Can you help me make a video jukebox?
November 10, 2004 10:06 PM   Subscribe

Hardware/Media Dreams: I'm an A/V and computer enthusiast, and one of my dreams (sad, I know) is to have a computer-based server connected to my television that contains all of my (legally store bought) DVDs, so I can basically have a local version of video-on-demand. [mi]

I'm also a technology nut and a complete minimalist, so it drives me nuts to have everything neat and tidy, but have to stare at the unwieldy cases for 150 DVDs in my living room. iPod was a godsend because I could rip my entire library of 300 CDs, get RID of them (storage, sell them, or give them away) and still have access to the music and cover art, esp. now with the Photo iPod and through iTunes. I figure things like digital music and video are just bits, so why waste a lot of space on obsolete physical media?

I've done some basic research on the theory, but none of the solutions seem quite right. Sure, it begins with ripping all of my DVDs and having enough hard drive space (a cost issue) to hold them all.

But I also want two things: the same audio/video quality that the original DVD offers (i.e., no horribly compressed DIVX rips) and some sort of GUI that can display all of my movies, maybe sort/display them by genre, title, display the cover art, etc. Being able to access the original DVDs menuing system and Extras would be ideal as well, but I'm willing to forgo that if I can just access to the film itself.

I know there are some homebrew systems out there that I could gobble together, but probably would not offer everything I want, and if I'm going to invest money in something, I want it to do everything I'm looking for.

I have read about a device that seems to do exactly what I want... it's a standalone (non computer) unit that will rip/store your DVDs on its internal hard drive, and you can daisy-chain additional storage space onto the thing as your library grows. As I remember it had the ability to determine the name of the movie (probably using the equivalent of CDDB but for DVDs) and display all the appropriate info (genre, cast, cover art, etc.) The downside? I think it cost upwards of $20,000. I'm not THAT much of an enthusiast... or at least I don't have the means to claim to be.

Any suggestions? Has anyone assembled or developed a system like this? What's it gonna cost?
posted by robbie01 to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have a friend working at a startup that builds systems to do exactly as you describe. Currently, their starting price is $18,000, but that doesn't include the (fairly substantial) labor costs.

Storage isn't your primary cost. Assuming 6 gigs each, your 150 DVDs are only 900 gigs -- easily under $1,000 these days. It's the cost of custom software that'll kill you.
posted by majick at 10:41 PM on November 10, 2004

Build yourself a 2TB Windows server, and then use Xbox Media Center to browse/play the movies on your TV. It can display cover art, load IMDB ratings/descriptions, etc etc. Plus, it'll do the same thing for all of your CDs. You can even design/commission your own skin if you don't like how it looks.
posted by Jairus at 11:22 PM on November 10, 2004

Response by poster: Ask your friend if they need any beta testers ;) I'm a designer as well, and can provide valuable feedback on their custom software. *wink* So what does "substantial" labor cost involve, on top of me dropping $18,000 for a media player that simply saves my lazy ass from having to plop a DVD in the player? Sounds like spending $250,000 on a Ferrari and then having to pay them an extra $20 to wax the tires. For any electronics product in that price range, it should come with the unspoken guarantee that "Hey, everything is included for that price. We'll even carry it to your house and set it up for you."

With at least your friend's company developing such a system (whether it's the same one I read about or not), it appears I'm not the only one with the idea and the interest. But unless someone has a magic answer involving voodoo, shareware and an ATI All in Wonder card, this appears to be the beginnings of a technology that is out reach for anyone but the super-rich AV afficiando (i.e., the people you can read about in Audio Video Interiors magazine) and will probably take 5-10 years to reach a point where an average consumer can walk into Best Buy and drop a few hundred bucks on the type of system that is in development today.

