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

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.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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.

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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.

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