Note: updated 2013-01-07 per suggestions from h0lleyb.

Scenario: long trip, ADHD viewing practices, filled iPad to capacity, no wifi/cell.  Whether whiny husband or child, here’s how to add movies to your iPad at 40,000 feet.

The trick is to use SD memory cards for offline storage of the movies and transfer them to the iPad when needed.  As a bonus, by using SD cards, you can delete the movies and recycle the cards to record your photos.  No Jailbreaking required.  No special iPad software is required. This technique builds on what others have done with a few new twists.

Two major steps are required, the preparation of the SD cards and the instructions while you are on vacation.  First, how to prepare the SD cards.


You will need specific hardware and software to do this:

  • Apple Camera Connection Kit (CCK) or similar adapter.  The official Apple one can be bought from Amazon or Apple; alternatively, you can get generic versions such as .  If you have the newer iPad with the Lightening connector, use one of these from Apple or find something with more than 1 star rating on Amazon or NewEgg.
  • SD Card, such as or
    — 32gb should be more than enough.
  • Handbrake or tool to convert DVD into an mp4 file.
  • Computer with SSD slot or an SSD adapter.
  • iPad with some free space.

Prepare SD Cards

We must first prepare before the trip.

Movie Conversions

First, use the software of your choice to convert the movies into an mp4 video file; I suggest Handbrake. Basically, launch Handbrake, put the DVD in the drive, choose the source location, set the destination location, choose the conversion optimization (e.g., iPad), and click start. I generally use the movie name as the filename and affix “_ipad” to the name.  You can find the Handbrake manual here.

Movie Titles (optional)

Because the iPad does not show you the filename of the movie, you won’t know which movies are stored on the SD card. So, we have to trick the iPad to telling us the name. Older cameras create movies using two files, the movie file and a still frame jpeg. With this knowledge, we can create a picture of the title of the movie then pair it with the movie – this gives us visual knowledge of the movie

TextPad & screen shot

For the still frame, it is best to simply use the title of movie so it can easily been seen on the iPad.  On the Mac, one manner to create the still frame is to open Textpad, type the name of the movie in big & colorful letters, and take a screen shot (Cmd-Shift-4). Rename the screenshot to the same name as the movie file. If your screen shots are in a different format, like png, open the image in Preview, do File → Export, and save as jpg with same name. Be sure to include a margin in the image as the iPad will crop to some degree in the icon preview mode.  If using Windows, it is probably easier to load up MS Paint and create the jpeg image manually.

Generated from parameters below

Generated from ImageMagick parameters

You can also use ImageMagick to generate the images from the command line. The snippet below produces a decent image at a 4×3 aspect ratio.

I’ve created a special website where you can type movie titles and get the images using the ImageMagick parameters above. Just Save-As the image after generated.

Copy to SD Card

Insert the SD card into the computer.

  1. Create a folder called DCIM at the top level of the SD card if it doesn’t exist.
  2. Copy the movies and the images into the DCIM folder.
  3. Rename the movie and the image to be and PICT0001.jpg.  You will probably get an warning message when changing the m4v file into a mov file – but it is safe to ignore it.  If you have multiple movies, increment the numbers for PICT0002, PICT0003, etc.
  4. Properly eject the SD card.

SD_filesystemAfter you’ve added the movies, your SD card should look something like this.

Be sure to verify that everything works before you leave on your trip by testing the transfer to iPad, described below.

Transfer to iPad

During your trip, you’ll need to copy the files onto the iPad to watch the movies.  You need to make sure there is enough free space on the iPad to hold at least a single movie.

  1. Insert the Apple Camera Connection Kit into your iPad.
  2. Place you SD card into the CCK.
  3. The iPad could take a few seconds, but should auto launch the Photos application and take you to the “Camera” tab. You should see a screen similar to this one.  You may have to manually launch the “Photos” application otherwise. SD card import
  4. Simply select each of the movie(s) you wish to watch onto the iPad by touching them (a check mark appears). Then, click Import followed by Import Selected.
  5. It will take a minute, but the videos will eventually get copied into the iPad.
  6. The iPad will ask if you wish to delete the movies after import; say “Keep”.
  7. When you are done, remove the CCK.

After loading, your photos page iPad photos pagewill now contain the new videos. Unfortunately, once on the iPad, the name of the movie will disappear as can be seen in the screen shot, hence the advice to delete after watching. To watch the movie, load it by clicking on it. Then, click the play button in the upper left of the screen.

When you are done with movies, they can be deleted from the iPad.  If you use iPhoto, it is best to delete the movies before you sync the iPad.  If you wish to watch the same movie again, simply re-import it into the iPad.

Other Ideas

Instead of using an SD card, it is possible to use a USB stick along with an iPad ↔ USB adapter; however, not all USB sticks are created equal.  The higher capacity stick and those with lights draw more power from the iPad and iOS shuts down the sick if it uses too much.  You will have to experiment or use the googles to figure out the best sticks.

Why does changing m4v into mov work?  For Quicktime, mov was the original file extension and still means “generic Quicktime file.”  The m4v is a very specific version of Quicktime movie.  Most cameras generate mov files when capturing video, so we simply take advantage of that fact.

Can you use other files, like those bought from iTunes?  Good question, I’ve never tried.

What about using the JACKET_P image; that would make an awesome title jpg?  If you want to convert it, go for it.  But, since the title is so tiny in thumbnail mode, it probably isn’t worth it. Make your suggest for an enhancement to the authors of Handbrake.