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2016 HTPC for Catfisch Cinema (1 Viewer)

DaveF

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I’m wondering if in my case, it just might be worth doing that.

I’m cool with the idea of ripping and converting stuff, but I’m less enthused about buying a computer to use as a media server. So maybe the long term project might be to make MKVs, which has the advantage of files that are playable on my system, that retain the extra commentary tracks and such, but don’t recompress the file into something even more lossy than DVD.

I almost feel like I want to see how the next few years of media charges go before deciding how to deal with this. If we’re in a majority streaming world in five years, then maybe building a legacy HTPC for all discs I own makes sense. In other words, maybe I should drop my half measure idea now until the future is more clear.
Transcoding a DVD at high settings will be indistinguishable from the original, and will take half the space. For example, when I download shows from my TiVo, they're MPEG 2 files, similar to a DVD. I transcode to H264 into an MKV container. This format plays natively on my AppleTV. And at good settings, I lose nothing visible while getting a video file same size or smaller.

But, to rip ISO, I think you have to buy AnyDVD. For this to be free, MakeMKV is the way to go. Which has you either making a folder backup or extracting to MKV.

For your immediate problem of freeing up space in your apartment without losing favorite movies, you can try ripping a DVD or two with MakeMKV and see how it goes. If it's an OK solution for you, then rip your favorite couple dozen DVDs, and put them in storage. That solves the next six months concern, without spending much money or trying to boil the ocean to solve all video needs for the next five years. :)
 

Josh Steinberg

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For your immediate problem of freeing up space in your apartment without losing favorite movies

I’m starting to think I may wait a while. I’ve been able to mostly accomplish this goal of freeing up space by condensing multiple titles into multi-disc cases.

And looking over the material that I would want to digitize, it’s a lot of TV on DVD and other such things where lots of items per discs would probably make doing individual rips more time consuming than I’d like - the ISO rip with something that can play them back is more elegant.

And I also know that at this specific moment in time, buying a PC to use as a media server is not gonna fly in my house. It’s probably the more logical solution but one that I’ll have to wait a few years for.

So I think short term plan is to continue condensing multiple similar titles into smaller cases to maximize the space I have with the minimum amount of effort. And to put physical discs in storage if they came with digital copies that include everything I’d want from the disc. I have a feeling that a lot of my Blu-rays do have digital copies that are good enough.

And the long term plan might be to build a media server taking a page from your “best practices” book.

I think what I’m realizing after flirting with the idea is that no matter how I approach it, it’ll be a project, and I’ve got enough projects going on at the moment.
 

DaveF

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That's reasonable. Ripping TV discs and converting to MKV can be tedious -- I've done a lot -- due to the need to identify episode numbers and titles.

If you have a computer (mac or pc) with a dvd drive, you can download MakeMKV and try ripping for free. If you have a spare USB drive, you can try out your Oppo and PS4 as media players. And you can buy a 256GB thumb drive (that's 20-40 discs worth) for $40.

This is not to convince you. But to say that if you're curious, you can try it out for no money, and even have a modest solution for minimal cost. You don't have to go all in on a media PC.

Long run, streaming services looks like the solution.
 

Josh Steinberg

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Quick update: I’ve been thinking about this again and I even found some old Handbrake DVD rips I did ages ago that I could use to test out the Oppo as a media player.

The good is that it worked. The bad is that the interface wasn’t ideal for wanting to use it to browse an entire library.

Mentioned the whole thing to my wife and asking her if she thought the time and money to set up an HTPC was worth the space savings and the answer was...maybe. Depending on how much money, how much time, and how lasting the solution is.

I’m thinking that long term, my solution might be to have a HTPC that I’ve ripped all our DVD and BD content to. Stick to streaming for most 4K content. Buy only an extremely select collection of UHD discs, so small that it’s not worth worrying about UHD when designing HTPC. Keep one shelf unit for discs with sentimental value and things that didn’t rip easily, and those few UHD discs.

While there’s always going to be more cool stuff in any format than I’d ever have time or space for, I feel like my physical media collecting days are nearing an end. I’m that way with books. Everything I read is on the Kindle unless there’s an issue with the digital version where the print is better, and I get hard covers for each new Stephen King book. I think that’ll be how I am with discs in the not distant future. Which means I maybe don’t need a HTPC that can anticipate any future formats but can just condense about 1250 existing discs into a smaller black box and serve as a legacy library.

