Digital Media in your house
I got the first phase of my pilot program to have my house moved to Digital Media done. I thought the toughest part will be the purchase(choice), installation and wiring of the hardware but it turned out to be the easiest part. I got my SqueezeBox connected through wireless and playing audio (WMA/MP3) from my PC seamlessly, and my XBOX 360 connected through Ethernet to my PC with the media shared using Windows Media Player 11/Zune Player Sharing. Windows Media Player (or equivalent Zune) sharing was much better and easier to set up and use than Windows Media Center especially since I didn’t want Live TV through this setup at this phase.
I wanted the digital media files to be playable with my XBOX 360 and with Zune Player (so that I can watch/hear on the move). The toughest part was finding software that will rip (copy) the media from the Video CDs and DVDs that I owned. This was the main motive behind buying the Xbox 360 so that I can protect the CDs from my son scratching while trying to put them in the DVD player. Audio conversion from Audio CDs was easiest with Windows Media Player doing a great job in converting it to WMA or MP3 – both of the formats played well with XBOX & Zune. The video was the most difficult. First because of the DVD Copy Protection and then finding a reliable software for doing the copying to PC.
DVD Copy protection
I don’t understand this at all. Why should the Media houses treat me (a paying customer) like a criminal when all I want to do is to convert legally bought content to a format that is convenient for me to store and watch? On top of this is a stupid DVD Region code. When I am allowed to legally buy a DVD from any country I visit during my travel, why can’t I watch it on my home DVD Player? Adding to the woe is the situation in India where DVDs are sold in both Region 2 and Region 5 codes with one not playing on the players with the other mark. An instance the Inconvenient Truth DVD Indian Edition from Saregama that I bought recently was Region 2 whereas as per the DVD Region Code chart it should have been Region 5 for India. Because of the stupidness of the technology used, I have to rely on software that will overcome the protection and copy the media to the hard disk.
For this task I found DVD Decrypter (shown above) to be the best. Don’t waste your money by buying any of the software that claims to remove automatically the CSS copy protection. I have tried almost the top 15 software on the Internet and all of them are not worth the trouble and don’t even come close to the reliability, quality and speed of free DVD Decrypter. The only challenge will be to find a reliable site to download the software since it is banned in a few countries, Wikipedia and Google might help you with the search. After using the DVD Decrypter I am ready for the next step. Note: I tried the software that claims to do both the removal of copy protection and ripping to MP4/WMV but they produced output video files that were pathetic quality and unfriendly to use.
After downloading and trying nearly a dozen software from the Internet I finally settled down to Nero Recode. Almost all of them had one limitation or other. Remember I wanted the output to be played both in my Zune and Xbox 360, not an easy combination.
- First was Windows Media Encoder did a reasonable job but was very slow and didn’t work well with DVDs.
- Convert2Zune – this was a free script from my fellow Regional Director Vinod Unny. This uses Windows Media Encoder as the backend and had the same drawbacks as that, except that it automated the steps.
- Next was Video VLC Media Player – this was the only reliable software that does both removals of CSS and encoding to WMV well, but the downside was it was very slow in its conversion.
- PQDVD – I bought this based on a recommendation from my industry colleagues to convert videos to Zune format. Though it initially seemed to work well with DVDs, I soon realized it was unreliable and pathetic for video CDs. 50% of the time it produced videos that had audio out of sync by several minutes!
- Nero Recode – Here comes Nero Recode. The software doesn’t remove copy protection, but once you have crossed that bridge using DVD Decrypter there is no software that comes close to the speed and reliability of Nero Recode. Couple of points I learned that you need to be before you can start using it.
- If you choose the profile as the default Nero Digital Profile the output file doesn’t work with Zune and XBOX. It produces MPEG4 files that use proprietary Nero Digital Codecs that work only with Nero Digital Certified Media players – obviously, Zune and XBOX are out of that. Initially, I gave up Nero Recode because of this but later learned the next point from a forum post.
- You will have to choose the second profile in Nero Recode called “Nero Digital AVC” which produces industry-standard MPEG4 files. The output files thus produced play natively with Zune Player. To make them play in XBOX 360, you need to do two things. The first is to use the Zune Player Sharing option over Windows Media Player Sharing. Second, go to XBOX 360 and play one of the files – it will automatically prompt you to download an optional media update (below screenshot). Once you download and install it, your XBOX 360 can now play seamlessly the MPEG4 files.
Copying movies from DVD to Zune for travel
I own a Microsoft Zune Player that I rarely carry outside, I think I already have enough electronics with me all the time – A laptop, its cables, a cell phone, and USB drives. I use my Zune most of the time while I am at home connected to Lansec speakers. Recently I found a good use for Zune, it is to take it on long trips for watching movies that I don’t get time to watch while at time. The best thing about Zune is that it has a quite big size screen which makes it comfortable for watching movies, a battery that lasts for nearly 2 full movies and I can charge it back by connecting it to my laptop.
I bought the DVD of the movie “World Trade Center” a few months back but never had the time to watch it at home. Before leaving I converted the DVD into Zune format using PCDVD software. The software does a good conversion but freezes once in a while running in Vista.
Problem solved, case closed. Everyone lived happily ever after :-)