The current state of children’s toys and cartoons really bothers me. Maybe its because of my age and the fact that, I myself have started thinking about having kids. But whatever the reason is that has brought on this train of though, the idea of exposing my own offspring or any children to the current state of toys and cartoons that are at the store and on TV right now makes me sick to my stomach. I have talked about this in the past.
Being a child of the eighties, I grew up and felt privileged to be exposed to what I think are some pretty awesome toys and cartoons. Some of them just off the top of my head are…
I have some really good childhood memories of watching these cartoons and playing with these toys. Toys and cartoons that, to this day, I still enjoy and collect. I am really looking forward to the day that my children and I can enjoy them together.
When I turn on the TV nowadays, I am embarrassed by the cartoons (which all seem to be computer animated now and not hand drawn) that networks broadcast to children. What the hell is Sponge Bob Square Pants anyway? I don’t even recognize the Transformers anymore and their toys just look scary to me.
I am going to go on a Transformers side rant here. So bare with me.
Anyone who has been following my blog knows that I am a die hard, old school, Transformers fan. (TILL ALL ARE ONE!) Something about that cartoon and the toys just clicked with me on an emotional level when I was growing up and I think that is why I am such a fan of them to this day. It might be because it was one of the first toys my older brother ever got me. It might be because when you see an old school Transformer cartoon or toy transforming it makes sense. Just by looking at the thing you can get an idea of which pieces need to move where and when to transform it. I never needed an instruction booklet to transform a Transformer. Because of that the toys made me feel smart. Like I was teaching myself and learning something at the same time. But nowadays you open up one of these “newer” Transformers toys or watch one of the movies or cartoons your head just hurts. Nothing about it makes sense.
Whenever I go to the store, I always check out the toy sections (because I am a kid at heart) and I am applied by what I see. Isles of action figures that don’t look fun or easy to play with. I have also noticed that they have not moved from their shelf from one week to the next. No one is buying this crap. I find myself spending the most time looking at Hot Wheels toys because they are about the only thing in the toy section of stores that I used to play with when I was a kid.
One of the few stores that still carries old school Transformers products is Hot Topic. Whenever I travel down south from Alaska, I make time to go into a Hot Topic and I ask the clerk every time “Do you sell more old school Transformers Products or the newer Transformers Products. Each time for years the answer has been the same “Oh we sell way more old school Transformers. It’s hard for us to keep them in stock.”
Now if that is not telling about the current state of Cartoons and Toys I don’t know what is. I have also noticed this with Transformer cartoon DVDs. The local stores can’t keep the old school stuff on the shelves, but every week, I still see the same new school DVDs on the self right where they where last time. I said it before and I will say it again. No one is buying this crap.
Even Legos have changed over the years. How the hell do you screw up interlocking plastic bricks? Well somehow they did to the point where they are not recognizable anymore. It used to be that kids had buckets of legos from which they could build anything they could imagine.
Now you buy sets to build Hogwarts, or some Star Wars space ship and that is it. You want to build anything else? Well, you’ll have to buy a different Lego kit. WTF?
My mom is currently visiting my wife and I and I was talking to her about the current state of cartoons. She had a brilliant insight which was that cartoons these days are one of the reasons why kids are failing in school (besides the fact that the current educational system sucks). She said it is because cartoons are killing children’s attention span. Eight minutes into a show and BAM, commercial. Kids can’t focus in class because there attention span only lasts eight minutes. I can’t help but think there must be some truth in that statement.
One of the reasons why I collect TV shows and Cartoons on DVDs is so I don’t have to watch commercials. The idea that my doing this might be improving my future child’s attention span made me happy.
What do you think of cartoons now a days? For that matter; What do you think of toys now a days? What is or was your favorite cartoon and toy growing up?
I really love music. All of my life music has played a big part in it. I remember at a very young age listening to vinyl records on my father’s Sony turntable home stereo system. I would listening to records for hours and hours. When CDs first came out I started buying them. To this day I still buy CDs and have a pretty large collection.
When MP3s started to make an appearance in the 90s they had one large advantage for the causal listener and one large disadvantage. The advantage being that file size of an MP3 file was is very small. You could store hundreds of MP3 encoded songs on one CD. This was huge and lead the way for music players like the Apple iPod.
The big disadvantage to MP3s for people like me was that since the audio was compressed to be a smaller file size you could hear the compression or the missing audio data when listening to an MP3. This drove me nuts!