By that time, I imagine there won't BE such a thing as DVD anymore -- everything will be delivered over broadband directly to your digital Media Entertainment Center (i.e. Netflix + Tivo with the option to either rent the movies for a monthly fee or buy the movie permanently for $15, stored on your 2010-era Tivo with a terabyte of storage) and physical delivery will become obsolete, or at the very least "quaint."
posted by robbie01 at 11:30 PM on November 10, 2004

Response by poster: Jairus, the Xbox Media Center has a couple of big drawbacks right now -- it appears to require a modded Xbox (which will get you banned for life from Xbox Live, thanks to Microsoft's draconian policies and a little game I like to play called Halo 2) and the developers are just now working on a DVD-Video feature (via donation-based support from interested parties.) Sounds interesting, but not quite a ready-for-action turnkey solution that I'm looking for--and it's not guaranteed to ever come to fruition. Didn't look too deeply to see how XBMC handles the storage needs for 150+ DVDs, but the other drawbacks are deal-killers right now anyway. Designing my own skin for the system is probably the only thing I could do for myself :)
posted by robbie01 at 11:37 PM on November 10, 2004

I have a PC acting as a server, connected into the network and also to the TV (by way of a video and audio out cable). I can add new hard drives to the PC when I need storage.

The server software is SlimServer (which is free and open source); the remote control I use - to browse through files from another room - is the SliMP3... though they now have a wireless version called Squeezebox.

To watch videos, I use a SlimServer plugin called Videobox. It can play ripped DVD files in their original, uncompressed state.. or compressed into DivX or WMV. The video is sent through the PC's video out.
posted by skylar at 11:54 PM on November 10, 2004

Couldn't one rip the DVDs to disk images on a Mac in OSX (making sure to bypass CSS encryption of course, you'd probably need a separate app for this), then mount the images as necessary and play them using OSX's DVD player app? Maybe plus some scripting to automate this. Then all you need is some plugin storage (1TB RAID devices are going down in price, or so I hear).
posted by neckro23 at 11:55 PM on November 10, 2004

Response by poster: Skylar and neckro, thanks for the suggestions. I'm probably being too picky, but in addition to the logic of getting an entire library of ripped DVDs playable through a TV, it also needs to have some sort of GUI (graphical user interface.) Picture a slightly more robust version of the interface you use to watch movies in a hotel room.

SlimServer/VideoBox doesn't seem to have an interface at all, and Mac's OS X is elegant as a computer interface, but isn't appropriate for an across-the-living room GUI to pick from a library of 150+ DVD titles, while providing genre/title/cast info. I'd have to have custom software designed (perhaps in Macromedia Director) and before you know it, I'm spending thousands of dollars on software development for a custom solution.

The interface for Xbox Media Center (as Jairus mentioned) does look nice (and customizable) but still requires way too much legwork to set up (you can't even download a compiled binary of the code from them, yeesh) and is still under heavy development
posted by robbie01 at 12:13 AM on November 11, 2004

Response by poster: Neckro, as a followup to your Mac suggestion, something like the recently released Delicious Library would be great concept for software to view/select a DVD. If only that program had the capability of seamlessly playing a ripped/mounted disk image of the titles from the Mac's HD!

Another minor drawback would be that even the interface for Delicious Library would be challenging for a TV, as it's designed to run on a higher resolution computer monitor (i.e., lots of small computer-sized text in the descriptions) and with the benefit of a precise mouse. Which is why interfaces like Windows Media Center Edition have big, bold, simple type that is easily viewable from across the room and are simpler to navigate with a fairly inelegant remote control.
posted by robbie01 at 12:23 AM on November 11, 2004

Robbie, any modern mod chip will let you turn it off to play Halo 2. Plus, it plays DVD video fine. I've done it -- and getting a compiled binary is as easy as connecting to an FTP site and downloading it. You just can't download it from the website.

Seriously -- it does everything you need. :)
posted by Jairus at 1:29 AM on November 11, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks Jairus, I'll look into a little further. Does that mean they've completed development on the DVD Video feature? Or is that something different than the development they have described in their recent news (and are soliciting donations for)?

If I go through the trouble of getting my Xbox modded and put a terabyte disk on my PC and rip all my DVDs and for some reason it doesn't work... just remember I've got your e-mail address for tech support questions! ;-)
posted by robbie01 at 1:45 AM on November 11, 2004

Your desired setup is pretty much what I have at home. I've got all my DVDs ripped (although I rip to high-quality Xvid/Ogg, with commentary/subtitles/etc), and I can browse to any movie/episode I want to watch in seconds. Same with my CDs -- I've got about 1000 of them ripped so far, in high-quality MP3s, with cover art and etc...

