DVDs suck! They really do. The basic idea was great and when they were news they were actually good news but today DVDs (and Blurays as well) suck.
The main reason in my opinion is their reliability, or lack thereof. The optical media is extremely delicate. If you are obsessively anal retentive about your discs – like me – and always take them straight out of the player, put them back in their casing and make sure the print on the disc lines up with the print on the case then this is only occasionally a problem. However if this is not the case, or even if you are like me but rent movies from time to time, the brittleness of the disc means the player will likely fail to read the content in a key scene of the movie, thereby forcing you to either restart the movie and try to fast-forward past the damaged section or forcing you to return to the video rental store with disappointment written all over your face.
Apart from this the disc format overall is very, very slow. For DVDs this means that it takes forever to transfer any data to and from them, which makes them pretty useless for anything other then movies. For Blurays it means that the time from the moment I put the disc in the player to the moment I can actually start interacting with the content is far too long.
Piracy is a crime!
Yes, I happen to agree to this. Piracy is a crime, that’s why I buy movies. But why should I, who do buy movies, be penalized by being forced to watch almost 2 minutes of propaganda declaring that I would have been a thief, if I had pirated the movie? (Incidentally, the simplest way of not having to watch this propaganda is to pirate the movie. )1
Time well spent?
Let me tell you a little story, and show you a little math. A couple of summers ago (3 I think) I bought a DVD box with The Complete X Files series (plus the first X Files movie). This meant 202 episodes of awesome TV magic. It also meant a lot of time spent watching ”Piracy is a crime” spots.
Let’s assume I watched one episode each time I put a disc into my DVD player. That means I watched ”Piracy is a crime” 202 times. That means I’ve spent almost 7 hours watching the damn infomercial, just for the X files watching. That’s almost a full work day! Now imagine how much time a person spends in his/her life watching this propaganda. And that is because you do buy movies.
(Also, let’s not forget the times that a microscopic dust particle managed to get onto a disc and interrupted the playback. In some players this actually mean you have to watch the damn thing all over again.)
Needless to say, these problems bothered me quite a lot. The solution was apparently to rip the content of the DVDs to video files and play them back from a computer. There are multiple tools to rip, convert and watch movies. I will just list and write about the ones I actually use.
The ripping can be done two ways, either as a on-stop process where the source is the DVD and the result is a couple of movie files, or as a two part process where the DVD is first ripped to the computer, but still in DVD format, and then converted to movie files.
I generally prefer the second way since it means I can rip a lot of discs (which requires quite a bit of manual labour) during the day and then let the tedious (but very automated) converting be done in the night.
Mac the Ripper (rest in peace)
My tool for ripping discs has been Mac the Ripper. Unfortunately it’s a PowerPC application and with the discontinuation of Rosetta in OS X Lion, Mac the Ripper is now useless.
Handbrake is an awesome application that convert video files from one format to another. It is great for converting a DVD (or the ripped content of one) to H.264 video files that plays back smoothly on most modern computer hardware.
So ripping and converting things isn’t really a problem, which means the next question will be how to play back the video files in the best way. Playing it back in QuickTime and using folders to sort your library is one way. iTunes is another, slightly better but still not great, solution.
The solution that I’ve found to be the best is Plex Media Server. It’s a fork of XBMC, originally only for the Mac but nowadays compatible with Windows and various Linux flavors as well.
Plex is a two-piece solution with a media server and one or more clients. You can read all about it over at their web page, but the best way to really get to know about it is to download it (it’s free) and try using it.
What I’ve found to be great about Plex is mainly three thing:
- Media Management
The way it handles my media and enables me to easily see what I’ve watched recently, what I’m in the middle of watching and what’s next in TV-series etc.
- Meta data
As long as I name the files correctly the media server will fetch all a necessary meta data such as posters, synopsis etc.
- The ease of use
My girlfriend is not as tech savvy as I am, so any high tech solution for common things needs to be easy to use. So far, Plex certainly is. She uses it by herself all the time and the fact that I ultimately threw out the DVD-player met with no backlash what so ever.
Happily ever after?
So that’s that. A fairly long piece about the greatness of Plex. Apart from trying to convince all of you to try it, this article is also the first piece in a greater puzzle. The next piece in the puzzle is about clients for the media server, and that is maybe the more important piece but I felt that this introduction to why I hate optical media and love Plex was necessary.