Sorry to hijack, Dave - your thread is always great reading for my less knowledgeable self. You make it seem doable!
 

Josh Steinberg

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Transcoding a DVD at high settings will be indistinguishable from the original, and will take half the space. For example, when I download shows from my TiVo, they're MPEG 2 files, similar to a DVD. I transcode to H264 into an MKV container. This format plays natively on my AppleTV. And at good settings, I lose nothing visible while getting a video file same size or smaller.

I’m trying the free version of MakeMKV now and it’s ripping a DVD as MPEG2 (as expected). What do you use for the H264 transcode?
 

DaveF

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Commentary Tracks On-The-Go

I am forced to concede I don't have time to watch commentary tracks like I used to. I barely find time to watch a movie, much less rewatch it twice more for its commentaries. So I'm trying an idea I've heard others talk about: extracting the commentary tracks and listen to them on the go. I'm already a regular podcast and audiobook listener so this should be in my wheelhouse.

I beat my head against this last night and this morning. What I expected to be a trivial task was more nuanced and complicated that I expected. But here's the workflow I came up with

Extracting and Converting Commentary Tracks for iPhone Listening
  1. MKVToolNix to extract the individual commentaries to MKA files
  2. ffmpeg -i "Back to the Future (1985) Commentary 2.mka" -acodec libvo_aacenc "Back to the Future (1985) Commentary 2.m4a"
  3. Import to iTunes
  4. Set song id info
    1. Song: Commentary Name
    2. Artist: Commentary Tracks
    3. Album: Commentary Tracks
    4. Genre: Commentary
    5. Track: Track # relative to other tracks
  5. Set song options
    1. Volume Adjust: +40%
    2. Equalizer: Spoken Word
  6. Sync iPhone
I've now got the two BTTF commentaries on my iPhone. If I find it enjoyable, then I'll extract the commentaries from the rest of the trilogy, and continue on. :)
 

Josh Steinberg

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Can't you just use whatever streaming client your HTPC is set up with to play back on your iPhone with an alternate audio track? Or was the goal to get the audio playback locally without the bandwidth needed for streaming the full video signal?
 

DaveF

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Can't you just use whatever streaming client your HTPC is set up with to play back on your iPhone with an alternate audio track? Or was the goal to get the audio playback locally without the bandwidth needed for streaming the full video signal?
Not on an airplane :)
I want to listen to these as audio content per se, like a podcast or audiobook, on the go. It’s easier and uses no data if I extract the audio tracks as described. :)

But Apple Music isn’t a great player for spoken-word content, I’m finding. I need to see if I can get them into my podcast or audiobook players.
 

DaveF

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Improved approach (for me). Cost money, but lets me use my podcast player of choice, and the listening experience is much improved over iTunes. What's nice about this is the chapter breaks get embedded that came along with the original MKA export.

The process is more kludged, now with two transcoding steps, from MKA to M4A to MP3. Next time I extract commentary tracks, I'll see if Forecast can do the direct MKA conversion for me.

Subscribe to Overcast for $9.99/yr
  1. MKVToolNix to extract the individual commentaries with chapter markers to MKA files
  2. ffmpeg -i "Back to the Future (1985) Commentary 2.mka" -acodec libvo_aacenc "Back to the Future (1985) Commentary 2.m4a"
  3. New… in Forecast (Overcast Encoder)
  4. Import Audio
    1. Podcast Title: Catfisch Cinema Commentary Tracks
    2. Episode Title: <commentary track title>
    3. Artwork
  5. Save: “Movie Title (YYYY) Commentary #.mp3”
  6. Upload into user account in Overcast.fm
  7. Download within Overcast app
  8. Import into iTunes as Podcasts to archive
 

DaveF

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Computer OS upgrade led to upgrading to a more current ffmpeg version, changing the encode process. And iTunes no longer supports podcast files in macOS. I need to see if I can get ffmpeg working on my HTPC, that would be slightly faster than my iMac.