I have friends that to this day swear up and down they can not tell the difference when listening to a song on a CD or when listening to the same exact song from an MP3 file. To me the differences have always stuck out like a sore thumb. Which at times I can’t even believe since I have been a rock drummer for so many years and I have to be experiencing some form of hearing loss by now.
So, because I can tell the difference between the lower quality audio as a result of an MP3 file and a CD I have just always bought CDs.
Very recently I have been educating myself on the virtues of the Free Lossless Audio Codec, or FLAC for short. Because FLAC is a lossless audio format it sounds just like my CDs sound. I can not tell the difference when I am listening to a FLAC audio file verses listening to the same song on CD. Everything I have educated myself about FLAC says that there really is no audio difference between the CD audio file and the FLAC audio file. The lossless audio codec was specifically designed for audio and the resulting file will drop down to at least 50% if not more of the original audio file from the CD.
So, why do I care about all this? Why don’t I just continue to listen to my CDs? Well, I do still listen to my CDs at home, but we now live in a world with lots of portable devices that were made for our connivance. I would like to take full advantage of my devices.
Based on the audio guide I found I started encoding my CDs right away. I received my headphones a few days later and then my iPhone 4S arrived. I purchased and loaded a copy of ‘Golden Ear’ on to my phone and transferred over a few songs to test out the application and my head phones. I was amazed! Every song sounded wonderful and crystal clear. The ‘Golden Ear’ audio player works a lot like iTunes for the iPhone. You have the quick access controls from the home screen as well as a play list of music to scroll through and choose from.
If you are really into audio quality like me, I can tell you I am so happy that I found this solution. I wish I had found it sooner. It would have saved me years of frustration.
One big reason behind wanting to do this media center project was to reduce clutter. Having nearly five hundred DVDs take up a bit of space. Since I was going to be encoding all my DVD movies and TV shows and storing them digitally; what was I going to do with all the original DVD disks? I wanted to keep them. I knew that much. I just needed to come up with a better way to store them. I finally settled on a high capacity DVD Album.
Thanks to some help from a friend I was pointed to Meritline.com. An online store where I could purchase a cheap 520 Capacity DVD Album. The DVD Album looked sturdy, so I ordered two of them. A lot of the DVDs I owned where spechal additions that contained two disks. I also know that my original count was off as to how many DVDs I owned because of the TV shows I had collected. I figured two of the 520 capacity DVD albums could hold 1040 DVDs. I not only would have enough from for my existing DVDs, but I would have plenty of room for growth in the future.
The DVD albums shipped and arrived in Juneau in less than a week. Once they got here I proceeded to take the pile of DVDs I had already encoded and start inserting them into the DVD album. When I was done I had freed up a lot of space that the DVDs where taking up and I did not hesitate to throw out the DVD cases they where in. I bought these DVDs for the movies on them and not for the cases they came in.
I have yet to quite fill up one whole album with DVDs. I am close though. I still have plenty of movies and TV shows to encode. When The first case is full I plan to store it under my bed.
DIGITAL FILE ORGANIZATION
As I encode movies on my Mac Mini I transfer them over to my Qnap Nas. I set up an alphabetical file structor inside two main categories (‘Movies’ and ‘TV Shows’) to save my encoded movies in.
Sometimes a movie that is encoded with Handbrake needs to be renamed. For whatever reason the file name is often wrong. It is important to make sure you name the encoded movie correctly because it will cut down on time you might have to spend on finding the correct movie meta data for which ever media center software you end up using.
(I will be talking more about media center software in a future post)
I would say that since I started this project I have encoded a little less than half the movies I own. This is a long process, but I can already see how it is going to pay off when I am done.
Encouraged by the results of my previous post I went forth and ordered a Mac Mini (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, 320GB Harddrive) along with the Apple remote, wireless keyboard and wireless Magic Trackpad to see how play back looks on my T.V. I figured having a computer hooked up to my TV there would be times when I might want to use it like a computer. Surfing the web from the couch or having a place where guests can check their e-mail just seemed like the smart thing to do.
The Mac Mini I ordered was a custom build. Chances are this will be overkill for 90% of you. I would say from my experience of doing a project like this you can get away with the base model of the Mac Mini and be just fine.
When the mac mini came I found setup to be quite easy. I Took the computer out of it’s box and placed it on the stand under my T.V. Hooked up the power cord, HDMI cable and pressed the power button on the back of the computer. On it’s first boot-up I was asked if I had a wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad and to turn them on. A few more clicks through the initial setup and I was good to go. My Mac mini was running fine and everything looked great on my TV. I did have to go into the system preferences and make minor adjustments to the display settings for my TV, but that was it.
First thing was first. I had some software to download.
