Turning DVDs into digital files

Post date: May 30, 2010 10:4:37 PM

I'm a few weeks into the process of converting our DVD collection into digital files to watch via our new Mac Mini to HDTV setup.  It's still a work in progress: dealing with storage, metadata tagging, and remote-control playback are much more complicated than I expected.

Ripping and Encoding

I use Fairmount to make DVDs readable on my Mac. 

At first I was just ripping the DVDs into VIDEO_TS directories on our G5 media server, and I watched them with DVD Player or VLC.  But I quickly filled up a gigabyte with just a fraction of our collection, and the wireless network couldn't always sustain the data rate.  So I started converting all the DVD images to H264 with Handbrake.

Handbrake Settings

I use the "Apple TV" preset, which creates decent-looking files.  I did a visual test comparing some DVD rips with the MP4 encoded files, and they are close enough to me.

I encode the DVD's closed-captioning as soft subtitles.  This is a new feature of Handbrake (it used to only support burned-in subtitles). 

I have Handbrake encode a stereo audio track and also pass through the Dolby AC-5 (even though I don't have any decoding equipment).

File naming

I name the output of movies with the movie title, e.g. "Best in Show.m4v".

For TV shows, I use "series, season #, episode #.m4v", e.g. "Mary Tyler Moore, Season 3, Episode 23.m4v".

Metadata tagging

Handbrake only lets one enter the metdata for chapter names.  I type those in before beginning the encode.

iTunes is a pretty good tagging app.  I've been using it for nearly a decode for audio, and it's just as smooth for video.

For TV shows, I select all the episodes and set series title and season number.  Then I pick the first episode, get info, and enter all the episode numbers, typing command-N to go to the next file. Then I do it again with the episode names in the main Name field.

For movies, I enter the title in the Name field.

I haven't decided on my best practice for the movie/episode thumbnails.  I put some DVD cover images in, but they tend to look garish.

I'm not doing anything with Artist or other metadata yet. 

The one flaw of iTunes is that it doesn't set the TV Show vs. Movie metadata tag on the MP4 file.  For that task I use MetaX.  But be careful with MetaX — it corrupted the audio on all my files the first time I used it.  Make sure to enable 64-bit large files in its settings before you let it touch any files.


This part I haven't solved yet.

iTunes is fine for watching a video while sitting at a computer, but I can't read the screen sitting several feet from the TV.  Also, it interprets the arrow keys to switch tracks (like a music player) rather than chapters within a video.  And it doesn't know to display video on a second screen (which is how the TV in the bedroom hooks up to my MacBook).

VLC is likewise good when sitting at the computer, and it has the benefit of working automatically with an external monitor.  But it too is hard to read from 6 feet away, and it also has the arrow key problem.

Front Row was designed for the TV playback use case.  But it has a major bug: it won't play any videos with soft subtitles... which is how I encode with Handbrake. 

I don't like XMBC or its derivatives Plex and Boxee.  The interface is too busy (I don't care about news feeds!), and they  scrape IMDB and other sources for metadata with mixed success.  I just want to watch my videos without a lot of extraneous info.