With the holiday vacation, I decided to see just how far the industry has come in the last five years for home media solutions. I have a Windows Home Server from HP. I figure between the WHS and Windows 7 I should be able to have a media cornucopia on tap at all times.
The first thing I had to do was upgrade my EX475. Step one was to load My Movies for WHS. My Movies allows for ripping DVD, HD DVD and Blu Ray using AnyDVD from Slysoft. Slysoft also has a version that supports Blu Ray and HD DVD called AnyDVD HD. And here is where hiccup number 1 comes in. The EX475 does not have a CD ROM much less a DVD drive.
Build a CD/DVD/HD DVD/Blu Ray Player
The EX475 does have an eSATA connector. This allows for connecting a drive or drive bay to the EX475 via SATA. Cool. I went to Fry's and picked up a eSATA external housing for the LG Electronics GGW-H20L DriveI bought earlier. The drive should allow me to rip DVDs, HD DVDs, and Blu Rays. Using a Vantec enclosureI could connect it via eSATA. A couple of quick rips proved the setup worked.
Since the EX475 uses 3.5" drives the enclosure is bigger. It is not a problem though. In fact, once I am done ripping our collection I can pull it off until needed. Which leads to problem number 2, playback.
Playback most be easy. It has to pass the spouse still loves me test. Step one in that is a Harmony Remote. If you do not have one run right now to Best Buy or order one. It makes it very easy for anyone to watch you hacked up TV and stereo system. It can even control a PC using Media Center.
Ah Media Center would it work. It turns out My Movies supports Media Center including Media Center for Windows 7. Just install and you have a new item in the Media Center menu. Before you start you must setup My Movies and point it at your WHS. And give it your account from My Movies.
Once I had it setup I had a slew of features. Cover Art, Fan art for background, and even trailers.
Finding a movie is easy just look through cover art, actor, director, genre, etc.
Once you select a movie you get information about the movie, trailer and playback.
It turns out that my DVD playback software can handle the DVDs fine but not the Blu Ray or HD DVD. True, I have playback software but it does not understand raw ripped files. Ok Slysoft comes to the rescue with a free program called Virtual CloneDrive. My Movies can rip to ISO. Then it tells Virtual CloneDrive (VCD) to mount the ISO over the network. VCD acts like a DVD/HD DVD/Blu Ray drive. Sweet! But I want playback inside Media Center. And that is where yet another program is required. I use TotalMedia Theater 3. Theprogram from Arcsoft plays my DVDs (up-scaling), Blu Ray and HD DVDs with no problem. It pumps out audio over HDMI up to 7.1 audio. My Movies is setup to use TotalMedia and playback on my Pioneer Elite Kuro Plasma is breathe taking.
I use Lost in Space opening act as my test. I have used it for years. When I had my first Elite TV and a regular TV the scene when Matt LeBlanc bumps his fighter into the other fighter to save his friend, I saw only a blur. I upgraded the player and you can just make up a shape in the cockpit. Now you can almost make out the detail of the actor, amazing.
And once the Harmony is reprogrammed it is dead simple to control my spare laptop running Media Center. I did have some glitches that are easy to overcome.
- If you are using a dedicated machine then turn off indexing, superfetch and other unneeded services.
- For better response change to high performance which has the CPU always ready at 100%
- Turn off Aero - just select a basic theme. MCE will always be up so no need to waste cycles on Aero.
- My laptop has a so so graphic cards. I turned off hardware support for Total Media. This helped as Blu Ray and HD DVD swamp my graphic cards but not the CPU. Ok the laptop starts to overheat in the cabinet. But that is fine until I get a real HTPC. I am waiting for Ceton to release their CableCard and then I will build a HTPC. It will have a powerful GPU and low thermal qualities not found in a two year old laptop.
- Turn on buffered I/O on Virtual CloneDrive
- I am also playing with upping network buffers as well.
Now it times to rip my collection. Which brings us to problem number 3, disk space.
I have 1 TB of space on our WHS. Wow not a lot when I start thing about ripping 80 HD DVDs and Blu Rays not to mention the 100+ DVDs. OK maybe I can get away with the DVDs at 5 GB that is 1/2 terra byte required per 100 discs give or take. Unfortunately HD DVDs average 25 GB and Blu Ray 45 GB. I had many terra bytes of space required. Fortunately I had two slots free. Back to Fry's to pick up 2 TB drives. Ok time to rant. The *$*$%^#* drive manufacturers say 2 TB but they are really 1.82 TB. Come on guys report reality please. Anyway I bought three new 2 TB drives.
Now you are thinking, Rabi, didn't you say you had two slots free. How do you cram three drives into two slots. The answer is WHS magic. You put in two 2 TB drives. Let WHS shadow copy and then remove the data only 1/2 TB drive. And then finally pop in the last 2 TB drive. That gave me 5.91 TB of storage. Sounds like a lot until you realize that the DVD collection will take up almost 4 TB or more.
I would put video at where MP3 was back in the 90s. You can do it. You have to do the integration yourself but it can be done. It passes the spouse test. It is just about time for an Apple innovator to make this dead simple.
The Studios must figure out what they are going to do. I will pay good money. I will not give up my media server. I paid for the movie it is fair use to put it on tap. After all it is just an automation of the sneaker net (i.e. get up, get disc, put it into player).
Finally, I have tried this experiment off and on for the last five years. When I first did this I used VLC to swing a DVD over the network to my old non-Plasma Elite. People were amazed and then the stars moved and playback sucked. 2-3 years ago it was a pain to rip a DVD. And storage was expensive. Now for about $500 you can get nearly 6 TB of storage. Enough to store lots of movies in HD and DVD quality. I can't wait to see what happens in the next 5 years. Can I have my holographic projector please?