After downloading and installing the VLC and Handbrake programs I put in the first DVD I wanted to encode. Ironman 2. Like the test movies I did earlier in the month I put the Ironman 2 DVD in my mac mini, launched Handbrake and pointed it to the DVD so it could do it’s initial scan of the movie data.
The first time I did this with another DVD on my laptop the process just took about a minute. On my Mac Mini with Ironman 2 it took almost 2 hours to complete. Something was not right here. When the scan was completed I reviewed the handbrake encoding settings. It was in this process I noticed something was wrong. No audio tracks were listed. If I told handbrake to encode this it would encode the movie without the audio. I went to Google for help and started searching around to see if other people had this problem. Sure enough they did. Ironman 2 has new/different copy protection on it preventing me from encoding the movie I owned.
Remember that what I am doing is perfectly legal. This is my media I bought and paid for. I am just putting it all on a drive so I can access it more easily.
Thanks to some forum posts over at the Handbrake site I was able to use a program called ‘Mac The Knife‘ and copy the DVD to my hard drive and then encode it with handbrake. (At the time of this post I have been considering switching from ‘Mac The Knife’ to ‘Ripit‘ A $25.00 peace of software that appears capable of ripping more copy protected DVDs then the free ‘Mac The Knife’.) The end result was an encoding of the movie for my mac mini. Since then I have come across a few other disk with copy protection like this. Mostly TV Shows.
After watching the Ironman 2 movie and comparing it to the DVD I kept seeing what is call artifacts on the screen. The default Handbrake compression I was using was not the cleanest and it was driving me a little crazy. I headed on over to the Handbrake forums and did some reading. It turns out you can make slight adjustments to the settings and see a huge difference in video quality. It is now to the point that I can’t tell the difference between the DVD and the encoded video. Which is what I was hopping for.
When you launch Handbrake you are presented with a pop out pane on the right side that has a number of preset suggested compressions. If you click on the ‘Apple TV’ preset and then go back over to the main window you are only going to have to adjust two settings. The first on is under the “Output settings”. You want to uncheck the box called “Large File Size”. Next, lower on the same window you’ll see a slider bar. You want to drag that slider to the right till the RF reads 19. That’s it.
If you don’t want to have to go back and adjust those settings each time you put in a DVD to encode, you can click on the “Presets” drop down menu on the finder bar and save this setting as a new preset. As you can see below it is near impossible to see the difference between the DVD and the encoded video.
As I have been writing this post I have been encoding a lot of my DVDs. The encoding settings I have given you above will work for most of your DVDs as well, but not all of them. This is because most DVD are made using the NTSC standard. I do own DVDs that are made using the PAL (Phase Alternating Line) standard. When I try to encode a DVD that was made with the PAL standard the result is a movie that looks like it is shifting alternating lines. When you see it you will know what I mean.
To correct this problem and remove the “alternating lines” look of my encoded movies I once again visited the handbrake forums. The first steps are the same as above. Launch Handbrake and in the pop out pain on the right side that has a number of preset suggested compressions. If you click on the ‘Apple TV’ preset and then go back over to the main window you are only going to have to adjust two settings. The first on is under the “Output settings”. You want to uncheck the box called “Large File Size”. Next, lower on the same window you’ll see a slider bar. You want to drag that slider to the right till the RF reads 19. We are almost done. Click on the “Picture Settings” icon at the top of the program window. Switch over to “Filters” tab and click on the “Decomb” drop down menu and select “Default”. Every PAL movie and TV show I have encoded with this setting has looked great to me. Don’t forget to save this as a preset.
HOW TO ENCODE TV SHOW DVDs
Handbreak is a great program, but you still need to help it along it’s way. This is very evident went you are encoding TV Shows. When you have Handbreak scan a TV DVD like Firefly, handbrake is going to pick one file it thinks is the video file you want to encode. Normally it’s the file with the longest video on it. However a TV show DVD like Firefly can have up to 4 episodes on one DVD. By default Handbrake is going to try and find the one video file that is the longest and only encode that one file. This is not what we want. So how do we fix this?
This is where I use VLC a lot. Start off by Scanning the DVD with Handbrake. Once that task is completed launch VLC and start playing the first episode on the DVD. Once the episode is playing click on the “Playback” drop down menu on the Finder and highlight “Title”. This will show you which Title (or file) is playing. So you should be able to see that episode one of Firefly is using Title 2. You can now pause the show and go back to Handbrake and on the main window flick on the “title” drop down and select “2”. From main window chose what you want to name the encoded episode (something like Firefly 1) and click the icon at the top of the window named “Add to Queue”. Go back and repeat these steps for each episode on the DVD. Once done you can click the “Start” button and Handbrake will encode each episode on the DVD.
