DTV Transition? Done. Now Make My DVD Problem Go Away!

DTV Transition? Done. Now Make My DVD Problem Go Away!

Summary: My DVD collection is 3 layers deep and takes up 2 tall ugly fiberboard IKEA book cases. I'd like to get them out of my living room and into a random access, cataloged digital media format.

TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility

My DVD collection is 3 layers deep and takes up 2 tall ugly fiberboard IKEA book cases. I'd like to get them out of my living room and into a random access, cataloged digital media format. Got any ideas?

Over the weekend, I decided to clean up my living room and do some upgrades to my entertainment system. I picked up a set of Cambridge Soundworks HT305s (currently onsale) to bring my sound system up to date and paired it with a $100 Rocketfish Wireless Rear Speaker kit so that I could eliminate the need to run ugly speaker wires to the back of my living room for my surrounds.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Indeed, I could have put a rug on top of the wire like I did before, but my dogs kept, uh, "Marking" the rug, and the prospect of having to replace the rug for $100 every six months or so prompted me to search for other options -- I went back to plain hardwood floors and made the speakers wireless. I now have a kickass home theater system to go with my HDTV DVR setup and have solved the dogs peeing on my friggin' rug problem. Go Rocketfish!

I have one, small, eensy-weensy little problem left to deal with, which I can't quite figure out how to make completely go away, at least for minimal cost -- and that's how to deal with my DVD collection, which has become something of an eyesore in my living room.

I started collecting DVDs shortly after I got married, about 14 years ago. It has amassed to about 400 movies and TV shows, and it's taking up a lot of space in my house. Right now, I'm bookending a 42-inch LCD TV on a stand with two big ugly IKEA media shelves which were purchased during the Cenozoic era that are falling apart, and are currently being used to mount my Left and Right front speakers.

Up until this weekend they were filled three layers deep with DVDs, more than half of which had never been opened, many of which were purchased with coupons and promotions during the big DVD online sales frenzy of the late 90s and early 2000s from dot coms that no longer exist. The DVDs are now in cardboard boxes in my spare bedroom. My wife wants me to remove these bookcases and wall-mount the speakers, so we can give the living room a cleaner look and gain some space back.

However, I lament not having easy access to my movie collection. I can't blame my wife for this, as much of this is my fault and due to laziness -- I hated having to look for stuff in my collection and it was easier just to watch movies recorded from DirecTV or streamed from Netflix on the Roku. Still, there's a lot of things DirecTV/Roku/Netflix doesn't have, particularly the Special Features and commentary on DVDs, which I swore I would get to watching someday.

Ideally, I would love to be able to find a way to easily digitize my entire DVD collection, in a cost effective manner. I'm aware of the various Linux distributions for Media Center control and a number of Open Source projects to homebrew your own movie server, but all of these solutions seem rather raw and unpolished. I'd expect Apple to have some sort of product that can do this, but Apple TV doesn't seem to be designed with the intent of consolidating your existing DVD collection onto a hard drive. Yeah, you can buy new movies from iTunes, but that isn't what I want to do. You can certainly play back Xvid/MPEG4 content on an Apple TV, but that actually requires getting it into a format that an Apple TV can use -- this goes for Open Source solutions as well.

What I really want is some kind of box that is a standalone appliance or an accessory for my existing DVR system which I can feed my DVDs or any of my media into and it will encode and preserve the entire DVD intact on a hard disk, including menuing systems and special features for each disc. A "Virtual DVD Jukebox" so to speak.

Obviously there are a bunch of technical (never mind the legal) challenges to doing this. Assuming you can compress an entire DVD into a single XVid or MPEG4 file in high quality format with a comment track and other special features, that's about 1GB per DVD. And many movies come as multiple discs, with the special features on separate discs, so that's probably closer to 2GB per DVD. Assuming a collection of 400 movies, that's 800GB to 1TB of storage required.

