If you take a short stroll around the internet you will find some varied opinions about the future of home entertainment. Some say that DVD is on its last leg, and that Blu-Ray simply doesn’t offer a compelling reason to upgrade. Still, it seems that the general public is quite a long way from shifting entirely to download/streaming services (AppleTV, XBOX360, PS3, Netflix, etc.). You also can’t count out the lingering consumer preference to having a physical copy of the movies and music they purchase. These conflicting opinions and preferences make the prospect of declaring a truly dominant format to be very difficult.
I, for one, understand that preference for an original, physical copy. When CD burning first started to go mainstream I resisted because I simply had to have that jewel case and liner notes. If I didn’t have them I felt like my album wasn’t really an album. But with the introduction of the iPod I realized that CD cases were nothing more than a pain in the ass. Trying to store and organize 2,000 CDs surely contributed to the annoyance, but even a smaller amount would still have been a challenge.
Somehow I failed to learn from that mistake and decided to collect DVDs with the same obsessiveness. This resulted in an entire closet dedicated to DVD storage of titles that were seldom watched more than once. I also found that having such a collection often made it more difficult to make a selection when it was movie time. I can’t count the number of times my friends would just stare, eyes glazed over, unsure of which movie to pick. I finally broke down when I learned that my fiance would routinely select a cropped, low quality, IN DEMAND version of the same movie I already owned, just because it was easier than facing the wall of movies.
Then I visited a friend who had made the jump to AppleTV. Initially I thought I’d never be satisfied with the ATV solution, given the reduced resolution and lack of 5 channel surround. Much to my surprise the picture quality was great. In fact, depending on your encoding settings it can be just as good as the source. Also, the wonderful guys at Handbrake also added support for 5 channel encoding, meaning I was ready to charge ahead.
There are some important things to consider when you are making the jump to streaming. First of all there are some titles that can be challenging to encode. I find that it happens most frequently with titles from Disney and Sony. Ultimately it happens infrequently enough that I don’t mind keeping the originals in a convenient place.
Second thing to consider is the amount of time it takes to encode your video. Depending on your computer (I’m using the latest Mac Mini) it can take as long as an hour to copy the DVD content to your drive, and somewhere from 1-2 hours for Handbrake to encode. You also have the option of encoding directly from the DVD, but I’ve found that it’s more efficient to backup several movies to your drive and then queue up several encodes for when I’m away from the machine.
The last major challeng you will run into is storage. At the settings I use most of my movies end up around 1.5 to 2GBs. This means that your drive space will go quickly. To make matters worse, if the time spent encoding represents a significant expense you will want to have your files backed up. This means double the drives, as well as a backup strategy (weekly? monthly? where you keep the backup drives for safety).
If you aren’t entirely sold on the value of the AppleTV, you can also stream the movies through an XBOX360 or PS3, but I find the interface of the ATV much easier. It’s also nice to easily access your music, podcasts, and other content from the ATV menu.
Anyway, I should probably also include more details about my setup.
- Mac Mini (Intel Core Duo – 2GHz – 3GB RAM)
- 2 AppleTVs (40GB each, 1 for the living room, 1 for the movie room)
- 2 MyBook 1.25 TB drives for movies (1 backing up the other)
- 2 MyBook 750GB drives for TV Shows (1 backing up the other)
This was clearly not as coherent as I expected, but I think it still gives some good background.