Monday, February 11, 2008

As I just mentioned in my last post, I am looking forward to the digital distribution of media reaching critical mass. But while I wait, I've been making inroads into controlling my media library on my computer. I recently purchased a 1TB external hard drive, and have begun digitizing my movie collection for use on my iPhone and elsewhere.

For those who haven't tried this, I should mention that it's not like ripping a CD in iTunes. The conversion process takes time; on my old clunker of a computer, it takes almost twice as long go convert a movie into H.264 as it does to watch it. So for the most part, I've just been converting one movie at a time, overnight. And sometimes Handbrake (the program I'm using for the task) freezes up in the process, and I have to start over (again, I have an old computer ill-suited for such modern tasks). So it's a somewhat frustrating task. But the end result is well worth it. I've been impressed with the visual quality of the final product, and especially the audio quality. I digitized some concert DVDs; since I've always found music on DVD to be inconvenient, I rarely watch my music video DVDs, so I figured putting them on my iPhone would breathe new life into them. They look good, but the audio fidelity was what really surprised me, sounding as good as anything probably can on the standard iPhone headphones.

So I've been happy with the results of my digitization project. Trying to get the videos onto my TV has been more frustrating. I have an Xbox 360, and so should be able to stream media via Windows Media Player 11. But despite setting everything up correctly, my Xbox 360 couldn't recognize my computer. After much tinkering, I gave up. But last night, I wanted to watch MST3K while playing poker online, so I wanted to get the show off my computer and onto the TV. So I decided to take another stab at getting WMP 11 to work with my Xbox 360. But upon booting up the software and the Xbox, I found it was now working fine. So all I had to do was set up the WMP library, and I'd be all set. Unfortunately, WMP sucks ass, so it was another two hours or so before I finally got the library under control. But I was watching MST3K on my TV (not playing poker, as Poker Stars turned out to be having issues with sit-and-go tourneys).

So far, so good. But the program I was watching was an, um, archival copy found online, in Divx. WMP didn't have a problem with that. But I'm creating my library in H.264, since that's what the iPhone plays nice with. WMP doesn't natively support the format, but plug-ins are readily available to permit playback. But even with the plug-in, you can't add H.264 files to the WMP library. I've found workarounds online, but one seems rather cumbersome, requiring multiple programs and modifications to the registry, and the other being simpler, but consisting of merely changing the file extension, which would interfere with iTunes, which is where I primarily use the files.

So I've given up on streaming H.264 files to my Xbox 360. When I want to watch a movie in that format, I'll just copy it to my portable USB hard drive, and plug that into my Xbox. Should work fine, but from past experience, I expect some glitch to arise.

So what's my point? Mainly, I'm just bitching that Microsoft seems to make this harder than it need be. But also, I wanted to point out that, even when a company like Microsoft gets their device in the home, through something like the Xbox 360, which doubles as a trojan horse for a Windows Media Extender, getting video onto a TV through these devices is too difficult for the general public, and far from mainstream. Which might be good news for Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, but is bad news for the overall adoption of digital video.

No comments: