I need my Rare Visions fix...in HD?
August 22, 2008 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Keep me entertained on my new 20" widescreen. How small can I encode my DVDs and what's the most cost-effective way to get broadcast TV on it?

I bit the bullet and purchased a new widescreen monitor to replace my TV. How can I keep DVDs encoded at a relatively small filesize without sacrificing too much quality? I know it's always a tradeoff, but I figure that at 20" I can get a little leeway. And are the cheaper DTV tuners a total rip? Will the cheapo converter box I got with my voucher look OK with an analog TV tuner, or will the difference in quality be noticable enough to warrant buying a new tuner? Any suggestions or cautions on Digital USB tuners? Are there converter boxes with DVI out since the monitor doesn't have RGB? Just over the air, and no PVR function necessary. I'm running XP pro with a Pentium 2.0ghz Dual Core and 2gb of RAM if that helps.
posted by piedmont to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been encoding 4:3 NTSC (29.97 fps, not film) DVDs to H.264 (X264, Main profile, Level 4.1) at ~2000kbps variable bitrate at their full original frame resolution and found that to be completely indistinguishable from the original. That's probably overkill on the bitrate, by the way. You can also achieve pretty decent results on audio compression if you're so inclined - Nero's free-to-use AAC encoder gives excellent stereo results at 96kbps and good 5.1 results starting at 256kbps, in both cases using AAC-LC.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:41 PM on August 22, 2008

To answer your question about digital USB tuners, I've been using a Hauppauge HVR-950 with Snapstream BeyondTV for six months with no problems. I have a 20" LCD also (driven by an nVidia 7600), and 1080i broadcasts look awesome on it. The only problem that you might have is getting a strong signal from the TV station broadcast. The USB stick I linked to came with a small, portable single-mast antenna, but in order to get a better signal, I use regular rabbit-ears with an inline RF preamp. I'm using BeyondTV to do all of the tuning work, so I don't know how good Hauppauge's tuner/viewer software is.

I use Handbrake for compressing DVD's down to 5G iPod-friendly H.264 (using my own custom settings). I compress down to roughly 1024kbps, but that's for compatability with the iPod. Playing that back on a large display, there's noticeable compression artifacts. If anything, aim for a high bitrate. Handbrake has a preset setting for AppleTV format. Try that and see how it looks.
posted by phrayzee at 1:36 PM on August 22, 2008

don't forget sites like Hulu for watching tv episodes (assuming you have a good internet connection. there are several others like that as well, but I don't know the names.
posted by midwestguy at 1:47 PM on August 22, 2008

"If anything, aim for a high bitrate."

No, if anything, don't aim the bitrate at all. Use a Constant Quality setting and let the encoder figure out how to spend bits based on scene complexity. If you go with H.264 at CQ 54% you'll wind up at roughly a gig a movie and quality basically indistinguishable from all but the finest-encoded double layer DVDs. Go much lower and you're going to notice the difference no matter your display size.

I can't speak to tuners, however. The last tuner I owned was a Hauppauge and I was very happy with it, but that was a decade ago. Their current products may differ substantially.
posted by majick at 3:07 PM on August 22, 2008

I'm a fan of encoding with Handbrake's Deux Six Quatre preset.
posted by PueExMachina at 10:08 PM on August 22, 2008

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