All posts tagged Handbrake

mediabrowserI have explained how the free media player software, Plex, is able to serve the movie, TV and music content on our PCs to our Roku boxes and a Raspberry Pi computer (see previous post, 007 24/7 on Plex Media Server).

But I must let you know about a Plex problem with movie and TV content ripped directly from DVDs into MKV format.

As noted before, MKV is a container format, and in this case, what it contains is the original MPEG2 content from the DVD. Broadcast digital TV is also in the MPEG2 format.

Newer Plex software releases seem to have trouble transcoding some of these MKV files for the Roku Plex channel. When our PCs (running Plex Media Server software) stream these MKVs to any of the Rokus, there is a bit of juddering and pixilation. I get the same result with 802.11g wifi as with wired Ethernet. It’s not a CPU issue, since both a weak Celeron-powered PC and a powerful quad-core PC produce the same result.

Plex’ original transcoder was the free ffmpeg software tool. But Plex’ latest software releases rely strictly on the new Plex Transcoder, based on ffmpeg, but rewritten by their team. The way the Roku Plex channel handles the new transcoder may be the cause of the problem, and I have reported it on their PlexPass forum.

(Here is Plex’ release note for the version, Sep 8, 2014: “The legacy transcoder, which is available as an option in some Plex clients, will be removed soon. Please be sure to report specific cases where you still see better results when using it.”)

Now, it is true that once these MKVs are converted to MP4 using Handbrake (with Rokoding settings), they play perfectly on Plex. And MP4 file sizes are smaller, and the files are more usable with other devices. But I am a bit lazy, and would prefer not to convert if I don’t need to.

I have discovered another entrant in the media player system arena that can transcode and stream these MKVs to Roku perfectly: Media Browser. Media Browser uses ffmpeg as its transcoder.

MB also uses ffmpeg to transcode Windows Media Center broadcast TV recordings (.WTV format), served to MB by free ServerWMC software. As we noted at the top, broadcast TV is MPEG2. You would probably need a powerful processor and an Ethernet or switch connection, and maybe a Roku 3 for this to even have a shot at working acceptably.

(The Raspberry Pi decodes MPEG2 video content in hardware, with a one-time $4 MPEG2 license. Thus it handles MKV and WTV files with ease. It can also act as a Plex client with the PlexBMC beta software.)

Fortunately, Media Browser works with media organized to Plex standards, so no changes to your file system are needed. Setup is different from Plex, so you have to spend a little time with it initially. But it is great to see that Bond marathon playing perfectly on Roku, and not just the Raspberry Pi.

Plex and Media Browser server software coexists just fine on our PCs. So I use both. I prefer Plex’ presentation, but MB is fine.

Eventually, I’m sure Plex will fix their transcoder/Roku problem, but it’s good to have an alternative. Did I mention that Media Browser is also free?

Zabriskie Point, 282 feet below sea level.

Zabriskie Point, 282′ below sea level.

Last night, I was listening to the soundtrack of “Zabriskie Point”, a 1970 film about counterculture in the U.S. It features Pink Floyd and Jerry Garcia.

This morning in the den, I was reading about the two untrained lead actors of the movie and their own story, which is probably more interesting than the plot. I didn’t see this R-rated film at the theater in 1970, even though I was of age, barely  (“R: Restricted – persons under 16 not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian.”)

Here’s how I got to watch it today, all without leaving the couch:

First, I checked to see if it was available on Netflix. It was on DVD, but not streaming.

Next, I looked on YouTube, It was there, but in a dubbed French version, or English in 12 separate parts.

I then found a torrent of it in .avi format, 672×288 resolution. Windows Media Player claimed to acquire a codec to play it, but it played sound only. That was OK, I wanted to see it on a big screen anyway.

I put the file in the public folder of the laptop I was using, then brought up the free TightVNC Viewer. It let me take over the desktop of a more powerful Windows 7 PC in our office. Acting as that computer, I copied the .avi file over to it from the laptop.

I already had the free Handbrake conversion utility installed there. The process of converting .avi to .mp4 format took only a few minutes. MP4 streams well to a Roku box.

Then I put the file in the proper naming and filing convention for Plex: /Movies/Zabriskie Point (1970)/Zabriskie Point (1970).mp4.

I brought up the Plex channel on the Roku in the den, and there was the movie, with poster art. When you click to play, the Plex channel software on the Roku talks to the free Plex Media Server software running on the computer, via our wifi.

I’m now watching it, not having stirred my haunches, except for coffee (I’ll get some exercise later today). So far, so good. It looks and sounds great.