CLOSE CAPTION SECTIONS (Subtitles) Updated: 3.10.2012
Sometimes you will be a movie or TV show that has sections where the actors are speaking a whole other language. When you are watching this on a normal DVD player the captions for what the actors are saying will show up automagicly. When you encode the same movie or episode with Handbrake these cations are not automagicly burned in.
To have these captions or subtitles show up in the parts of the show they are supposed to click on the ‘Subtitles’ tab and then select ‘0-English’ underneath the ‘Track’. and burn your DVD as normal.
With my new encoding settings setup I went forth and started to encode my DVD collection. In less than a month I had filled up the harddrive of my Mac Mini and was forced to stop encoding my movies. I had to order the Qnap NAS server before I could continue any more with this project.
In my up coming post “Mac Mini Media Center Project (part 3). I will be discussing the specs of the Qnap NAS server I ordered and how it’s been working out for me so far.
I own a lot of DVDs. We are talking nearly 500 at last count. It’s sick, I know. Sifting through them all to find the one movie I want to watch has become such a chore that I would rather just fire up my Playstation 3 (PS3) to access my Netflix account and stream something then dig for a DVD of a movie I actually want to watch. So, I have decided that the solution to my conundrum is to setup a Media Center PC. More specifically a Mac Mini media center attached to my T.V. with an interface that even my mother could use.
WHAT DO I WANT THE END RESULT TO BE?
An uncluttered home theater.
A small computer hooked up to my T.V.
Access to all my media and the internet.
The ability to back up all my computers
A new storage solution for my physical media.
An interface so easy my mother can use it.
Like any project you should do research into it first. Which is what I did. With google as my guide I sought out other peoples experience with setting up a Mac Media Center. Here are a list of some sites I found that where helpful to me.
I also spoke with friends of mine who had done similar projects. It always helps to read, write, and talk to people about ideas you have. It helps flush out the details of what is trying to be accomplish.
All of these sites listed above where very helpful to me, but none where setup quite the way I wanted. Most of these talked about just using the Mac Mini or the Mac Mini with an external hard drive attached and honestly that probably is the solution for 90% of you out there. But I was looking for a setup with a little bit more free hard drive space for me to use. Particularly because I have several computers in my house and I want them all to be able to back up wirelessly to on location. I also enjoy editing home movies and having a place to store the massive video files I work with is important to me. I think I have come up with a solution that works as you will see.
One pressing question I had from the get go is; How much hard drive space am I going to need? 500 DVDs is a lot of movies and T.V. shows. So how can I get an idea of how much hard drive space I am going to need?
Most people building a Media Center PC are doing so to encode their DVDs onto a hard drive. If you where just to copy the DVD over to your hard drive your looking at something that takes up anywhere from 2 to 8 gigs of hard drive space. When you encode a DVD onto your hard drive you have the option of removing all the special features, menus, audio commentary, subtitles, and non-english audio tracks leaving you with just the movie. What this means is no more waiting through previews, FBI Warnings or other types of bullshit that is preventing you from watching the movie you want to watch. You just get the movie and your left with a much more manageable file size.
One free peace of software I read about and that everyone pretty much agreed is the best DVD encoding tool is called HandBrake. Before dropping a single penny on my media center I could preform tests to make sure the video is going to look great and be a manageable file size. I downloaded Handbrake and picked a DVD off my shelf at random and encoded it. Using only HandBrake’s presets I found that encoding under the “High Profile” preset rendered out a 1.5 GB file. Playback of the DVD and the encoded movie showed hardly any noticeable difference. It certainly looked a lot better then any Netflix movie I had streamed in the past. If I take the 1.5 GB as an average and multiply that by 500 (the number of DVDs I own) The end result is 750 GB. A very manageable figure.
It’s a very manageable figure till you miss calculate TV shows like I did.
At the time of this post I have encoded several movies and TV shows using Handbrake. Something I over looked is that the average movie is anywhere from 1 and a half to 2 hours, give or take per DVD. Now lets take E.R. on DVD. The DVD for E.R. holds 4 episodes at about 1 hour each. You have 24 episodes a season and that is roughly 24 hours of video which ends up being a little under 1 gig an episode. It adds up! It was something I over looked when I did my initial estimation of how much hard drive space I would need. Don’t let that catch you off guard like it did me. Do the math right so you know how much hard drive space you are going to need to hold your DVD collection.