Saturday, March 26, 2011

Convert and stream your DVDs

Playing DVD's in a DVD player is a thing of the past.  Nowadays, it is easy to rip all of your DVDs to your home computer, convert and stream them to any TV, computer, or cell phone.  There are two big advantages to this.  First, you dont need to keep your entire DVD library on the shelf next to your entertainment center.  You dont even really need to keep the DVDs at all once you've transferred them to the computer.  Secondly, you can watch your movies anywhere.  This is great for travel, as well as just watching tv in a room without a DVD player.

Here is the process I use to rip my DVDs to my main home computer (server) and stream them to all connected devices (TV's, laptops, cell phones).  All of the software involved is free.

1.)  DVDfab - Use this program to rip your DVDs to your hard drive.
  • This will remove any copy or regional protection that may be on the disk.
  • Select the highest quality setting available (usually DVD7 or DVD9).
  • This is a commercial program and the full version costs money, but the free shareware/demo version has the one function you need unlocked, and never expires.
2.) Handbrake - Use this program to transcode your ripped DVD folder to a .mkv container format.
  • Select the "High Profile" setting
  • Change to the MKV container.  This is because the MP4 container doesn't do well with AC3 surround on some devices.
  • Under the Video tab, force the FPS to 29.97
  • Save these setting as a new custom profile (for future use)
  • Now you can add the folder you ripped in step 1 (the main folder holding both the AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS subdirectories)
  • Once you start the transcode, your computer will be busy for a while, this is the longest step.
  • This will produce a .MKV file with H.264 video and multi-track AAC/AC3 audio.  This will give you the highest possible quality video with full Dolby 5.1 surround sound (AC3) when supported, and 2-channel stereo (AAC) when not (by the playback devices).
3.) tsMuxer (optional) - Use this program to change the container format of the .mkv file.
  • The MKV format is not natively supported by Windows Media Player. If you use something else, then you might not care.  If you do care, then tsMuxer will change the container to .m2ts, which is supported by Windows Media Player.
  • Add your .MKV file output from Handbrake.  Select the M2TS setting and let it convert.
  • Note that this is simply changing the container, not the underlying audio and video codecs (H.264/AC3/AAC). So there is no loss in quality, no matter how many container changes you go through, and the process only takes a few seconds.
4.) TVersity - Run this program to serve your videos around the house and on the internet.
  • You will have to enable the internet part with a user name and password.  TVersity runs a server on the computer that can be access via the internet from your laptop or cell phone.
  • Tversity has a great online support so I wont bother with many of the particulars.
  • I did find however that I much preferred the "File System" setting under Settings -> Media Library -> Media Library Menus.
  • Now your home computer will stream, transcoding on the fly when necessary, your DVD collection to any device that can access the computer.  TVersity also streams pictures and music, so this is a handy program to use even if you dont convert your DVDs.
5.) Play back your video
  • Watch movies on your TV using a set-top media player, Xbox, PS3, Direct TV Receiver/DVR, DISH Receiver/DVR, or, on newer TVs, the built in video widget.  Many Blue-Ray players will also stream video.
  • Watch movies on another computer in the house by locating your server in the Network Places
  • Watch movies on a computer or cell phone outside the house by opening up the web browser and going to  Make sure you set this up first per the TVersity users guide. Fill in the x's with your router's WAN IP address.
  • For DirectTV folks out there, the latest version of TVersity (1.9.3) at the time of this writing does not work with the HR2x series of Receivers/DVRs.  I dont know why.  Use an older version instead.  1.7.3 and both work fine.

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