It's seriously the most convenient appliance I've ever used. It's changed the way I interact with my media.
posted by Jairus at 1:53 AM on November 11, 2004

I didn't answer your question at all, did I? :)

I'm not sure what the official dev status is of DVD Video, but I've played DVD video over the network from VOB files and from ripped ISO files before. I don't generally play DVD over the network, to be honest -- generally I'm playing DivX/XviD, or DVD right out of the drive.
posted by Jairus at 1:54 AM on November 11, 2004

We have a MythTV box in the lounge that currently is used for recording broadcast digital video (DVB in the UK) and also rip DVDs to ~1.5gb Xvid with the AC3 stream (Dolby Digital / DTS) intact. It's taking some serious work to get running but now we have a box that accessible over the web to set up recording schedules and also holds the DVDs we feed it with the downloaded IMDB metadata - all controllable from a remote.

For your requirements it might make more sense to set up a beefy storage / ripping server somewhere out the way running mythbackend and then a slim-line mini-ITX box near your AV equipment running mythfrontend which communicates with mythbackend.
posted by gi_wrighty at 2:59 AM on November 11, 2004

I did this fairly recently. I'm a hacker so my approach will vary greatly from yours. I wanted to see for how little I could do it. My total costs included only buying a few 120 gig drives ($70 each) and an external VGA-to-TV device ($50). Everything else is 5 year old garbage that others discarded or I myself had no use for. I wrote the software myself in an evening. It's ultra simple but works quite well. It is essentially just a menu of items (main screen is movie, music, video games, config) and a bunch of submenus.

$18,000? Theirs is probably slicker than mine. But I kind of doubt it's 90 times slicker than mine. I think I could build these babies for under $500, including digital sound, decent picture, good software, and the extra goodies mentioned above (a good music player, movie player, dvd player/ripper, video game player (mame, snes, nes, etc)) all controlled with a remote.

I looked into MythTV. But it was just one of those things where I figured I could do it quicker myself since I wanted only a subset of the mythtv feature set and none of the glitz.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:59 AM on November 11, 2004

$18,000 probably has something to do with licensing and CSS (thank you DMCA -- once again you've made life better).

Jairus - do you stream your movies over a wired or wireless network? Any lag? At 1,000 you've got about 4 times the number of DVDs that I have. I've been thinking I'd need about 2 Terabytes to allow for growth. How much do you need after compressing them like you say? Do you need a serious processor to do the compressing/streaming or will any old sub-gig processor work for that?
posted by willnot at 7:18 AM on November 11, 2004

The $18,000 could not be due to CSS -- else how could Philips make $70 DVD players?

I've vaguely considered spiffing up my version and selling it. I think I could probably easily make and isntall 6-8 of them in a weekend. The support side I'm not so much interested in ;) Obviously I'd have some issues because the operation system and media player (linux, mplayer) are not kosher regarding aforementioned licensing etc.

I'm not Jairus but I can answer a few questions about encoding and streaming. Compressing a dvd into divx can be done with results that are acceptable to normal users at about 700 gigs per hour of show. That's about 194Kbytes/second which is well within the capabilities of *most* networks. Wireless networks, it just depends, I get really crappy throughput from upstairs to downstairs. Watching a movie from blockbuster is more like 3-4 gigs per hour, or about 800K/s. Well within wired internet, and some wireless networks. People more interested in video might encode at more like 1500 megs per hour, which really, to me, encoding at higher rates yields very little improvement.

Encoding takes considerable time, particularly to get good results. I typically do 2 passes. The first pass, as I understand it, is to find out which bits need better encoding and which can do with crappier encoding. I encode on a fast computer and I probably encode a 2 hour movie in about 3 hours. To play it back I'm using a 500 mhz celeron from days of yore. Works fine. You want/need a video card that will do hardware scaling for you so that full screen viewing does not tax your CPU. In linux the way to go is a card that works with Xv or OpenGL extensions. Without this your frame rate drops to unacceptalble levels (looks jerky, loses sync with sound, etc)

You don't have to encode dvds to avi. There is software (like DVDShrink for windows or Transcode for unix) that will take as input the raw dvd files and make new raw dvd files that are compressed. These can be burned to a dvd and a regular dvd player can play them. This is a cool route because then you could burn 2 or more movies on a dvd depending on how much you compressed, and they'd look OK. I also compress the hell out of menus and other stuff that I want there but that I don't care much about.