This also doesn't account for the time it will take to actually encode all these movies to store on the drive in the newer compressed format, because encoding a DVD movie on even the most powerful desktop PCs can take hours. To get it down to a half an hour or less per movie, you'll need a multi-core multiprocessor server like an Intel Nehalem or an AMD Istantbul, hardly the type of hardware your average home computer user has lying around.

The only solution I can see to this is if a company like Netflix or Roku can come up with a "DVD Mausoleum" service where you feed your DVD into a PC or a Mac, which verifies that you own the movie and then will allow you to stream a copy of it from their servers out there in cloud-land, with a nice GUI front end. A service like this would possibly even require you to send your own DVD in the mail, where it will be scanned, inventoried and encoded, so if they don't have a particular movie in your collection in their inventory that they have licensed to stream to their regular customer base, you at least will be able to view it privately. Obviously the logistics (and the legal quagmire) of this would have to be worked out, but I think this is the only way to get around the problem.

Does anyone else have a huge DVD collection that they want to store digitally and in a compact form? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Could you share more details on your Linux experiences?

    I've been planning to build a Linux based media center but I haven't planned out my plans on dealing with Direct TV. What did you find to be lacking on the Linux media centers.

    Plus I'm always looking for places to apply some polish to a project. ;-)
    • Experiences

      Over the years I've experimented with LinuxMCE, MythTV, Mythbuntu, and SageTV All of which require a lot of tinkering around with drivers, video mode stuff, etc. I just want a box that works.

      SageTV apparently now ships a $200 appliance that is compatible with a lot of media formats:

      There's also a new cheap box from Western Digital for video streaming:

      However both of these solutions require the end-user to do the encoding and data transfer, which is very time intensive and not everyone is a PC networking and data conversion expert. You should just be able to feed your DVDs into a box, walk away while it does the work, and have it automatically inventoried with all the features ready to play when it is done.

      Ideally I'd like to see companies like SONY and Sling Media who have products already on the market that could do this with some kind of hardware/software accessory to automate the process. Both the PS3 and the Slingbox have serious media encoding capabilities already built in.

  • RE: DTV Transition? Done. Now Make My DVD Problem Go Away!

    well isn't this EXACTLY what RealDVD was supposed to do but is locked up in lawsuit? i want to do the exact same thing. i'm not willing to give up the ability to switch on & off subtitles, or view special featuers, or even watch the movie in spanish if for some weird reason i wanted to... but i want to digitize my whole collection. harddrives are getting less and less expensive and really a terabyte isn't THAT bad. it's just a simple way of doing the whole process (and a good program to run the whole thing) is what i'm looking for... i would love to see if you end up coming up with some good answer to this dilemma (my dvd collection is currently at over 800... and very ugly haha)
    • I use mythubuntu

      In my case I already have mythubuntu up and running on a dedicated computer (Oh yeah, it took a lot of time to set it up to my taste), which records all my favourite TV shows. I used the simple copy to ISO feature in the gnome to copy some of my favorite DVDs to ISO format and put them under the video folder which is accessible through MythTV. I set vlc to play the ISOs. So I now have most of my DVDs accessible through my remote control. But I must say that my DVD collection is not in terms of 100s. Its probably around 30 - 40.
      • I do something similar with GB-PVR

        and ShrinkDVD.

        My collection isn't in the 100's either, but you start doing 1 a day and it is amazing how fast you can move along.
      • And if you want to do this with media center

        There are free tools to integrate ISO playback into windows media center (can't remember the software name offhand, but GIYF). Sure, ripping to hard drive with no additional compression could take up several terabytes, but you can have that for a few hundred dollars and avoid wasting time and killing video quality by recompressing.

        And you probably don't care to rip everything you've got anyway if you've never opened them.
  • The solution: REALDVD

    The solution exists, but it's stuck in litigation. Hopefully, there'll be a breakthrough that will make all sides happy.
    • Slysoft AnyDVD

      is apparently capable of doing this.
  • RE: DTV Transition? Done. Now Make My DVD Problem Go Away!

