My DVD to MP4 Media Conversion Project is Done!


You might remember my post from May when I was in the middle of converting my Movie DVDs over to a hard drive. I have successfully converted my DVD movie connection to .MP4 H.264 format! This means that I can now enjoy any movie I own on any HDTV in my house via Apple TV or I can take the movies with me on my laptop or iPhone. I actually finished the conversion a couple of months ago, which was much earlier than I anticipated.


How did I do it?

I have over 380 standard def Hollywood DVDs. Painstakingly one-by-one I converted each one over to an .MP4 file using Handbrake. All 440 movies total (some were already digital or home movies) were imported into iTunes and reside on a Drobo connected to an intel iMac. This iMac serves as my iTunes server. It’s the one that all of my Apple TV’s are sync’d to and it’s the one that I use to sync my iPhone to for media ( you can sync an iPhone to more than one computer for data and media separately). I also use this iMac to sync my iPods too. So it has it all, music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, best of the best photos, etc. 

I found that the best over setting to use in HandBrake was the "Universal" preset. This would render an .M4V (.MP4) file that would be playable on all of my devices AND more importantly it would bring over the 5.1 surround sound track for playback on Apple TV.

After running each movie through Handbrake for the conversion I used MetaX to add all of the metadata to the file such as movie posters, ratings, actors/actresses, chapter names, etc. 



How did I make it go faster?

Converting a movie using Handbrake will either go quickly or very slowly depending on the speed of your computer. For example, on my fastest computer which is an older Mac Pro, it takes about 40 minutes to convert a 2 hour movie (new Mac Pros do it in about 20 minutes). However, on my older Power Mac G5 it takes hours. On an older iMac G5 it takes about 6-10 hours to convert one movie. So as you can see processor speed and multiple processors are the key. Rather than go out and buy a super fast Mac Pro (which I’m itching to do anyway), I decided to simply throw more computers at this task. As you might imagine, I have a variety of computers around the house and rather than just let them sit idle, I fired them up and started a small render farm. At any given time I could have 5-6 movies being converted at once. Even though the slower computers would take hours, it would be one less movie that the I had to do.

The other thing I did which helped quite a bit was to realize that Handbrake can work in a batch mode. Most of the time you’re not going to sit there babysitting this process for hours on end. So when a conversion is finished, the computer just sits there waiting for you to put in the next disc! That is time wasted. So I installed a second DVD drive in my Mac Pro. Since you can have two optical drives in a Mac Pro, I decided that it was worth the money to simply install a second one. This way I could cue up two at a time and when Handbrake finished one disc, it would simply start the next.

Then I took this a step further. I have a Bravo Pro Disc Duplicator attached to my Mac Pro for burning CDs/DVDs. Well the Bravo Pro has two drives in it. These drives are just sitting there and can be used for reading too! So now I could cue up 4 discs at once! This was great for overnight renders or for when I was away from home. I knew that when I returned I’d have 4 discs done on that one computer. 

By adding the additional computers to this project AND the additional drives, my productivity increased greatly and allowed me to finish at least two months before I had originally anticipated.



The last thing I want to do is to do this project over again! So backups are important. Although legally I will retain the original DVDs in storage, I don’t ever want to have to re-rip them. So as soon as the project was finished I made a copy of all the movies onto another hard drive and put that drive in my safe deposit box at the bank. In addition to that I also backup the Drobo on a nightly basis to another drive using SuperDuper! The iMac’s internal drive and iTunes library files are backed up also via Time Machine. My Movies folder weighs in at 624GB.


What’s missing?

Well the one thing you miss when you do this type of conversion is the DVD extras. I’ve never been a fan of the DVD extras anyway, so I’m not missing anything. However, if you like the DVD extras then you may be disappointed by not having access to them without the disc. Although Apple TV support jumping from chapter to chapter, there is no way to jump immediately to a specific chapter. I hope they add that ability via a software update. 


The Bottom Line


Having instant access to our movies from any HDTV in the house has been awesome! I’ve even been able to rediscover some movies that I forgot I even owned. The movies stream beautifully to Apple TV on both wired and wireless systems. I’ve easily had two going at once watching two different movies with no problem. I may be able to do 3 or more simultaneously, I just haven’t tried. Going forward If I do buy a movie it will either be via an iTunes download or a Blu-ray with a Digital Copy. I still believe that renting is the way to go for 90% of what I watch. However, since I had such an investment in older movies, I figured I might as well make the best of it. The other thing I discovered of course was that there were at least 3 movies that I had bought twice! Yes, I already owned them and bought them again. By having the movies all in iTunes, the new version of Delicious Library can pick them up directly from there. Also my Harmony One Remotes have no problem controlling Apple TV also.

Would I do this again? Absolutely, it was well worth the effort. Anyone want to buy some really cool rotating DVD racks?

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