PC Building Fun

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I spent more than my fair share of quality time building and rebuilding PCs. Although it was all for a good cause, it was pretty painful. These PCs are supposed to work when you put them together, and yet these new boxes just didn’t run. As each build stretched on into the early morning hours it became clear that this was just a futile effort. In the end, I gave up my own (and a friend’s) working PCs to get the job done but I’m left with a puzzling thought:

Why is it that technology gets faster/better/cheaper and yet it is just as hard to use as it ever was?

Clearly I missed that day in marketing class.

Video Disc Tools for Happy Streaming

I was asked recently to document the things that a person would need to use in order to take an optical disc with video content on it and turn it into something that streams reliably to the PS3. Rather than write a long email on the topic I’ve decided to chronicle the information here so that I can make it available to anyone who asks, now and in the future.

First off, this guide is for Windows users, so folks using OS X or any of the Linux flavors need to find some way to live temporarily in the Microsoft world. Sorry, but the best and most usable tools only exist for Windows, so you have to deal with it.

Next, I’m going to assume (a risky thing to start with) that the user has some level of decent PC hardware to work with. For the purposes of this article and at the time of this writing decent is a system like this:

  • A Core2 Duo or Phenom II x2 with a clock speed of at least 2Ghz
  • At least 2GB of RAM
  • At least 500GB of free hard disk space, preferably on a SATA controller
  • A DVD + Blu-ray combo reader optical drive, preferably on SATA
  • The OS should be at least Windows XP
  • Some kind of useful Internet connectivity (to acquire the software)

With that taken care of, let us look at why the requirements are set at this level. First off, if any kind of format transcoding is required you are going to be spending a lot of time waiting for things to get done with a slower system. Next, virtually none of the original format media will be usable as-is for streaming, so plenty of memory and disk space are needed to pull apart and re-assemble the video into just the right format. Finally, since there are so many formats out there that are not compatible for streaming there will be at least some time spent buffering up and on-the-fly encoding the stuff you want to watch into a usable stream, and that takes a fast disk and RAM.

The work-flow to accomplish physical media disc video to file based streaming usually goes like this:

  1. The video you want to stream exists on a DVD or Blu-ray disc
  2. Place the disc into your PC DVD/Blu-ray drive and…
  3. Use some software to move the parts you want off the disc and onto the hard drive
  4. Check the files that make it onto the hard drive and re-constitute them into files that can be streamed
  5. Save the new file in a stream-worthy format
  6. Point your streaming software at the new file and…
  7. Navigate to the PC on your gaming console, select the filename and stream away
  8. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Unfortunately the process is anything but simple. But here are my steps to getting the job done in as few hops as is possible.

    Unless you are a glutton for punishment, enjoy troubleshooting endless registry settings and numerous software incompatibilities, just go get AnyDVD HD and call it a day.

    So much work can be saved by just following this one step. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve read of people trying this or that only to end up with files that don’t work or messed up audio and video sync. Save yourself a whole lot of pain and just use the one thing that works every single time: AnyDVD.

    Eventually you’ll need to get rid of that extra “stuff” that you don’t want surrounding the video that you do want, so grab tsMuxeR for all the Blu-ray tweaking.

    There is a lot of junk packed onto discs these days and most of it isn’t what you want to watch. TsMuxeR will help you pull out the stuff that matters, dump what doesn’t, then reconstitute a new file that will stream just fine. Major space savings can come from just firing up this tool and pulling out all of the languages and extras that eat up so much of the space.

    How do you find out what is the good stuff to keep and what is the stuff to throw away? BDInfo is there to help out with your Blu-ray needs.

    This handy accessory can help you zero in on just the right parts of the disc that you need in order to keep what you want and dump what you don’t.

    Eventually you will run into something that just won’t stream no matter what you do. When that day arrives turn to RipBot264 and make your own file format.

    VC-1 video and DTS audio do not stream well, and by well I mean not at all. When you encounter these codecs you must convert them into something that will stream, and RipBot264 does that for you. The scary bit of this tool is it’s requirement to install a few other geeky video tools on the PC, but don’t worry. It will use them and you’ll never have to worry about seeing them again.

    This stuff is all fine and dandy, but I just want to take a normal DVD and stream it. For that you need one more tool, VOBMerge.

    If you have a standard DVD and you know exactly what parts of the disc you want to keep, VOBMerge can take those parts and turn them into one large streaming file. It is really as simple as anything gets.

    Great. I have streaming files but I need to get them to my game console. The simplest way to do that and the one that works with the most success for the PS3 is PS3 Media Server.

    The great thing about this software is that it runs on Windows, OS X and Linux (if you have the patience to get all the bits compiled). You simply point it at a directory of streaming capable files, let it index those files, hook your game console up to the network and stream away. On the PS3 your system shows up as a “play button” arrow, so it is easy to find. Simply find and hit play on any file that you see and its streaming video time for you.

    So this is my short list of things people can use to take video and stream it. There isn’t a full set of instructions because, frankly, there is no one right way to do things. Instead, there is an entire Internet full of guides out there with thousands of people who’ve done things one way or another. I encourage you to seek those forums out and have a look at what other folks have tried before embarking on your own disc to stream adventure.