Apple Tv – How It Fits In…..

So i got me an Apple Tv last week, more on impulse than as part of any rational thought, as such things go.  i was planning on getting one, but only later this summer.

But such is life….

So its sitting there on my Tv cupboard, replacing the DVD player that does not work any way…. surrounded by my impressive collection of DVDs. Which do me no good sitting on the shelf instead of on my Apple Tv hard drive….

The solution to this is, of course to back up your DVDs to disk. I use DVDShrink 3.2 (the last version ever released), or DVD Decryptor. both of which leave you with a folder full of .vob files ( usually  a VIDEO_TS folder).  This will strip copy protection from the files.

These files do us no good. Apple Tv will not take .vob files. But, and I must admit my irritation here, Windows Media Center does ( serves me right for being a turncoat 🙂 ).

So the next step is to use Handbrake ( for Mac and Windows) to take your backed up files and turn them into Apple Tv readable m4v or mp4 files. These files can be read across iTunes, Apple Tv, and your video capable iPods and iPhones.

Now this conversion process is eyewateringly long. I’ve resurrected an old laptop ( Intel Celeron M 1.4 ghz, 256Mb RAM). The average time is about 10 hours – at 4.3 frames per second. My 3ghz Pentium 4 with 2Gb RAM is actually only slightly faster, confusingly enough. in any case, i need the desktop and no the laptop, so the old and busted laptop is doing the conversions.

The 10 hours conversion does not bother me much. I set it up to go in the morning, and its usually almost done my the time I’m back home in the evening.

All this media is being stored on my Windows Home Server, with a normal install of iTunes being the server. I’m not sure if Firefly Media Server will work with Apple TV, but if it is, I’ll install that instead.

Finally, I use MetaX 1.0 for Windows (theres a Mac version, too) to add in metadata – pic, sypnosis, direcots, actor, etc…. This is amazingly useful and saved me loads of time….

Now my music library is full of duplicates (my fault for leaving the “Copy to iTunes library” option on when i import stuff), So I’m slowly going through it and deleting the duplicates (and saving space at the same time).

My Photos are spread across a hundred folders, so i have to get some sort of organisation going so i can sync them to Apple Tv and show them off on my Tv 🙂 .

I have SageTv running on the same server. Their conversion process for Apple Tv takes just as long and won’t work – sigh. If I could just get Sage to save the files in m4v format, i could sync my recorded tv directly to my apple Tv without any (hours long) conversion in between.

Update 14-10-09: The latest version of SageTv does indeed convert to m4v perfectly. Works wonders, but the time is still rather long. I reccomend turning off everything, defrags, AV runs (and temporarily, backups) if you have a long queue of files to convert. Right now I have 16 files to convert all of which are about 2- 3 hours long. Usually two a day. So for this week, I have turned off the defrag passes. SageTv actuall scales its CPU usage remarkabely well in these situations.

If i could, i’d have uploaded everything to EC2 for encoding 🙂

Thanks to the guys over on Friendfeed for help with this.

Dvd backup software thread: here.

Metadata thread: here.

DRM: Someone Check My Logic

Scoble has a post up suggesting that the RIAA is right and that we shouldn’t rip Cd’s.

1. Cause no one should copy Britney Spears, not to mention listen to her. The RIAA is doing us a service by making sure we don’t listen to her. Oh, and the RIAA is so brilliant that they brought us Britney in the first place (and now Hannah Montana) and that’s evidence enough that they are right and we should listen to them.
2. Because no one should be allowed to use music how they want. For instance, I hate using a CD player. Why? That requires me to get off the couch, find the darn CD and hope I put it away properly after that fun party, and then find the song I want instead of just opening iTunes from my couch and clicking on the right song. The RIAA is doing us a service by forcing us to get off the couch and get some exercise.
3. Bits have feelings too. Turning them from 0 to 1 hurts them.
4. They’ll force the kids to buy non-DRM music from the get go and not buy any CDs. Good for the environment! (My son, Patrick, says he only buys MP3’s or AAC’s without DRM now off of his online music stores).
5. This behavior will make sure people buy (or steal) music directly from bands. See how Radiohead did it. By doing that the price for music will go down thanks to fewer intermediaries. RIAA is just helping us get rid of them, which is good for everyone who loves music. See, they are on our side! I’m looking for a site that lets us do Vendor Relationship Management with bands. Doc Searls taught me about VRM. What is that? When we can get the company to do what WE want. Radiohead put the power of setting the price in OUR hands. Brilliant.
6. My son says that since they are making stealing music so dangerous (the kids are hearing the stories about parents getting sued for hundreds of thosuands of dollars) that they are getting paranoid about stealing music. So, what do they do instead? Have you heard of iPod trading? You will. Ahh, and we thought “sneaker net” was dead? Yeah, right. The RIAA brought it back.

On the plus side of this, I agree that music should NOT be copied to distribute. In other words, ripping music to a publicly accessible file sharing service or server is a no-no.

I mean it. We gotta remember that artist and records labels have to be compensated for all the work they do. And to ensure that they do, they have distribution networks set up – wether that is digital, CD, radio, etc.

So far so good.

I only buy CD’s. And I rip them for Personal Use. Let me emphasise that again- personal use.

And let be clear I have nothing against buying digital music off iTunes et al. The only problem is the DRM. Pure and simple.

DRM is the Black Death of the digital commodities industry today. When I buy a CD, I expect to be able to use the music across my home network, put it on my iPod and listen to it however I choose. The intrusion of DRM is nothing more than a source of frustration. So I buy CD’s to avoid the intrusion of DRM by iTunes and the like.

