Apps Gadgets

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, 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 setup 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 a 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 it 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. 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 DVD Decrypter

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 a legally bought content to a format that is convenient for me to store and watch. On top of this is 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 in 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 was the Inconvenient Truth DVD Indian Edition from Saregama that I bought recently was Region 2 whereas as per DVD Region Code chart it should have been Region 5 for India.  Because of these stupidness of the technology used, I have to rely on software that will overcome the protection and copy the media to the harddisk.

For this task I found DVD Decrypter (shown in right) 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. Only challenge will be to find a reliable site to download the software since it is banned in few countries, Wikipedia and Google might help you on the search.  After using DVD Decrypter I am ready to the next step. Note: I tried softwares that claims to do both the removal of copy protection and ripping to MP4/WMV but they were produced output videos files that were pathetic quality and unfriendly to use.

Encoding Software

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 a easy combination. NERO RECODE 2 - MPEG4 AVC

  • 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 of that, except that it automated the steps.
  • Next was Video VLC Media Player – this was the only reliable software that does both removal of CSS and encoding to WMV well, but the downside it was very slow in its conversion.
  • PQDVD – I bought this based on 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 VideoCDs. 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 default Nero Digital Profile the output file doesn’t work with Zune and XBOX. It produces MPEG4 files that uses proprietary Nero Digial Codecs that works 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. First is to use Zune Player Sharing option over Windows Media Player Sharing. Second, go to XBOX 360 and play one of the files – it will automatically prompt to download an optional media update (below screenshot). Once you download and install it, your XBOX 360 can now play seamlessly the MPEG4 files.

UPDATE Download to play MPEG4 with XBOX360MPEG4 Video playing in Zune Player

Problem solved, case closed. Everyone lived happily ever after :-)