How to Make Your DVD Collection Streamable

If your family is like ours, you probably have a fairly sizable collection of DVDs. You have kids movies, feature films, television show collections, and potentially even home videos. Before Netflix made movie streaming mainstream, you probably thought nothing of keeping a media shelf full of DVD cases and occasionally popping one in your DVD player. It is so much easier now, though, to search for content through that Netflix interface. Wouldn't it be great if all of those DVDs you have around the house were as easy to access as your Netflix content?

Well, with a little time, a PC, and a home network, you can. There are a number of steps involved, though, so I've put together this guide on how to make your DVD collection available on your home network.

DISCLAIMER: This is a guide is intended for use with content that you *own* and have the *right* to use. Distributing copies of copyrighted feature films is against the law. Everybody behave and do good, mmkay?

Ok, with that out of the way, let's talk about the major steps in making your DVD collection available over your home network. First, there are a couple of things you are going to need:

  • A Computer with a DVD drive. This guide assumes a Windows machine.
  • A home network, wireless or wired
  • A gaming console (PS3, Xbox360, Wii) or Home Theater PC (HTPC)

There are three major steps in going from the content on your disc to streaming to your TV, and one optional step.

  • Rip the DVD content to your PC
  • Transcode the content to a streaming friendly format
  • (Optional)"Tag" the file with additional information
  • Publish the content on your home network

Step 1 - DVD Rip

The first step is to get the content of the disc and onto your PC (otherwise known as ripping) where you can work with it. For this I recommend DVDFab. DVDFab is actually a swiss army knife when it comes to DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, but we're only interested in one feature: HD Decrypter. If you find the software suite useful, I encourage you to buy a copy, as the suite of tools is really quite nice.

When you open DVDFab you will be presented with a list of options along the left. We are interested in the DVD Copy option at the top. We then get additional options. When ripping a DVD, you can select to copy all of the contents of the disc, which includes the special features, menus, alternative languages, and other content on the disc. Alternatively, you can choose to copy just the main movie feature. Your selection will depend on the content you are ripping, but for most feature films your best option will be Main Movie. On the right hand pane of the window use the source field to select the DVD that you would like to copy from. In the Target field select the folder to copy the content to. DVD content is large, and you will want to have plenty of room on your hard drive. If your PC has two hard drives, I recommend creating a folder on the second drive for storing the DVD rips. In the "Volume Label" field name the content you are ripping. DVDFab will use the name from the source DVD label, but you are free to use whatever you like. The software will create a new folder in the target folder with this name. Finally, for best quality, dropdown the DVD size selector to choose DVD 9. This will retain a perfect bit-for-bit copy of the disc rather than performing compression. We're done here, so click the next button.

This next screen displays the tracks found on the disc and which one will be copied. DVDFab is very good about detecting which track is the feature film on the disc. However, if you are ripping a disc that contains episodes of a television show, you may find that you need to fiddle with some of the options. For now, I'll assume that DVDFab correctly selected the main track. Go ahead and click Start to get the rip going. This is a long process, and the time it takes to rip the disc will depend on the length of the content, the speed of your DVD drive, processor, and hard drive. Usually you can expect an hour of content to take about 10 minutes to rip, but this will vary.

Step 2 - Transcode to H.264

Transcoding is the process of converting from one video file format (or codec) to another. I like the Handbrake software for this step. Handbrake comes with a number of profiles that allow you to tailor the transcoding process to the device you intend to display your content on. For the purpose of this guide I'm going to assume you want to display the content on a high definition television from a gaming console, such as a PlayStation3. Select the High Profile option, as this will give you a good copy of the content for streaming without too much compression. From the menu bar, click the Video Source button and choose Video Folder. Now browse to the folder created by DVDFab when it ripped the disc. You may notice that the folder you selected now has several sub-folders: Main Movie->->VIDEO_TS. The video content from the rip is located in the VIDEO_TS folder, so let's select this as our source. Handbrake will then suggest a target destination file. Again, I recommend creating a new folder for storing your transcoded content. Once you have the source, destination, and profile selected, it is time to start transcoding. At the top of the window you will see toolbar button to Start. Click this to begin transcoding. The transcoding process takes a very long time, especially on the High Profile setting. I've found that on my PC, the time required is usually minute-for-minute the same length as the content, but this will be very dependent on the processing power of your PC. If you have a lot of DVDs, you may want to rip several DVDs at once (Step 1), and then setup Handbrake to transcode them at night while you sleep. You may notice that after clicking the start button, the button changed to say Enqueue. You can create a job list for Handbrake in this way. Your PC will work throughout the night, completing the job list.

Step 3 - Tagging (Optional)

While this step is not required to get your content streaming on your home network, you may find it helpful. Tagging allows you to supply additional information about the video file, such as the actors who perform, the director, date it was published, and cover art. I use a free app called MetaX to do this tagging. It isn't the easiest app to use, but the price is right and it has the features I need. First, open the video file you would like to apply tags to. You'll see it added to the list on the right. Next, select that item from the list. Now, on the left side, enter the name of the video in the search box and click Search. The app will pull up data from several tag databases that match the search term. Clicking search results will populate the fields in the main section of the app. If you don't find what you are looking for you can manually enter the details for your file. Once complete, click the check box next to each box that you would like associated with the file, or click the check mark button in the toolbar to toggle all checks. Finally, click the Apply button (shaped like an arrowhead) to apply these tags to the file. You can add several files to your queue and tag them all at once.

