The Film Library Project: Part Three

This past weekend I achieved a minor milestone: all my DVDs — every film from Airplane to Young Frankenstein and every television episode from “Absolutely Fabulous” to “Strangers With Candy” — have been ripped from their silver disc prisons and enshrined on a 1 terabyte hard drive, using up precisely 706,153,332,736 bytes of data storage. I can now use my Logitech Harmony One universal remote to access the Apple tv and scan through every film or tv episode and watch them in Dolby 5.1 surround sound (for those encoded as such) on my 42″ high definition television.
I can also stream any movie or program via iTunes wirelessly over my 802.11n home network to any other computer in my apartment (being just the one MacBook Pro sitting on my work desk) and play “Find the Fish” with Monty Python’s Meaning of Life while coding and design web sites for clients.
I can rent DVDs from my local store and rip the ones I like to my library. I can await receiving one the 145 movies and tv shows I added to my Netflix cue to arrive and add those, too. Every Thin Man film. The complete “Extras.” Curse of the Golden Flower. Every Kurasawa film. “Cowboy Bebop,” the complete sessions in 5.1.
It’s kind of amazing.

Creating a digital video library presents a few new worries as well. What if the hard drive fails? Should I buy another huge drive just to back everything up? Is that overkill? Maybe it’s more cost effective to just load it all up to Amazon’s S3 service? At 15¢ per Gig per month, it’ll cost me $108 a month, so that’s… silly. Another drive is about $400, so that’s something to consider in time. Not right now, though.
As the library grows, the lack of a good, easy to maneuver Apple tv interface grows more acute. I can break them down by genre, but it’s still just a big long list of titles to scan. I’ve only got around 160 movies (and the same number of individual TV episodes) right now, but that’s going to grow fast.
And unlike CDs, there’s no album cover art to download, so the thumbnails for every movie tend to be freeze frames of studio logos or blackness. iTunes just grabs the first thing it sees about 10 seconds into a program. Not a lot to go on from that. And, yes, you can add artwork for every film if you want to go hunt them down and manually add them, but at the moment I’m not inclined to do that.
On the plus side, iTunes keeps track of any film’s progress as I’m watching, so if I have to stop or pause or watch something else, when I come back it always asks if I want to resume where I left off or start from the beginning.
Having access to everything via my home network is also incredibly cool and convenient. And of course it’ll multicast, so if there’s something playing from the library in the living room on the big screen, I can still watch something on my computer in the bedroom.
That said, I’m also having one small, but irritating, problem. Front Row on my MacBook Pro in the office/bedroom can’t see the iTunes shared library. This is the same MacBook Pro that can stream movies and everything else from that library, so why Front Row refuses to see it is a quandary. Of course, I can watch the movies from iTunes full screen on the monitor, but it would just be nice to be able to lie in bed with the little white computer remote in my hand and run everything via Front Row, which is like a mini Apple tv on its own.
But all in all, this is a very agreeable way to manage the wealth of digital entertainment we all deal with. I can even download TiVo broadcasts onto my Apple equipment using Toast Titanium. Pity TiVo doesn’t provide an easy method one doesn’t have to pay extra for, but I suppose that when we leave Windows behind (gladly) there will always be a few inconvenient bumps in the road.
I phoned up Comcast this morning and cancelled all my premium channels, a savings of $50 a month. I had the Premier Tier package, meaning I had every premium channel they offered, but after considering all my other options and how infrequently I found myself watching those channels anymore, it made no sense to keep them. If I want to see Weeds or Sopranos or whatever other shows they come up with, they all end up as DVDs or on the iTunes store as downloadables anyway. And obviously any films I want to see end up on iTunes or as DVDs or Blu-rays long before they end up on cable, so where’s the advantage?
Therein ends my tale. I’m digitized, libraried and networked. I can access any film or TV show with a few remote control clicks and watch them from my television or computer. Everything fits on a small, quiet metal brick tucked into my entertainment center and I can add more space any time I want or need to.

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