Home > Media Center > Zero-click DVD Archiving for Extender

Zero-click DVD Archiving for Extender

How would you like to be able to insert a DVD into your PC, have it recognize what movie was inserted, rip it down to WMV and tag it with title, plot, rating and all the extra goodies, then be able to watch it on your MCE, your MCE Extender, or your portable media center any time you want?  Ya, me too.MainScreen

I’ve been searching for the perfect app for a long time, and as of my last attempt at ripping DVDs to play on the extender I had pretty much decided to give up.  Too much effort and too much time.  But the quest for a good way to rip DVDs goes on as my Disney movies continue on their path to destruction at the hands of my two-year old.

Enter MoviePro, an app that has had limited popularity in its own little world of Yahoo Groups for awhile now but has never quite gotten to a level of mass appeal for various reasons.  The developer has corrected a few of the nagging bugs, and more importantly for the future of the app has released the VB source code.  MoviePro now works pretty darn well, and I’m confident that one of my readers will pick up the code and give it the final level of polish that will make it perfect.

One big thing that’s lacking is documentation, but let’s correct that weakness right here and right now.

Installation:

MoviePro depends on several best-of-breed free utilities in order to do its work.  You’ll only need to install these once, and don’t have to worry about any additional configuration for these apps.  I’m noting versions, because I had some “hair pulling” moments using older versions of some of these apps.

  1. Download and install DVD Decrypter.  I am currently using version 3.5.4.0 and it works will.  Simply run the install program and launch the application at least once to ensure it is working properly.
  2. Download and install AC3Filter.  I am currently using 0.70b.  Simply run the install program.
  3. Download and install AVISynth.  I am currently using 2.5.5.  Simply run the install program.
  4. Download and install Windows Media Encoder.  Simply run the install program and launch the application at least once to ensure it is working properly.
  5. Download and install MoviePro. I am currently using build 29. You will need to join the Yahoo Group in order to download and install the file.  Simply run the install program contained in the zip file.  Don’t worry about any other downloads in that directory, all of the needed profiles are included in the install file.

Configuration:

Configuration for MoviePro only needs to be done once, and then it will use those settings from that point onwards.  For the purposes of this article, I will recommend settings that I’ve tested to work well on Extender.

1. Download the IMDB data, which will allow you to add information about the movie directly to the WMV file itself.  IMDB doesn’t allow screen scraping but does make their database available via FTP.  You may wish to periodically update the database but for the most part you’ll only need to do this once.  The first time you try to fetch movie info it will automatically download the database.  Alternatively, you can select Tools… Download Movie Data from the menu. Click on the “Download File Now” button to retrieve the info.

IMDB

2. Configure the defaults by selecting Tools… Options from the menu.

  • Backup Priority – sets the processor priority for the entire process.  I would recommend keeping it at “Low” so that it doesn’t interfere with other processes on your PC.
  • AutoStart Options – sets the behaviour that occurs when you start the program and allows the “zero click” functionality I mentioned in the title.  I have switched it to None personally so that I can better control when the backup process starts, but you could just as easily set it to Automatic so that it will fetch the movie data automatically from IMDB based on the DVD volume label.
  • Movie Data – determines when the movie data should be sought.  I have left it set as Automatic During Backup so that it performs the search in parallel to the rip.  Manual will collect the info when you click on the Get Move Data button.
  • Run Minimized – selecting this option will perform the backup with the applications minimized to the task bar. 
  • Keep Decrypted VOB – selecting this option will leave the decrypted DVD file on your hard drive in the Working Folder.  In general , leave this unselected but I might recommend that you check this off for your first couple of attempts.  If something goes wrong, it’s a real pain to re-rip the entire DVD again.
  • Delete Temp Files – several files get created along the way, selecting this checkbox will delete those files once the backup process is completed.  In general, leave this selected but I might recommend that you uncheck this for the first couple of attempts.  If something goes wrong it’ll just make life easier if you have all the files there still.
  • DVD Drive – let MoviePro know where it can find the DVDs.
  • Working Folder – this is the folder to use for all temporary files that may be created during the process.  Note that this should be located somewhere with lots of available space as the DVD will be ripped here in its entirety.
  • Utility Folder – leave this at the default in most cases, this tells MP where it should find the required conversion utilities that it leverages during the process.
  • Output Folder – where you want the final output to be sent.  Why not set this to My Videos so that you can pick it up right away in MCE?
  • Default WME – *IMPORTANT* – Select Quality VBR – 2 channel.wme which will downmix to the 2–channel audio that Media Center Extender requires.
  • WME Checkboxes – To be honest, I’m not sure what this does.  Hopefully I’ll edit this with more useful information in the near future.
  • Quality – This is the quality setting for the WMV file.  I kept it at the default 90, and the picture looks great.
  • Edit AVISynth Script – Again, not 100% what the behaviour is here so I’ll not try to guess at this point.  I have a question in to the Yahoo Group to answer that question.

