Video On Demand

Graphic of Old Media I’ve been batting around the concept of being able to have a video and music library available most anywhere in my apartment but didn’t make much progress. It was always easier to pull out the DVD, copy the file, or just go to where the video was easiest to watch. I was recently laid up for a couple of days and couldn’t get around very well, so ended up streaming from iTunes or watching whatever was handy. That was enough to motivate me to start building a video library that was easily accessible form anywhere I might want to watch.

The first steps will be figuring out what I want and the capabilities of whatever is already available to be.

What I Want

I don’t want much, just…

  • No more physical DVDs on shelves. I want to rip all my DVDs and pack away the physical disks.
  • Watch any video on any video capable device in my apartment, from a library that’s instantly accessible.

What I Currently Have Available

For hardware I already have:

Standard Def TV – As it is now, I actually watch this very little. But now that prices have dropped I’ll probably be upgrading to high-def in the near future. Due to my living room setup it’ll probably be 42″ or smaller.

Tivo Series 2 – I’ve had the most basic cable TV plan possible since early 2007 so the recorded content is just network TV (with commercials).

Intel Mac Mini w/Apple Cinema Display (20″) – This is in the bedroom and used to watch DVDs and stream from my iMac’s iTunes library. The big issue here is that it’s network connection is 802.11g wireless. iTunes podcasts and TV shows currently streams fine but it’s no surprise that full DVD rips are unwatchable when streamed. While the wireless connection has been solid for awhile now this hasn’t always been the case.

Intel iMac – This is my main computer and I spend a lot of time at it. I frequently watch a video or DVD in a window while doing other work. While it’s got a 24″ screen it’s irrelevant since I never watch videos full screen on it.

Apple TV – Connected to the TV and with a 40GB hard drive. It also streams fine over the 802.11n wireless network.

Windows Home Server – provides disk space that’s available to everything except the Apple TV. The Apple TV could run content residing on the WHS if I also include the content in iTunes.

I also have an older PPC Mac Mini that’s not in use. Word is that if I install Leopard then Front Row will be now be available on it. If so, it’s a possible replacement for the Apple TV since it could also handle DVDs external/network drives.

For software I have:

For operating systems I have OS X 10.5.x Leopard on the iMac and Mac Mini along with the software that comes with it such as iTunes. Windows XP, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate are running in virtual machines on the Macs so their resources are also available. All else being equal, I’d want to keep things all Mac compatible. But Windows is an option and I want to avoid any Apple lock-in.

Mac The Ripper 2.6.6 – This is actually quit old and may not work on newer DVDs but I’ve been available to use it on many DVDs without a problem but there have been a few that have problems.The program also has a tendency to crash. It’s free (but not open source). Version 3 is available but not free (required donation). Information about version 3 is in the forums (which requires a free registration). MTR will make a copy of (rip) the files on the DVD while removing copy protection and region codes. These files can still be played in any DVD player or burned back to disk.

Handbrake 0.9.2 (Mac version) – This is an open source (GPL) DVD to MPEG-4 converter. It has limited ability to pull video from protected DVDs put this isn’t a recommended use. They recommend unprotected DVD files be used as the source. There are also versions for Windows & Linux.

Fairmount – An open source (GPL) tool for OS X that decrypts DVD content on the fly. Programs can either access the files directly or the files can be copied to the hard drive. (This is bundled with DVDRemaster which is not an open source app. I haven’t used or installed DVDRemaster. Fairmount requires the VLC Media Player. It’s also a new addition to my toolset so I don’t have much experience with it.

VLC Media Player – This is an open source (GPL) that can play a large number of video formats. There’s a version for all major and many minor OS’s.

Remote Buddy – This is a program that enhances the Apple Remote (among other remotes). I started using it with the first version of Front Row although it seems less necessary for the latest version of Front Row if the only requirement is watching videos. It also provides features such as a virtual mouse and keyboard using just the Apple Remote. I use this on the Mac Mini. This one currently costs about 20 Euros.

Visual Hub – The Mac program converts form almost any video format to any other video format. There are presets for various output destinations such as iPod and Apple TV along with easy to understand configuration options that hide the details like frame rates and bit rates although these are available through the advanced options. This one currently costs about $25.

While I don’t currently own the software I may have to look into something like DVD2One (for Mac) or AnyDVD+CloneDVD (for Windows) that provides more flexibility in what’s extracted from the DVD. Free trials for both are available. But first I need to figure out what is lacking, if anything, in my current software.

