Cyberborean Chronicles

Home media network

The holiday season is going on and it’s a time to have all sorts of fun. Watching movies and cartoons is not the last item in our family agenda, so I prepared to that with all power of my homebred IT infrastructure.

I should say I hate disks. They are taking a lot of space, cluttering all around, getting scratched and getting lost sometimes. I am too lazy to stand up and find a CD/DVD on a shelf just to get a movie or a song. I already got all my music collection in the computer as MP3 files and used to grab every new audio CD immediately. I’d like to do the same with DVD movies – rip them from the disks, convert them to something like MPEG4 and provide shared access to the media collection in our home network.

Our home LAN is small and simple – there are only two workstations connected by an Ethernet cable. There are my main work machine running Kubuntu Feisty Fawn and the children room computer owned by my daughters. The last box runs XP Home Edition, it is weaker and got a smaller harddrive than the Linux box – so server/client roles in the media network were obvious.

As the Linux box already runs Samba, the solution for sharing the media files over the network was ready. I only created a Windows network drive on the client machine and linked it to the Samba share on a server filesystem. I’d like to have more sophisticated solution for media organizing – something like a specialized media server with advanced metadata/annotation/categorization features but found no one so far. All in all, simply movie titles and preview thumbnails are good enough, and my children have no problems to navigate over the movie collection.

Well, my only task was to rip the movies from DVD’s. My first try of ripping DVD using the familiar tools was unsuccessful. Strangely, K3b – a swissknife for all CD/DVD tasks in KDE – could not rip video DVD’s in Feisty. As it was turned out, it is Kubuntu-only limitation and I have no idea is it a result of that copyrights paranoia (though grabbing the audio CD’s works fine), or just a miss of packagers in Canonical. The people said it is still unworkable in 7.10 Gutsy. Of course, I might recompile K3b from sources but I decided to look for another ripping tool first.

There is a nifty command line utility: transcode. It can convert video from one format to another using lots of import and export codecs – and directly from a DVD too. In fact, you need to install it if you want to rip DVD’s with K3b, though it had no help in my case. Using transcode has only problem – you should be a video engineering guru to understand its manpage with lots of all transcoding options. I didn’t want to learn all that stuff – I only needed to convert videos from DVD into AVI/MPEG4 files with the same frame size and without visible loss of quality.

I finally chose dvd::rip – a GUI frontend to transcode written in Perl and GTK+. In Kubuntu, you can found it in multiverse/graphics repository section. If you want to get compressed MPEG-4 files, you will also need XVid codec (multiverse/libs/libxvidcore4) or another DivX/XVid library for transcode.

ripRipping DVD with dvd:rip is an easy two-step process: at first stage it copies the selected titles from DVD to the harddisk and lets you clip and scale the resulting movie. The program allows to choose from few presets of movie format and quality with previewing the results. Video gurus can also get into all codec’s fine-tuning options, while others can just go to the next stage by clicking on “Transcode” button letting the program to do its job with defaults. The second stage is quite long and finishes with a MPEG4 file in a container of a selected type (AVI, OGG or MPEG).

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