Step 4 - Publish

The final step to making your content available is to publish it on your local network. If you are running Windows 7, the built-in Windows Media Server software can do this for you. I've found the security settings required to get Windows Media Server to work properly to be very frustrating, so I use PlayOn. The PlayOn service runs on your PC and makes content available to your other network devices, such as other PCs, game consoles, and mobile devices. While you need to pay for a license for much of the content, the My Media (beta) feature is free to use without a full license. Again, the PlayOn software is great, and I encourage you to purchase a copy, but if you are looking to stream on the cheap, the free version will get you there. The My Media feature of PlayOn requires that you also install the VLC Media Player, which is a fantastic piece of free software for playing movies.

From the PlayOn control panel you need to configure the software to find your local files. Pull up the PlayOn settings window and go to the MyMedia tab. You need to check the box to enable the My Media feature (beta). You can then add folders to PlayOn that will be made available to your networked devices.

Start Streaming!

Now your content is published, go watch it! If you have a PlayStation3, your PlayOn server will appear as an option in the Video section of the cross bar interface. If you use a Wii you will need to open the Internet Browser and browse to the address of the server on your network. The same works for the Xbox360 or a laptop. You will be presented with a menu that allows you to select content. If you use an iPod Touch, iPhone, or Android device there are PlayOn apps.

The PlayOn interface for streaming is a little quirky, and it can be frustrating to try scrubbing to a specific point in a video. The DLNA support on the PlayStation3 is fantastic, and is a great way for viewing your streamed content.

What is a Fair Tax Rate?

As our representatives in Washington attempt to agree on a budget, one of the topics of discussion is how much tax we should pay. Specifically, should the wealthiest Americans continue to receive the tax cut put in place by President Bush?

Before anyone answers that question, I think it is important to go through the thought experiment of determining what a 'fair' tax would be. Let's say you were suddenly granted the power to decide the rate at which income tax is paid. We'll stick with income tax to focus the discussion, but there are a number of other sources of tax, including social security, medicare/medicaid, and payroll tax to name a few. First, let's look at the spectrum of income in the US. Income is typically divided into quintiles, which is dividing the spectrum into five pieces, each with equal population. The Census Bureau published the mean income for each quintile for the year 2009:

Bottom Quintile: $11,552
Second Quintile: $29,257
Third Quintile: $49,534
Fourth Quintile: $78,694
Top Quintile: $170,844

Within each quintile you will find folks who make more than the mean, and folks who make less than the mean, but the idea is that an equal number of households are making somewhere around this amount. Another thing to keep in mind is that for the year 2009, the threshold for poverty was annual income of less than $11,161 (I covered this in more detail in an earlier post).

So given that $11,161 is the minimum necessary to live, what level of taxation is fair?

One common school of thought is to impose flat tax amount, where each citizen pays the same. After all, we all are equal citizens, so we should all pay the same for that privilege. In 2009 the US government received $1.21 trillion in income tax. We'll ignore the fact that the US ran a $400 billion deficit this year, and assume that this amount of tax was sufficient for a balanced budget (along with those other tax receipts we are ignoring for the moment). The IRS received 236 million returns that year, so we'll use that as our population count. So if we divided the tax receipts ($1.21T) by our population (236M) we get $5,127.12 from every household.

Our top quintile would love that. After all, it is easily afforded, and likely much less than they pay now. Our bottom quintile is in real trouble though. They had less than $400 to spare, and are now several thousand dollars below the poverty line. As a percentage of income, the lowest quintile is paying 44.38%, while the top quintile pays just 3%.

That isn't the only school of thought though. There is also the concept of paying a flat percentage rate. So what percentage rate would we need to use across all of those households in order to get back to our $1.21T in revenues? First, we divide our population by five to get the number of households in each quintile (47.2M). Then, we multiple each quintiles mean income by the population for that quintile to determine the total income from the quintile:

Bottom Quintile: $0.545 trillion
Second Quintile: $1.380 trillion
Third Quintile: $2.338 trillion
Fourth Quintile: $3.714 trillion
Top Quintile: $8.063 trillion

Total Income: $16.042 trillion

Our revenue ($1.21T) is 7.54% of that $16T in income our households earned. If every household, regardless of income, paid that rate, the same amount of revenue would be generated. Now, of course, the math here isn't perfect because we have households earning more and less than our mean household income for each quintile, but it helps us understand how this works. Taking a look at our bottom quintile, this tax would cost them $871, which still puts them into poverty. Is that fair?

Again, not the only method for assigning tax rates. We could also apply a different tax rate to folks in each quintile. Let's say the bottom quintile pays no tax, the next quintile pays a small rate, and so on with the highest quintile paying the highest rate. This is close to how our federal income taxes are assessed now. The thinking is that those in the lowest tax bracket are least able to pay, and so they are taxed the least. Those in the upper tax bracket are most able to pay, and so are taxed the most. But how should those rates be assigned? It's a sticky matter, and this is the basis for the arguments going around about whether or not the wealthiest Americans should continue to receive a tax cut.

There is one issue that causes our current method to break down: extreme income disparity. Let's say that there are ten folks in a room, and they represent all of the income for the US. Let's also say the income breaks down something like this:

1: $5,000
2: $15,000
3: $25,000
4: $35,000
5: $40,000
6: $60,000
7: $70,000
8: $90,000
9: $150,000
10: $4,000,000

Whoa, I wanna be #10! I feel really bad for #9 though. If we assign our tax rate by quintile, #9 and #10 get taxed at the same rate. #9 and #10 represent 92% of the total income, and so it should be assumed that they should also be responsible for at least 92% of the taxes paid, if not more. Poor #9 is going to get saddled with a pretty hefty tax rate because he lives in the same quintile as #10, even though the income levels are extremely disparate. This is an extreme example. However, income disparity is real, and the trend has been for more disparity, not less. This means that in our room of ten people, we will have more folks at either extreme. What happens when 5 are earning poverty income, while 5 are earning six-figures?

Jade Mason