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.