including a maximum resolution of 720p for your conversions. However, the software is very easy to use: simply click Download Video, copy the URL of the video you want to save and paste it into the appropriate box, then click Analyze. When it has finished, you can choose a resolution and file format from the drop-down menu and click Download. You then can convert the video using the options on the screen .
It probably goes without saying that you should only download copyrightfree videos or those that you have permission to download (although if you keep them for personal use only, it’s unlikely that anyone will find out).
Rip unprotected DVDS to your hard drive
With its friendly interface and integrated downloader, Freemake Video Converter ( bit.ly/freem430) is another useful tool for downloading and converting videos from the web but it’s also great for converting videos to and from DVD. It might attempt to install additional software during installation, but you can avoid this by opting to perform a custom installation and unticking any PUPS or adware that appear on the setup screen.
To rip a DVD, click ‘+DVD’, choose the DVD folder (VIDEO_TS) or the drive that contains the DVD disc. The tool then lets you choose which ‘ titles’ you want to save. Click OK and pick
the audio track and subtitles you want to use from the drop-down menus. Next, select an export option from the bottom of the screen. For most options, a pop-up will appear that lets you choose the resolution for your exported video. ‘ Same as source’ is selected by default but you can change this to HD 1080p, HD 720p, TV Quality and Mobile Quality. Alternatively, click ‘Add your preset’ to enter your own custom settings. Finally choose where you want to save the video files, then click Convert to start the process. It’s worth pointing out that Freemake adds a splash screen to the beginning and end of your converted video unless you pay to remove the branding.
Tencoder Video Converter ( bit.ly/ tencoder430) is another great free tool for ripping videos from DVD, and it’s completely free of adware, although its interface isn’t as simple as Freemake Video Converter’s.
Convert Apple videos to play on Android devices
If someone sends you a file from an iphone, ipad or Mac that you can’t play on your Android phone or tablet, one of the easiest solutions is simply to install a player that recognises a wider range of formats, such as Mxplayer ( bit.ly/ mxplayer430) or HD Video Player ( bit.ly/hdvideo430). If it’s just one file, however, and you’d rather keep your default video player, you can convert the video using Audio/ Video Converter for Android ( bit.ly/converta430). This excellent app supports an impressive range of input files, including M4V, MOV, ASF, AVI, DIVX, FLV, M2V, MKV, MPG, OGG, OGV, RM, RMVB, WEBM, WMV, DV4, GIF and can convert them to a range of formats that Android’s video player can handle.
To convert a video, choose it from the app’s list of files on your device and tap the pink conversion button. Next, select the conversion profile you want
to use. The default option for Apple files should be to ‘Convert video to play on Android’, but you can use the Manual option if you want to set the video resolution, audio quality and so on. Some presets are only available in the Pro version of the app, which costs £ 1.99. Tap the three-dot button, choose ‘Convert and save to’ and select a folder in which to save the output file.
To convert videos from Apple’s file formats on your PC, try using Freemake Video Converter, which we mentioned in the previous tip. Alternatively, if you don’t want to download any software, you can use the brilliant Cloud Convert ( cloudconvert.com) – see the box at the top of page 42.
Extract the audio from video files
If you have a video of a concert or live performance and you want to listen to the soundtrack on your smartphone, you could just leave the video playing to itself in your pocket, but a better option is to convert the soundtrack to an audio file. To do this with Audio/ Video Converter for Android (see the previous tip), select the ‘Audio Only’ option during conversion. Another option is to use the Video to MP3 converter ( bit.ly/vidm430), which has a dedicated ‘ Video to audio’ function as well as options to trim video and audio files. See our Mini Workshop, right, to find out how to use this tool.
You can also extract the audio from videos on the web and save them as MP3 files using the free program 4K Youtube to MP3 ( bit.ly/youtube430). Because Google doesn’t want people to download protected music from Youtube, you won’t find any apps in the Play Store that let you copy content from the video site on your Android device, but Online Video Converter ( bit.ly/online430) should work. Unlike some sites, it lets you select the audio quality manually, and you can convert videos to AAC, WMA, M4A or FLAC as well as MP3 format. If you really want to use an app rather than a website, you’ll have to enable the option to install apps from Unknown Sources in Android’s settings and then install Tube Mate ( tubemate.net). Make sure you install it from a known source, though, because there are many fake versions of the app online that contain malware.
Convert printed documents to editable text
There’s nothing more annoying than losing an important document on your PC. When this happens, it’s a relief to find an old printed copy, but typing the whole thing out again is a real chore. Thanks to Microsoft’s excellent Officelens app for Android ( bit.ly/officea430) and IOS ( bit.ly/ officei430), it’s never been easier to convert your printed documents into editable digital copies. Simply select the app’s Document mode and use its automatic framing to capture the appropriate section.
