I’ve been trying for a while now to find a reasonably priced way to play video files that live on my computers on our TV or projector with acceptable quality while still being easy to use. Finding a solution has proven more difficult than I initially thought. I could never really find anything that gave me everything I wanted without some major compromise and didn’t cost a lot in terms of price or time spent configuring. I simply want to be able to take a file from the computer and play it on my TV or projector on a device that feels integrated with the rest of my setup.

Enter Western Digital’s WD TV Live. The WD TV Live does exactly what I want and does it in a tiny and silent, remote controlled package. It is able to stream virtually every common video or audio format in use today from a network share or from a locally attached USB drive. As an added bonus, it can also access YouTube, Pandora, Flickr as well as a couple of other online services. You can read more about the WD TV Live at http://www.wdtvlive.com/products/wdtv_live#highlights.

There are some isues with the device right now that are supposed to be cleared up in a soon to be released firmware update. It will play DVDs ripped to .iso format but doesn’t support menus, or even chapters, at all. This makes it nearly impossible to watch a TV series on DVD. The other issue the player currently has is with h264 files but oddly enough it is all in the name. A file with the extension .m4v will most likely have audio sync issues. Renaming the file to .mp4 will resolve the audio sync issue but will do nothing with the stuttering playback for all but the most basic of h264 encoded files. Incredibly, taking the same h264 file and putting it into mkv format will fix all of the issues and the file will play perfectly.

Despite these very easily fixed issues, this is the best device I’ve come across for playing videos at this price point. Yes, there are probably more capable devices available and there is certainly more capable software available (XBMC for one) but for the money, it’s hard to beat the WD TV Live. My next few blog posts will focus on how I’ve integrated the WDTV into my home network including how I’m encoding files for it using HandBrake, Linux and Automator in OS X.

My wife and I don’t watch a ton of TV but we do have a few TV series on DVD. Lately I’ve been taking the time to rip the DVDs to hard drive so we can travel with them more easily.

The problem of course is they take up a lot of space after awhile so I’ve started to compress some of them to the h264 format. I picked h264 because I like the quality and because newer Macs are able to decode h264 using hardware acceleration. One problem with the h264 format is that by itself it has no support chapter markers unlike say, the mkv container. To get around this, I wrote a couple of scripts. One of them determines how many chapters (episodes) are available on a disc and the other one does the encoding.

In order to put all of this to use you’ll need to have the HandBrakeCLI program installed on your computer. The HandBrake is site (http://handbrake.fr/) has information about how to get everything installed for your OS. This post assumes you are using Linux, Mac OS X or other UNIX like system.

Here is the script that retrieves the number of chapters on from a DVD that has been ripped to a hard drive. You’ll need to modify it for your environment. I called mine getchapters.sh but the name is arbitrary.

#!/bin/bash
HandBrakeCLI -i $1 -t 0 2>&1| grep "title 1 has" | grep chapters | awk '{print $
6}'

This script is called within another script that I called h264encode_episodic and looks like this

#!/bin/bash
chapters=getchapters.sh $1
if [ "$2" != "" ]; then
title=$2
else
title=$1
fi

for I in seq 1 $chapters
do
HandBrakeCLI -Z "High Profile" -i $1 -o ${title}E${I}.mp4 -c $I
done

Running this script in the same directory as the DVD iso or VIDEO_TS directory you will end up individual video files, one for each chapter or episode of your show. Here’s how it is called

h264encode_episodic Scrubs_S1D2.iso Scrubs_S1D2

Scrubs_S1D2.iso is the iso of the DVD I want to convert and Scrubs_S1D2 is part of how the resulting files will be named. The first episode will be named Scrubs_S1D2E1.mp4.

In all my playing with OpenSolaris and iSCSI I decided to give iSCSI using Linux and OS X another shot. Turns out the GlobalSAN iSCSI client for OS X, available for free from Studio Network Solutions, works much better than it did just a couple of months ago. Lock ups, so far, seem to be a thing of the past.

To make use of it I decided to pull the drive out of my external case and put it in my Linux system. I then exported it via the iSCSI Enterprise Target software (available here) already installed on the system. After installing the latest GlobalSAN iSCSI initiator software (available here)on my mini I was able to connect to the iSCSI Lun on my Linux machine.

So far I’m finding that I’m able to get nearly full speed out of the disk and am able to copy large files to the drive at around 44MB/s.

Update: One caveat I have found is it takes a lot longer for the Mac to enter sleep if it is connected to the iSCSI share.