Musings of a PC

Thoughts about Windows, TV and technology in general

Tag Archives: blu-ray

Converting Blu-Rays to high quality MP4s

Those of you who have followed my occasional blog postings will know that I have a home theatre setup with a Hush PC running Windows 7 with Media Center and a Synology NAS to store full rips of DVDs and Blu-Rays. I use Media Browser as the front-end to all of my stored videos.

Recently, however, two factors have led me to become increasingly frustrated with this configuration:

  1. ArcSoft’s Total Media Theatre does not play well in conjunction with Media Browser. The more recent versions of MB have improved the situation but TMT 5 just doesn’t play well. I don’t know if it is the fact that my hardware is now getting a bit old or because TMT 5 just isn’t a good bit of software.
  2. Some of the Blu-Rays recently purchased are protected by Cinavia. If you haven’t come across this before, it is an audio watermark designed in such a way that if you play a copy of the content rather than an original source, playback is supposed to stop after a period of time with an error. Now, the version of TMT 5 I was using had not had Cinavia support added but the Blu-Rays wouldn’t play properly, if at all, so I was left wondering if there was a change in the way the discs were being created that my version of TMT 5 was choking on. Upgrading TMT to the most recent version would introduce Cinavia support, which would then totally prevent me from using ripped copies.

So I’ve been researching the various options available to me, focussing mostly on HandBrake. This is a great, free piece of software that does a fantastic job of taking various source material (DVD, Blu-Ray and others) and converting to MP4. It does one job and it does it really well. It does not include any capability for defeating copy protection but I use AnyDVD HD for that.

Now I know that converting Blu-Rays to a different compressed format – both audio and video – is going to lose me some fidelity, and I know that I’ll lose functionality as well, such as the ability to dynamically turn subtitles on and off, or select different audio streams, etc. There are ways to solve this, such as using different containers such as MKV, but Windows 7 doesn’t support MKV natively and I didn’t want to install any more software onto the media PC. According to reports I’ve read, it is possible that the Cinavia watermark survives the transcoding but Windows 7 doesn’t provide any support for Cinavia :-).

Here are the settings I ultimately ended up with:

  • Normal preset
  • Video tab: select Fast Decode. I found this necessary to stop the media PC occasionally choking on the playback.
  • Audio tab: add an audio track of your choice with the codec set to AAC (faac) and mixdown set to 5.1 Channels.
  • Subtitles tab: if your Blu-Ray has any foreign language in it (e.g. Avatar, Star Wars I, Salt, etc), you can choose to have the English subtitles for those sections burned into the video image. This requires a copy of the nightly build of HandBrake and not the stable build at this time (0.9.8 doesn’t support this feature). Just add Foreign Audio Scan, select Forced Only and Burn In. It should be noted that enabling this feature will result in longer processing time as HB then has to scan through the video to see where the subtitles get turned on and off in order to determine if there are any foreign language subtitles to select.

That’s it. I found the resulting video and audio to be of very high quality.

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Playing Blu-Rays on Windows Phone 7

Getting ready to go on holiday is often an interesting exercise … have I got all of the cables? Have I got all of the chargers? Have I got enough video to watch?

My entertainment library is a mixture of programmes recorded off TV (WTV format, which Zune can transfer easily), DVDs (which SlySoft’s CloneDVD Mobile handles readily enough) and Blu-Rays.

Ah.

Now there are actually quite a few tools out there that can convert Blu-Rays into different formats and different containers. Some of the software is free, some of it costs money. The tricky thing is finding something that works!

And after a bit of trial and error, I have found something that works – and works well. VidCoder is a nice, simple application that can actually handle both DVDs and Blu-Rays, using a built-in copy of the Handbrake engine to transcode to MP4 or MKV. It does not remove any of the built-in copy protection mechanisms so you may need additional software and the VidCoder site provides some useful pointers if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

So I pointed VidCoder at one of my Blu-Rays, created a new profile for Windows Phone 7 that basically set the width to be 800 pixels (leaving the software to automatically calculate the correct height) and let it chew on the film. 2 hours later and I had a 950MB file. I transferred it to my phone using Zune and it plays beautifully! The image is crisp and looks fantastic, even on such a small display.

One of the nice things is that, as far as I can tell, Zune literally just transferred the file and did not have to transcode it again. So, in other words, WP7 is happy to play an MP4 with the dimensions I specified.

Interestingly, I used CloneDVD Mobile to convert a DVD copy that came with a Blu-Ray into a film for WP7. That film is shorter (1:42 compared with 2:06), the output resolution is lower (640×360 compared with 800×334) but the resulting file is bigger! I’m now going to through VidCoder at the Blu-Ray version of the film and see how that output compares. (Oh, and both files are MP4).

I might even try letting it loose on a DVD to see what the results are like.

Update: so the transcoding of the Blu-Ray whose DVD had previously been encoded using CloneDVD Mobile resulted in a file that is 800MB compared with 1.14GB, and a resolution of 800×340 compared with 640×360! This is starting to put me off buying those Blu-Ray packs with different playback options (DVD, Digital Copy).

Update 2: I’ve now completed a transcode of a DVD using the tool. The movie runs for 2:13 and the resulting file size was 1.19GB with a resolution of 800×340. The picture quality is, like all of the other transcodes, really crisp and of high quality.