Like Google’s Photoscan, the app then crops the scan automatically and fixes its wonky perspective. However, the magic really happens when you tap the button to save it and tick the option to convert it to a Word file. Your scan is then saved to Onedrive, and when you open it, you’ll notice that it contains both the original photographs and an optical character recognition (OCR) conversion of the text it contains.
The scans aren’t always perfect, but tidying up a document that has a few errors in it is much quicker than typing it out again from scratch. You can correct those bits that the app doesn’t get quite right by reading them directly from your original scans. The app is also an excellent place to keep digital copies of receipts and business cards, and there’s even a mode for capturing whiteboards in meetings and classrooms.
Text Scanner ( bit.ly/text430) is another lightweight Android app that converts your scans to editable text. It’s impressively accurate and you don’t need a Microsoft Onedrive account to use it. You can also use Google Drive on your PC to convert an image to editable text. Simply right-click the file in Google Drive, then select ‘Open with’ and Google Docs.
Open and edit Office files in Google apps
Office files are easy to convert into Google Docs, Sheets or Slides, and you don’t need to install any extra software. First, upload the file to Google Drive, then right-click it and choose ‘Open with’ followed by Google Docs (or Sheets or Slides). You can then edit the file in Google Docs. When you’ve finished working on it, choose File, ‘ Download as’ and select DOCX from the menu to convert it back to a Word document.
This method should suffice if you edit Office files only occasionally, but if you want to be able to open and edit DOCX files with a single click (and without having to convert them to Google Docs first), you should install the Office Editing for Docs, Sheets and Slides extension for Chrome ( bit.ly/ office430). Once you’ve added the extension, open an Office file and click File. You should see “Office Compatibility Mode” in this menu.
Office Compatibility Mode is included with the Android and IOS apps for Docs, Sheets and Slides by default, which means you can edit Office files simply by opening them in the appropriate app.
Rip scratched CDS with perfect results
Exact Audio Copy ( www .exactaudiocopy.de) is an excellent free tool that not only lets you rip your CDS as lossless FLAC or WAV files, but also reads every sector of the CD at least twice to verify that the data it has copied is correct. If you have lots of scratches on your old CDS, this program will re-read the sections that contain errors up to 82 times, so you can be confident it’ll do a better job than any other ripping tool. If after all that, Exact Audio Copy still isn’t sure that the audio stream is correct, it’ll tell you where the read errors are, so you won’t need to listen to every track yourself to identify troublesome sections. It’s not the fastest ripping tool available, but it should help you copy your CDS with the greatest accuracy, and it has a built-in sound wave editor that you can use to remove any pops, clicks and other glitches that get past its checks.
Convert FLAC files to listen to on any device
The disadvantage of ripping CDS to a lossless format is that you may not be able to play them on every device you own. Even if your smartphone can play lossless files, their huge file sizes can make them an impractical choice. You can store many more MP3S of the same songs than lossless FLAC files, for example, and the difference is barely discernible unless you’re listening in a quiet environment with expensive headphones. Freerip Basic ( www .freerip.com) is an intuitive CD ripper that also supports audio file conversions including FLAC to MP3.
If you already have FLAC files on your smartphone and you want to convert them to something smaller, Audio/ Video Converter for Android (which we also mention in our earlier tip about converting Apple video files – bit.ly/converta430) is the perfect tool for the job.
Timbre ( bit.ly/timbre430) is another excellent app that lets you convert both audio and video files, and you can use it to cut and join your files too.
Convert text to speech
As well as converting between most types of video and audio file, Timbre (see above) includes a feature that lets you convert text into spoken words. This impressive tool is handy if you want to add a commentary to a video or spoken instructions to a website without having to record your own voice. The app uses your phone’s built-in text-tospeech engine, so you simply type or paste any text you want to use and Timbre will convert it to speech that you can export as an audio file.
Photoscan automatically removes glare and corrects wonky perspective when scanning old prints
Batchphoto Espresso lets you convert and edit most popular image formats
Freemake Video Converter lets you choose the output quality for videos you rip from DVD
TINYJPG reduces file sizes without significantly compromising quality
Making your photos smaller before you upload them reduces the time it takes
Downloading videos from Youtube is easy with HD Video Converter Factory
Paste any Youtube URL into Online Video Converter to download its audio track
Convert Apple videos to a universal format using Audio/ Video Converter
Scan documents with Officelens to turn them back into editable DOCX files
Use Timbre to convert text into speech and export it as an audio file
Exact Audio Copy lets you remove pops, clicks and other imperfections from your audio tracks
You can convert FLAC files to MP3, WAV or WMA with Freerip