OS X 10.5.3 Released

Apple has released OS X 10.5.3 through Software Update and as a Combo Update. Details about the update are included in this knowledge base article while the security fixes are listed in the security bulletin. I’ve updated my three Macs (MacBook, iMac and Mac Mini) without serious incident So far just a few minor anomalies. All use Intel processors.

The update naturally requires a reboot. This was a double-reboot which is common enough now that my heart no longer stops. Each reboot took much longer than normal and the desktop took much longer to completely appear after the first logon. Subsequent reboots were back to normal.

On two of my Macs there was also a RAW Camera update for Aperture. I decided to apply this update first (no reboot required). After applying this update Software Update refreshed and the OS X 10.5.3 update jumped from a 198MB download to a 420MB download. So if you’re concerned about the download size be sure to apply 10.5.3 first or both at the same time.

After applying the update on my iMac the button configuration for my Mighty Mouse was reset to the defaults so I had to go into preferences and reset them. I’ve had to do this after other updates.

Another problem that’s occurred with previous updates is that the first .Mac sync after the update causes several iCal conflicts. The appointments are fine and the problem hasn’t returned or occurred with my other Mac. The appointments affected are recurring appointments that go back several years.

That’s the extent of my problems so far, but the update is fresh and I haven’t done a lot or run a lot of apps yet. So far I’ve just run iTunes and Parallels, but no problems so far. Only time will tell.

Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) Desktop on Parallels

UbuntuLogo_120 After upgrading my Ubuntu 7.01 Server to Ubuntu 8.04 Server without incident I decided to upgrade my Ubuntu 7.10 Desktop install that I have set up in a Parallels virtual machine. I’d originally installed Ubuntu 7.04 then upgraded to Ubuntu 7.10. So now it would be an upgrade to Ubuntu 8.04.

The upgrade went as described in the Ubuntu instructions. The upgrade told me it would remove 65 packages, install 182 new ones and upgrade 867 packages. All this would total a 643MB download which would take an estimated 49 minutes. It took more than 49 minutes but I was using the default mirrors and they were being hit pretty hard at the time so the download took about twice as long as estimated.

I never got into using Ubuntu on my Mac so I can’t really say what changed, but the upgrade went off without a hitch. At least until it came time to install Parallels Tools. The tools failed to install with an error that the xorg installation couldn’t be found. Based on this thread on the Ubuntu forum there doesn’t seem to be a work around at this time.

I still haven’t seen anything in Ubuntu (or any other Linux desktop) that would have me using it over my Mac on any regular basis. It’s nice to have to satisfy my curiosity and since I don’t use it regularly the lack of Parallels Tools support doesn’t affect me.

MacMozy 1.0 Released


Mozy’s Mac client has left beta and is now an official 1.0 release. I’ve used the paid Mozy service since September and have been relatively happy with it. There were a few rough spots, like the last beta release (version 0.9.4) which failed to successfully complete a backup, forcing me to roll back to the previous release. But I’ve installed MacMozy 1.0 and it’s been running fine and completing backups.

I currently backup over 120,000 files totaling over 3GB. My only real complaint is that selecting files for restore is a bit slow although the 120K files probably has something to do with this. It’s not unbearably slow, but if your the impatient type or need that file in a hurry it’ll be like boiling that watched pot.

Another minor issue is that occasionally MacMozy will tell me it needs to back up several GB, even though I’ve had few changes. It processes all these files for backup but when It comes time to send them to the server it sees there already on the server so doesn’t send them again.

Like any online backup a lot of the performance depends upon your ISP. I don’t even attempt to backup my 150GB music and video library. With my upload bandwidth there’s not enough time in the week. So it’s not an all-encompassing solution but it does provide the offsite piece of my backup strategy.

I’ve been relatively quiet about Mozy lately but that’s because it’s been working (right up until the final beta which I already mentioned). Hit the tag links down the bottom or hit the search box for my previous articles about Mozy.

Mozy is currently running several promotions. No matter which plan you think is best for you, you should start with the free version and move up to a paid plan when you know it works for you.

The free plan offers 2GB of storage (no time limit) for personal, non-commercial use. Enter referral code E62DWM during registration to receive an extra 256MB of storage. I use a free account to backup my MacBook.