The limits of personal use are clearly defined. The barrier between personal use and piracy is just as clear.

So I propose the following: that the RIAA and the equivalent bodies in other countries trust the consumer.

Sounds radical. But think of this. Shouldn’t music and software companies be working together to find easier ways of identifying those who overstep the bounds of personal use? Instead of frustrating every Tom, Dick and Harry out there that want to enjoy the music, the pointy end of the stick should be firmly on those who overstep those clear bounds.

Amazon, eMusic – and to a lesser extent Apple- are trusting the consumer.

The RIAA just has to play catch up and face the music.

Random Thoughts for the Day

I might make this a regular thing.

  • I was at Costa’s this afternoon and a guy walks in with a  brand new iMac. Must have been at least a 20" if not more. never felt so jealous in my life. He must have got it from the Glasgow Apple Store. I’ve been meaning to go past, but haven’t had the time yet
  • My 19" Xerox TFT died today. Its a display model that I got slightly cheaper and have had it for 2 years. Its one of those lookers -black with a glass front so its completely flat. Damned thing. Multi-monitor setup anyone??
  • TCP/IP – spent the weekend doing revision on it. No wonder the Vista networking team re-wrote it.
  • Wouldn’t it be easier to replace RAM if you could plug the old or new RAM into a USB port and use it with ReadyBoost??? I mean, you need every megabyte of RAM you can find these days.
  • I keep thinking that you can do so much with technology around the home (RSS on your TV for example). Its just so difficult. Windows or Linux?? Windows Home Server??? Media Centre Edition??? Mac Mini with Front Row??
  • I’m starting to think that a separate machine running Media Centre Edition would be better than SageTv for Windows Home Server. I’m fighting SageTv tooth and nail to get it working properly ( EPG and all).It should be easier than this. Might get a refund
  • Could we please have a virtualisation hardware solution for small business/ home. It’d be cheaper than buying the MCE Server.
  • How many Vista Sidebar gadgets are actually useful??Google desktop is much, much better at useful gadgets. The mail gadgets for GD actually tells me when any new email arrives ( even if its automatically archived).
  • And could we please get a free sunclock for either sidebar?? You know, the ones that show where its day and where its night on a map of the world.
  • Also, back to sidebars, I’ve noticed that Google desktop loads its widgets off the Internet. You could theoretically see your widgets at any PC with GD installed if you’re logged in. Which is logical for Google in becoming the hub on which our lives revolve. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were building a HealthVault competitor – on the web of course.
  • I’m seriously considering the iPod Touch. DRM or no DRM. iTunes integration or no integration. The Design blows me away everytime. Why did el Jobso have to come up with a design that puts every other portable music player ( and iPod, mind you) to shame?????? And don’t tell me the iPhone is the best iPod to have. I think I’ll put that SageTv refund money to wards it if it comes to that)

My Take on DRM

OK, DRM is the ugly duckling of technology. No one likes it. And the reason is that it comes between us and our media.

Now I don’t mean coming between you and sharing your library over the Internet. That’s clearly a violation of copyright, among rather a lot else.  For the uninitiated in this argument, Scott Adams explains:

But obviously there has to be a limit. After I published my first best-selling book, The Dilbert Principle, within days it had been illegally scanned and was widely available on the Internet for free. Technically speaking, it wasn’t theft. But I still lost something. I (and my publisher) lost the ability to decide if, when, and how to publish as an e-book. You can’t compete with “free and immediate.”

From a legal standpoint, taking a creator’s right to control distribution of his art is not “theft.” It’s just “taking something that used to legally belong to someone else and making it your own.”


Fair enough? Ok.

However when media is bought (DVD’s, CD’s) its ours to watch in any way we see fit. usually this means popping a DVD into the drive to watch, either on your PC or HDTV.

For music I generally rip all my CD’s the moment I get them and keep them on my server. that way I can listen to my tracks from any TV within my house. I don’t do sharing (Scott Adams and his theory of cognitive dissonance to the contrary).

My point is that we should be able to do the same with DVD’s. Let me rip my collection to my server and watch them on any network PC.

Ahh, I hear you say, there is no guarantee that said DVD’s and music won’t find their way on to the Internet. True. This gets to the meat of my argument ,err, post.

DRM is too restrictive in the sense that it prevents even legitimate use of DVD’s. Lets change DRM from a content-oriented perspective to a network- oriented perspective. DRM should be focused on ensuring that content that has been ripped for legitimate use does not find its way out the home network.

Content owners fail to distinguish between ripping for legitimate use and ripping with malicious intent.

To implement such a network-oriented DRM, an arbitrary standard is required. The standard cannot be biased to  individual Studio’s or Record Labels.

The standard should define

  • a technical means of ensuring that copyrighted data is identified as it travels through the network
  • a technical means of determining the ultimate destination of packets of copyrighted data as they are requested over a network
  • a technical means of ensuring that copyrighted data is stopped either at the gateway or at its source (see above)
  • a technical means of identifying data across the various formats in general use

As far as an actual implementation of such a system, the technology is already there. Microsoft’s WMA format already supports allowing media to play only when there is a license installed. The licensing system simply has to be extended to cover the whole network.

How about a licensing server, then? The receiving media player simply checks the the packets of data and queries the server to ensure that its allowed to play the file/packet.

I’m sure Linksys and the rest of the router manufacturers will get in on the game and build checking routines into their gateways and routers.

As far as determining the destination at the beginning of a file copy operation, its up to Microsoft and Apple to implement this at the OS level.

Once the means to ensure that the spirit of the law is enforced is in place, then we can think about a law change (even here in the UK DVD ripping is a bit of a gray area).