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.

It’s All About the Guns in "Wanted"

This weekend on the recommendation of a friend I went to see “Wanted” with another friend.  I was promised that this would be an exciting summer movie and that did turn out to be the case.  This is this director’s first time creating an English language film and it worked well.  His visual style is similar to what you’ve seen if you recall the “Matrix” or BMW “Driver” but with some still unique flair.

In typical movie fashion, the gun-play is completely unrealistic and defies the laws of physics, but that doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable to watch.  It certainly helps that the film contains both Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, great music from Danny Elfman and some great locations.  There are exploding rats, lots of crashes and explosions and some of the oddest and eye popping gun fight scenes to be watched this year.

If you can tolerate blood and guts and some strong language and would like to see a movie that requires you to turn off your rational brain for a few hours this movie fits the bill nicely.  I liked it and it makes for great popcorn fare.

Wanted poster

The Bourne Shakey Cam Express

I just finished going to the theater (what!?!) to see The Bourne Ultimatum with Steve, April, and Steve’s dad, and man does my head hurt afterwards.  Evidently the new “in thing” for movies is to shoot them hand held guerrilla style and make the moviegoer dizzy or sick.  Another great example of this technique shown this summer was Transformers, a Michael Bay epic that was full of robot vs robot fighting (yay!) that would have looked great, if only the camera would have been still for more than 3 seconds.

While this is the 3rd and last in the series of movies, it seems to be the best at keeping action front and center.  I don’t think anyone could accuse the movie of not “moving along” swiftly, but in the rush to answer questions and keep the action going a lot of people exited the theater looking for some aspirin.  I feel bad for the actors in this flick, as they probably did a great job of their craft if only we could have seen it.

Review: Batman Begins

The short story here is: it’s good, go see it.

I took a part of this afternoon to go see Batman Begins and I walked away from it pretty impressed. It could have fallen apart just like the many other iterations of Batman have, but it held it all together through the whole picture. It felt, dare I say it, believable, which you could never have said about the first set of movies.

The soundtrack is great also, with Hans Zimmer doing his best to convey the dark tone of the new picture. So great, in fact, that I went straight over to Amazon.com and ordered the soundtrack. But, I am a soundtrack nut, so that’s what I get.

If you are looking for a good film to watch on a weekend (or weekday, for that matter) you can’t go wrong with this one. Recommended.

Episode 3: It could have been worse

I finally saw Star Wars, Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith. It ended up being about what I thought it would, which is to say poor. More details at the site.

Yes, I knew this 3rd (or 6th) installment of Star Wars would be rough. I’m a fan of the previous SW movies, so I knew what I was in for. The effects were fantastic, and the battles were epic. Its good to finally know how everything fell into place and how the empire began.

But good lord, could the dialog the actors had to read be any worse? Hayden should have changed his name to wooden, Natalie turned up the sap and turned down the drama, and Ewan & Sam just phoned it in. I was thankful for the long silences later in the movie because the rhetoric was just weak.

In the final analysis, I decided that this was a pain that I had to make it through, if for no other reason than to see Yoda put out the smackdown one last time. I’m sad that it cost me $10, though.

Movies: The Aviator

It was a surprisingly good film with Leonardo redeeming himself in this biopic role as Howard Hughes. Recommended.

I saw The Aviator recently and I walked away impressed. I was pretty confident in its accuracy thanks to a recent interview of the director, Martin Scorsese, and I wasn’t disappointed. What I was afraid of was Leonardo DiCaprio and his seemingly impossible task to act like a real person. He surprised me with a good, one would almost say moving, performance as a prolific and later delusional Hughes. Kate Blanchett does a fantastically good job as Katharine Hepburn and Kate Beckinsale does as well as Eva Gardner. They both help move the story along while remaining true to their characters and being easy on the eyes.

It’s an accurate portrail of Hughes’ life and a good movie matinee for rainy days. I call it highly recommended.

Movies: The Village

I recently saw the latest visceral screen fest from M. Night Shyamalan called “The Village”. Like most reviewers, I decided early on who and what the “bad things” were and I had a reasonable idea what was outside the forest. That said, I still enjoyed most of the film and there were several moments where the movie provided a scare great enough to get most of the audience screaming.

The cast was also quite good, with the newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard really stealing the show. What I wonder is this: is Mr. Shyamalan getting lazy or are audiences just expecting more out of films? “The Sixth Sense” was really a break out film, but his follow-on work seems a bit more obvious, more predictable. Maybe I just need more special effects and character development in my films, I dunno.

DVD: School of Rock

Jack Black. Joan Cusack. A bunch of kids. Rock and roll. Battle of the bands. What more is there to say? The movie is School of Rock and you need to see it. That’s all there is to it. Do it, or Jack will come to your house and eat everything in your fridge.

At the Movies

Saw Black Hawk Down this weekend. Powerful stuff. Not one person talked, laughed, or otherwise cut up when leaving the theater. I suppose I could see where critics may have panned the film for character development (or lack thereof), but it is still a good movie.

If you have ever questioned why military types are cocky, self-agrandizing, or otherwise egotistical go see this movie. I have a new respect for them and their job, even if the policy behind their actions make little sense.

Holidays

I can’t say that I did much over the holidays but I guess I had that coming. I have had the opportunity to see a few movies, and most were pretty good: Spy Game, Miss Congeniality, One Night at McCool’s, and Requiem for a Dream.

Finally got my two new games up and running and they are great. You should go play them (if you have days to give up): Empire Earth and Flight Simulator 2002.