Conclusion

The goal of creating a home video jukebox is certainly a noble one, and we are just now on the leading edge of its possibility. The first two pieces of the puzzle, ripping and encoding, are mature enough that this article can give you cookbook steps towards creating DivX files on your server.

DivX should be the correct format for this venture – it compresses well enough to not place too many demands on your hard disk space and your network, and it is within reach of cheap client players. In a few years DivX might be supplanted by H.264 (aka MPEG-4 Part 10 or AVC,) but that is not yet visible over the horizon.

The client player situation is still a bit murky. If you’re sitting on a giant pile of Microsoft stock and money means nothing, don’t think twice about buying a Media Center PC. You’ll be happy. The rest of us have to make some compromises, which in my mind lead to three alternatives:

  • A cheap PC in a small form factor. Put some time into engineering noise and form factor issues, and then use Windows Media Player to stream video across the network to your TV.
  • The KiSS DP-500. A nice looking component, you just have to put up with a few bugs and an annoying dearth of features and usability.
  • A modded Xbox. Not only does it play your DivX files, you can game with it as well. Keep a quarter in your pocket at all times so you call your lawyer after Jack Valenti and Bill Gates break down the door and haul you off to jail.

Resources

DVD Decrypter Web Site This is a great piece of free software. It reads the VOB files from your DVD and decrypts them at the same time. There are a lot of programs that do this, but few that are as friendly and well-designed.
Adaptec ASPI driver download site If you’re using a Windows 9X PC, you will probably need ASPI drivers to allow DVD Decrypter (or other ripping software) to access your DVD drive. With Windows XP (and perhaps 2K) you may able to avoid the installation of these drivers.
Videolan.org The VideoLAN project has quite a few different pieces of work in progress, but the one I’m interested in here is their media player. It’s a free player that runs under just about every O/S you can name, allowing you to easily preview and inspect DVD content.
DivX.com The home page of DivXNetworks, the company that sells and supports the most popular codec for the DivX format. There is generally very good information on this page, particularly in the support forums
Dr. DivX Page The page on the DivXNetworks web site where you can download a trial copy of Dr. DivX. At this time, you get a 15-day trial run with a full feature set. Thats plenty of time to experiment with this great video encoding tool.
DivX.com How-to Guides A nice informative set of documents describing various aspects of the video encoding and decoding process. At a minimum you should browse through “The Official DivX Guide”
AC3Filter home page Home page for the free AC3Filter package. This DirectShow filter allows programs such as Dr. DivX to decode the AAC streams encoded in your DVD VOB files.
Microsoft’s XP Media Center page Microsoft has a nice page here describing how much you’re going to enjoy your XP Media Center PC. This page has links to some of the vendors selling Media Center PCs.
KiSS Technology home page KiSS Technology makes the DP-500 networked video player discussed in this article, as well as a wide variety of other digital media products.
Kaleidescape If it’s too much trouble to create this system on your own, you can now buy a hard-disk based system from Kaleidescape. It sucks in your DVDs and commits them to a hard drive. The base system can hold 160 DVDs, and will only set you back $27,000!
Home site for Play@TV The English language page for the Korean company that makes Play@TV. I didn’t cover it in the article, but they also make a package that lets you control your PC via a remote control, with the goal of making sort of a poor-man’s version of the Windows Media Center PC. If the software is as good as what I saw for the NMP-400, this might be a nice product.
Leadman Electronics Leadman is the US distributor for the Play@TV. You can use their site to locate dealers.