Extracting and Converting Commentary Tracks for iPhone Listening

Prep
  1. Install Brew
  2. Install ffmpeg: brew install ffmpeg

Transcode
  1. MKVToolNix to extract the individual commentaries with chapter markers to MKA files
  2. ffmpeg -i "Kung Fu Panda (2008) Commentary 1.mka" -acodec aac "Kung Fu Panda (2008) Commentary 1.m4a"

Overcast ($10/yr)
Subscribe to Overcast for $9.99/yr
  1. New… in Forecast (Overcast Encoder)
  2. Import Audio
    1. Bitrate: 128 kbps
    2. Podcast Title: Catfisch Cinema Commentary Tracks
    3. Episode Title: <commentary track title>
    4. Artwork
  3. Save: “Movie Title (YYYY) Commentary #.mp3”
  4. Upload into user account in Overcast.fm
  5. Download within Overcast app
Example FFMPEG Code
ffmpeg -i "/Users/davef/OneDrive/Music/Movie (YYYY) Commentary.mka" -acodec aac “Movie (YYYY) Commentary.m4a"
 
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DaveF

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Josh Steinberg

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I don’t have a raid; I just have a line of each drive plugged into my plex setup, and yeah, the backup does take a bit of time!
 

jcroy

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I don’t have a raid; I just have a line of each drive plugged into my plex setup, and yeah, the backup does take a bit of time!

I do a similar thing, but without anything like plex.

If I want to watch something, I just copy the episodes from the external drives to my htpc's drive. End up just drag and drop the entire directory of episodes into VLC in sequential mode, where all the episodes just play one after another for hours on end.
 

DaveF

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I don’t have a raid; I just have a line of each drive plugged into my plex setup, and yeah, the backup does take a bit of time!
There are a couple of key benefits to a RAID
  1. It's a giant disk to the system, which means you as the user don't have to think about whether to put new files on Disk A or Disk B or Disk C...it just all goes in the giant Disk Z.
  2. Parity data reduces the risk of catastrophic data loss from a single drive failure

The downsides are:
  1. More expensive per unit storage (because of parity drive) and possibly from using commercial RAID/NAS hardware/software
  2. More complex setup potentially (can buy simplicity or save money with DIY complexity)
I like the simplicty and parity. I went with a very low cost solution that runs within my HTPC and uses a $60 commercial program and a freeware program to create the RAID system. It gets much more expensive, but much simpler, with a dedicated NAS box from the likes of Synology or QNAP. If I stay with the HTPC long enough to grow out of the Windows 10 media computer, then going to a dedicated NAS box would be a next big upgrade for me. But as the magic 8 Ball says: Future unclear, please try again. :)
 

Josh Steinberg

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For me, RAID was ruled out when I saw that the enclosure needed to make it all work was going to cost as much as the five or six drives that would go into it.

It turns out Plex doesn’t care if, for example, Episode 1 of a show is on drive A, and Episode 2 is on drive B. They all show up correctly and play fine. So for me the need for it to work as one drive didn’t seem to be there, though no argument that it would be much more elegant.

The other thing is I’m just not clear on the whole parity drive, some data is protected but not all of it is. I don’t want to have to rip these discs again. So having two separate drives seemed to me safer than having a RAID that only protected part of the whole. But I have a feeling I’m not grasping the whole thing properly - which is another reason to not do a thing. If I got it, it might be another story. At least I understand whatever crazy thing it is I’m doing. :)
 

DaveF

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Each parity disk protects all data from a single drive failure. Two parity disks protects the system from two drive failures. This isn't a "backup", but a means to add robustness to a drive-of-drives that is otherwise at greater risk of failure due to the combined risk of multiple drives at risk.

I use basically a RAID 4 setup. Not optimal. But it's cheap and easy and super flexible.

Rather than try to explain it, it's easier to point to one of the various RAID summaries:
 

DaveF

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And the Plex server does abstract out essentially a media NAS, eliminating the practical need for a NAS if media is all you do and you don't mind your personal computer also being your server.

And all the media server apps aggregate multiple drives and folders so you don't have to worry about disk organization per se. But on the front side, you have a bundle of drives that you have to pay some attention to in terms of what's copied where. With the RAID, you copy data to the logical volume and the RAID software takes care of how it's distributed over the physcial disks.

The high cost of a RAID box can be prohibitive (or at least daunting). That's why I went the DIY route.
 

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