And again I'll plug the Philips DVD player that I love so much. It plays vcds and svcds, dvds, etc but the kicker is that it plays Divx movies. So I can burn about 5 divx movies onto a CD. I keep everything in my upcoming rotation (stuff I want to watch soon) on the PC and basically archive all the stuff I might want to watch some day but not today to dvd.

I only own about 100 dvds and I've only ripped about 50. I do watch a crapload of movies though, general 3-4 a week. I was on the 8 dvd plan at netflix til the wife cut me off.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:41 AM on November 11, 2004

Yes, it's "low tech", but what about a DVD changer? It looks like you can download movie titles, etc, for on-screen display and selection.
posted by zsazsa at 8:01 AM on November 11, 2004

willnot, I stream over a wired 10Mbit (Take that, modern networking equipment!) network. There's no lag. For compression, my TV DVDs average 4-5gb each, including commentary tracks and such. My movie DVDs are about 1-2gb each, depending on the movie. Hero takes up about 2gb, as I give it a lot of overhead to avoid compression artifacts. King Kong vs Godzilla, on the otherhand, compresses down very well to 900mb or so.

Encoding sucks, though. You don't need a very good processor to stream, but you'll want use a good PC to compress. It can take a lot of time.
posted by Jairus at 8:27 AM on November 11, 2004

I have a "Media Server" I made from a Beige-G3 Mac plus a 100Mb Ethernet card and a Firewire card, and three 200GB disks in Firewire cases. It is here I keep my DVD rips, my iTunes library and my iPhoto library.

I also have a wired 100Mb lan, with two drops at my entertainment center. One drop is used for a G4/450 which I put a 1GHz processor in. It has a video card with an SVideo output on it, which connects to my Yamaha Receiver/Tuner/Amp.

I rip my DVDs directly into MPEG4 from this machine to an Appleshare on the server using HandBrake. It takes roughly 3-6 hours per movie for two-pass encoding, and downsampling the resolution to 640x480 for 4:3 content or some ratio of 640x(number) for content which is widescreen.

I use VLC to view them.

All of my different media are available on the other five Macs on my home lan, and stream acceptably to my Powerbook via 802.11b. The wireless base station is connected to that other drop at my entertainment center.

Also connected to the Entertainment Center Mac is a Bluetooth->USB converter so I can use my Nokia 6600 and Salling Clicker to control iTunes and VLC, as well as the tranceiver for a Versapoint RF keyboard/pointer.

I will be getting an M-Audio multichannel card soon, because right now, the audio is going through the on-board from the Mac. The M-Audio has a digital out, and supports up to 7.1 audio, which my Yamaha will like. Note that the audio-out on the Mac doesn't sound bad, I just want multichannel.

You mention the desire for an interface, and this is something I haven't bothered with yet. iTunes is fine for the music side, iPhoto for the images. For movies, I use the Finder when I'm using the Versapoint Keyboard, or I use my Nokia and Salling, which has plug-ins for VLC and iTunes, and plenty more.

I plan on buying Delicious Library. I was using DVDCache before. My hope is that Delicious Library will eventually have two things - hardware control for my Sony 300+1 DVD Changer, and auto-launch of files that it knows the location of. The latter seems like it would be trivial to add.

Total cost for this is probably in the $1000-2000 range, but I couldn't give an accurate estimate considering that it was done piecemeal and the computers were older ones from my own internal upgrade cycle.
posted by tomierna at 9:33 AM on November 11, 2004

Oh, forgot to mention, right now, between the DVD changer and the Media Server, I have about 600 movies, about 5k songs and about 8k photos. Yes, I own the media for all of the movies and songs.
posted by tomierna at 9:35 AM on November 11, 2004

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