    The problem is the DVD industry. You would be in shaky legal ground if you digitized them even for Fair Use if there is any encryption on them. RealDVD got in trouble because they are US based. SlySoft got around any possible problems by moving from Germany to Antiga. One other alternative you have is to use something like the Sony DVPCX995V 400-Disc DVD Mega Changer/Player.
  • I had a similar problem with CDs

    When I faced the daunting process of feeding over 3000 CDs to my PC to rip them down to a hard drive I could then serve to the rest of the house. I was inspired by our media management department. They had just replaced their broken automatic CD duplicator. A little dumpster diving, a new motherboard, harddrive, an old CDROM and what Im left with is a a robot that automatically takes a CD off one spindle, loads in in the CDROM tray, waits for the CD to eject and puts on another spindle. Windows media player does the rest. Set it to automatically rip any CD when it is loaded and Eject when done, add an internet connection and it even downloads and attaches the CDDB information, liner notes and cover art. system averages about 12 cds per hour so I load 50 on the spindle each night and they're normally done in the morning. Now to start on converting 55 years worth of Vinyl records.
    • Same here

      All my music sits on a local HDD that I'm able to access 24/7.

      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Download Handbrake and VLC

    RIP them to MP4 using the AppleTV or PS3 preset, shove them on a large USB drive, play them on your PS3 or AppleTV from HDD or stream them from your PC. Problem solved.
    • Software is not the problem

      its the manual labor and tedium involved to transcode such a large collection.
      • Then there is no solution

        outside of bittorrent, which simply allows others to do the transcodeing for you.

        It would be nice if Big Media allowed you to treat digital media like digital media, but they won't. And won't any time soon, from what I can see.

        Even media that comes with a 'digital copy' (as if it wasn't already) comes laden with worse DRM then is on the disk.
      • Just do it a little bit at a time.

        You're unlikely to get a solution that allows you do legally download images.

        We never got that for CDs, and the Studios are arguably more paranoid about that issue than the music labels.

        I'd use whatever software you like, set up an HTPC and just start ripping at least 2 or 3 dvds every day.

        If you don't want to manually deal with changing the DVD several times, then consider putting in several DVD Drives and write a script that does the ripping for you. There are many ways to do it, I'm sure, but Auto-It is one that immediately comes to mind.

        Best of luck. I still recall ripping my CD's to FLAC and copying them to DVD...and it was a long process, but I'm glad I did it.
  • Just buy two of these and move on........ in the longrun

    you'll be way ahead of the game with two of these units, and you'll still have 200 dvd's to buy ............that could take you 8 years to accomplish that. ...... ps, from my point of view you'll be old and gray before copy that collection to some other format
    Over and Out
    • Nice, but...

      No Blueray version...
  • Just buy one of these - $250

    Sony DVPCX995V 400-Disc DVD Mega Changer/Player - $250 from Amazon.

    On the other hand, you could image the DVDs and use DAEMON Tools to mount virtual DVDs. But since storage is going to cost the same as the DVD jukebox, and time is $$ as well.... just start searching your favorite online retailer for "DVD Jukebox."

    As an added bonus, you won't have to violate the idiot, moronic, otherwise pathetic DMCA.
  • RE: DTV Transition? Done. Now Make My DVD Problem Go Away!

    DVDFab Decrypter + any media drive would work just fine. Just copy DVDs straight to the drive without any transcoding and you will have the same DVD will all the menus, FBI warnings and extras in less than 10 minutes (depends on the speed of DVD drive though).

    • at about

      8 GB a crack, give or take.
      Sounds like he doesn't want to deal with the space requirements, or deal directly with ISO's (can AppleTV play an ISO? How about an XBox360? Or Popcorn Hour? NMT? What will be your next PVR?)

      It would be nice if it were that easy.