Options

Usage

As noted earlier in the article, most everything can be set to be automated, but I’ll run through everything below as if you were in full manual mode.

  1. Insert a DVD into the drive and it should pick up the name from the DVD itself.  If you swap discs or need to refresh that volume label, click on the Get DVD Volume Label.  You can also manually type the name here if the volume label of the DVD is not that useful.
  2. Click on the Get Movie Name button to search IMDB for movie names that match the title, if it’s ambiguous it will give you several options to choose from.

    PickMovieTitle

  3. Click on Get Movie Data to retrieve the rest of the information about the movie.
  4. Leave Autocropping set to On / widescreen, I’ve found that this setting works best for playback on the extender.
  5. Click on Backup Movie to kick the entire process off.
  6. Watch the progress of each step in the Steps section of the main window.  Other apps may launch in the background (or foreground for that matter), MoviePro will log the time for each step.

Encoding

In the end, you’ll be left with one .wmv file that you can then play back on the Media Center Extender quite nicely.  Skip and replay controls operate as they would for recorded TV, although FWD and REW keys don’t appear to do anything with the WMV file. 

Interesting Statistics

On my relatively ancient HP 873n, with a P4 2.5GHz processor, this entire process takes about 2 hours which is much better than I had expected.  I have other, better boxes that I could try this out on but they’re not available right now for various reasons.  I can only assume that it will perform even better on more modern hardware.

Original VOB file size – 6,276,080 KB

Compressed WMV file size – 1,440,098 KB

My Wish List

I’m hoping someone can pick up the source code and play with it a bit more.  If so, here’s the wishlist:

  • Include the auto-cropping setting as one of the defaults that can be set in options
  • Clean up the UI a bit.  It’s not bad, but I’d love if it were a sexy app.  Right now it’s functional.
  • Make it work with PAL.  Not that it would help me, but it’s been requested more than once in the forums.
  • Preview of the output to ensure that the aspect ratio is going to look okay.
  • Ability to rip 5 minutes as a test only, going through the entire process to ensure I had it all set correctly was certainly tedious.

Final Words

Many thanks to the original author for putting together a package that very few people were willing to pay attention to.  Every time I’ve asked for help with this problem I’ve gotten the “why use WMV, use DIVX” response which is incredibly frustrating.  I’m happy to have this tool, and my daughter thanks you for making it easier to watch her favourite movies from any TV in the house or on the road.

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Categories: Media Center
  1. rpossum
    May 10, 2006 at 8:53 pm

    Thanks!
    Everything works perfectly, but the volume ends up being very low on the final wmv. Is there a way of adjusting this that you know of?
    Thanks
    -R

  2. May 10, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    it’s been awhile, but I think that you can tweak the volume levels with AC3Filter via the Windows control panel.

  3. dale wingo
    July 26, 2006 at 11:04 am

    The yahoo site seems to be abandoned. What’s the status of this program?

    TIA

    d

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