The Film Library Project: Part Two

It’s been a few weeks so I thought I’d let you know how things are progressing and what I’ve learned in this process so far.

  1. Ripping over 300 DVDs consisting of both films and television show episodes takes a 1-for-1 rip-to-program length amount of time on my Mac mini. That means that a 2-hour film takes about 2 hours to get from disc to drive, and then I need to add it to iTunes and annotate the entry so it ends up being sorted correctly (more on that later) so this isn’t at all like ripping your CD collection, which flies by in comparison but also means you’re constantly feeding your disk drive when ripping music, and ripping video is a set it and go about your daily routine and check on it in two hours. I work from home so I have time to do that. Most people, probably not so much. So if you go this route, it will pay you to realize that it may take weeks or months to get a big collection off the silver discs.
  2. Handbrake has some really nice features built-in, particularly support for 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, but you have to make sure you’re ripping the correct version of your material to your iTunes library or you’ll end up wasting a lot of time.
    • I was ripping everything using the normal mode, which is .MP4, but typically of Apple they decided to support .MP4 only sporadically and prefer video with an .M4V on the end. Sometimes you can simply alter the file type in the Info panel and it’ll work, but not always and there have been occasionas when I had to discard a ripped file and re-rip it using .M4V. Simply be aware of what you’re ripping before you rip it.
    • Secondly, always check the video aspect ratio output by clicking on the “Picture Settings…” button. This opens a new window and you can cycle through a few screen captures that show exactly what your finished video will look like. Weirdly, not every film uses the exact same settings for anamorphic (16×9) presentations. Handbrake lets you adjust the edges pixel-by-pixel, or you can select “Strict” and that usually works, but make sure you check this or you could end up with a widescreen movie presented in squishscreen fashion. Handbrake doesn’t always recognize the correct settings automatically.
    • Also check the audio setting every time. There are several audio tracks on DVDs, and on older ones the Dolby 5.1 setting isn’t the default. If the DVD has a Dolby AC3 5.1 setting, you also have to change the codec dropdown in Handbrake from “AVC/H.264 Video / AVC + AC3 Audio” to “AVC/H.264 Video / AC3 Audio” which will pass-through the Dolby 5.1 encoded audio so that’s what you end up with on your file, otherwise you could end up with Dolby Digital 2-channel, which isn’t bad but certainly 5 channels and a dedicated subwoofer are better than stereo.
  3. A commenter asked in the first part of this article about the choice in audio/video receivers. And there are a lot of them. How did I settle on my Denon 3808? Firstly, I have been using Denon equipment as the platform for my audio/video set-up for a very long time (this is my third Denon, and I upgrade about every 6 years, depending on the changing audio climate) so I looked at them as my first choice, holding up their price and features as the tent pole around which any other equipment would need to contend.

    I looked at Sony, Pioneer Elite and Onkyo equipment, mostly because at the time of purchase they were the only ones supporting Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, the newest 7-channel pure digital standards used in Blu-ray discs. It came down to Onkyo versus Denon. The Onkyo had a distinct price advantage, but commenters in some of the audio forums around the web, particularly the AVS Forum, said that the Onkyo was running very hot (not a good sign) and that it had some clicking issues. The Denon was also suffering some faults, mainly in its support for internet radio. Since I rarely if ever listen to internet radio stations, and the Denon came equipped with an Ethernet port for firmware downloads directly from the manufacturer (plus my positive history with the brand, though it may be considered overpriced by some) I opted to stick with what I knew.

    Since my purchase, Denon has introduced their new line of equipment for 2009 and lots of the high-end features have migrated downward, so you can pick up a very nicely outfitted receiver for half the cost of what I paid. My advice is to look around, read some forums (the AVS forum is very helpful and nearly noise-free) go listen to them in-person and keep an eye looking ahead, because the digital age is inserting many, many new wrinkles in the world of audio and video, and it’ll be important for whatever equipment you buy now to have the ability to be easily updated or upgraded going forward. For example, Denon will be releasing new software for 3808 (and other high-end model) owners that will install Audissey’s new Dynamic Volume feature this October(ish) via the web-enabled firmware distribution method. I’ll pay around $100 and my receiver gets even flashier and more useful, without having to go out and replace the whole thing.

  4. One thing I have replaced is the external drive array. The LaCie mini drives, though they match aesthetically with the mini’s footprint and have been working flawlessly, proved to be just too loud for use as video archives. The fan on the Mini is loud enough, but adding two more to it was too much. They were huffing and puffing away every minute of the day, and watching anything at night, when you need the sound dimmed a bit for the sake of your apartment neighbors and thin walls, proved to be a nuisance.

    I’ve replaced them with a single fanless 1-terabyte “G-Drive” from G-Technology here in California. It’s not without its own shortcomings (why, for example, did they install a 1,000-watt bulb in the LED socket to show that the drive is working? but a little strip of electrical tape resolves that problem) but it’s nearly silent, comes in a very solid aluminum housing, is pre-formatted for Macs and is robust enough to keep grinding away as I simultaneously rip more DVDs and watch my library every night. They’re affordable at $379 for 1 terabyte (and I’ve gone through half of one of those already and I’m only at the M’s), come with Firewire 400 to give a slight edge on transfer rates to the Mini, and they run at a fast 7200RPM.

As mentioned, I’m up to the M’s (Monsters Inc. and the Matrix trilogy) in my library and have been enjoying some old DVDs I frankly forgot I even owned. Getting access through the Apple TV interface makes it all much easier to find and scan, and I can jump in and out of films, moving through the chapters just like a DVD, without switching discs or fumbling with cases.
So far, so good.

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