Windows Media Center, movies and the Xbox drama (part deux)

Now as promised, I would follow up on setting up a Media Center ‘network’. In my previous post, I described the basic hardware setup. I rip movies to a NAS (network harddisk) and want to be able to view them all across the house (xbox 360, bedroom tv, pc and laptop). This time we’ll do some actual ripping and store some movie information.

Now before we’ll continue and look at some ripping formats and how to store movie information, I want to make 2 quick remarks:

First, I upgraded my Vista PC to Windows7 and paired my xbox with the PC instead of the laptop. It’s wired so it’s faster, but it’s a change with regard to my previous post so I just wanted to point it out.

Secondly, I’ve had some issues with the Netgear Stora. Maybe its me, maybe its Windows but I’ve found it to be lagging in response after having more than 350 movies in one folder.Originally the filestructure was \STORA\FamilyLibrary\MyMovies and then a subfolder for each movie. That way when browsing with the Windows Explorer, I’d have all of them neatly alphabetically organised.

But it started to get buggy, first showing me like 250 subfolders and then a few seconds later adding the remaining 100. No idea what caused it exactly but I experienced it for several days on both my pc and laptop before I changed the file structure. After changing the structure to \STORA\FamilyLibrary\Movies1900 and \STORA\FamilyLibrary\Movies2000 and again having trouble I went for splitting them up by decade. Feel free to do them alphabetically but remember you have to add all the folders to your xbox manually :)

Ripping movies.
Now on to ripping movies, we’ve got 3 basic options. Make an image, shrinking the movie and ripping them. Let’s go over them briefly to see the pro’s and con’s before we take a deeper look as to how to do it.

ISO Images are in short a single file, which contains all your DVD data. It’s exact, there is no quality loss. You can shrink a movie and store the information you want and discard (some) of the extra’s you don’t want. And finally you can rip the movie into a single file containing just the movie.

TYPE

FORMAT

 

MCE

XBOX

WMP

EVA9150

STORAGE

QUALITY

VIDEO

CHAPTERS

SUBTITLE

AUDIO

EXTRA’S

IMAGE

.ISO

FILE

100%

ALL

YES

YES

ALL

ALL

NO

NO

NO

NO

SHRINK

.VOB & .IFO

FOLDER

CUSTOM

CUSTOM

YES

YES

CUSTOM

CUSTOM

YES

NO

NO

NO

RIP*

.MPG/.AVI

FILE

CUSTOM

CUSTOM

NO

NO

SINGLE

NO

YES

YES

YES

YES

Above I tried to give a quick overview as to each what each option has to offer. The last column EVA9150 will account for most hardware Mediaplayers that are on the market these days.With regard to ripping and formats both MPG and AVI are the mostly widely used and will play on most ‘Mediaplayers’, different formats like .MOV, .MP4 and .WMV we’ll adress later on.

Making an image (ISO).
There are numerous DVD ripping/copying programs out there, each have there own fanbase and quirks. Since it is not supported by MCE natively, we’ll skip it for now and come back to this in part 3 where we’ll dive into some more ‘custom programs’.

Shrinking a movie (VIDEO_TS)
Basically what shrinking will allow us is to ‘re-author’ a DVD. We can choose to just backup our movie, but perhaps we’d like the extra’s aswell. Or perhaps you want multi audio tracks and subtitles. There’s a freeware program called DVD Shrink. This program will give us options as to exactly what we want to back-up. It tries to preserve the original DVD data, but if you want you can add compression to make the final movie size smaller. Instead of an image or ripping a movie, this options will create a VIDEO_TS folder where it will place all the necessary files for you. Media center natively supports it so this is a great option if you have special feature dvd’s with lots of extra’s you want to preserve.

Dvdshrink
(above a screenshot of DVD Shrink)

Ripping a movie (MPG or AVI)
Our last option is ripping a movie into a single file. The single file approach gives us the most flexibility as to playback. But naturally like all things digital, it also has its drawbacks. But lets look at the process first, we’ll use a program called DVDfab. Just as DVD Shrink, it tries to analyze the movie for us, but unfortunately doesn’t give us all the correct information like we saw with DVD Shrink, so we’ll have to guess which title we need to rip. Usually the longest is the one you want, but I learned the hard way with ‘A beautiful year’ where the longest version was the one with 20mins of look behind the scenes. The same goes for the option ‘Subpicture’. With some DVD’s you might see up to 6 or 7 languages called ‘English’. (Even if you’re English and don’t need subtitles, you want the forced one - the one which will display the english subtitles when they’re talking Chinese for the first 20mins in ‘The Mummy 3’).

Dvdfab1

Close to the ‘Start’ button is the Edit, which will allow us to define the quality of the movie. You can go with the regular options (same audio quality, video reduced) or switch to your own preference. Another feature you have to keep in mind is the subtitles or subpictures as they’re called here. By default, DVDfab will output any subtitles into a seperate file. This ofcourse is convinient if you’re ripping multiple subtitles but not every hardware mediaplayer out there will support .sub playback.

Dvdfab2

Finally the last screen we need to look at is the ‘video effect settings’. This will help us determine our video size both in pixels as in mb. Now this is a good moment to start a debate about 16:9 vs 4:3 and pan & scan and PAL screensize, but we won’t :) Pick a resolution that fits your mb needs, as long as you try and keep the aspect ratio the same. (1.78:1 equals 16:9 which is the widescreen aspect ratio). Now with this DVD we can choose to rip the movie at 720x406 which will be about 1346 Mb or we could choose 1024*576 which will cost us 2391 Mb. As long as we keep the aspect ratio intact most players (hardware and software) will take care of the black bars for us.

Dvdfab3

So you’re good to go, press start and 40mins later you’ll have your first ripped DVD!


File formats (MPG / AVI / MOV or MP4).
Before we wrap up part deux, let’s take a brief look at video file types. The big 4 are .AVI, .MOV, .MPG and .MP4. According to the Microsoft list these 4 are all supported natively by Media Center, but they’re not all supported on Media Center Extenders.

A .MOV file is widely used for H264 encoding (one of the bests) but most hardware mediaplayers don’t support it, so that one’s not really an option. Microsoft Zune software also doesn’t recognize a .MOV movie so it won’t show up in your Zune library.

Next we’ve got .MP4. It’s a nice Microsoft format, plays great on Windows and on the Xbox 360 but again most hardware mediaplayers don’t support it.

Now we’re down to 2 and have to choose between .AVI and .MPG. Both are great and both are supported widely by hardware manufacturers. So why did I go for .AVI in favor of .MPG? It actually had nothing to do with movies or Media Center itself. An .AVI file, just like an MP3 music file allows for tags to be added. Which means if you’re a stuborn perfectionist like me, after you’re done ripping the movie you’ll edit it’s tags so Windows Mediaplayer and Microsoft Zune will correctly identify it as a movie, with a certain title and genre.

As to Windows Media Center tagging and movie information, we’ll keep that for part 3. I’m dying for some coffee so….

J.

 

 

 

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