I am very particular about how I like to consume media. I'm not too fond of physical media like DVDs and Blu-ray disks, and I loathe watching previews. I like to watch what I own on whatever device I want to when I want to. Services like Netflix and Amazon Video are great, and I have both, but they don't have everything. I've come up with a personal method for converting my movie collection to a format that works on my devices and a way to make it easy for my family to get access to the things they want to watch.
In the Beginning
I knew very little about video when I went into this. I knew enough to get me by, maybe put together a DVD with family videos, but nothing much more than that. Over the last couple of years, I've devised a pretty solid method for taking my content, movies and making them readily available to my household. I'm going to walk through my process and give you the details of what I've done to achieve media enlightenment.
Copy the Media
First things first, you need to get your media from a disk to your computer. I use DVDFab. What I suggest doing at this point is making a Main Movie copy from the disk to your computer. You want to do a 1:1 bit-to-bit copy. This will give you a perfect copy of the movie to work with.
Convert the Media
Time for Handbrake. Handbrake is a free app that will let you convert your copied movie to a more manageable format. Handbrake can get quite advanced, but we are going to try and keep it simple. I've toyed around with the settings a lot, but in the end, the High Profile preset that comes with Handbrake is actually a nice format.
Load Movie & Setup Output
Let's get the movie loaded up. Select Source in the top left and browse to the folder where you saved your movie. Select the folder and tell Handbrake to open it. After it loads the movie, we have a couple of things to change. Click the Toggle Presets button in the top right and select High Profile. I know you can see other preset formats there, but I promise you that this will work on almost all of the devices listed. Next, under the Destination area near the top, make sure you know where the output is going and make sure the file extension is .mp4. Make sure the Format area has MP4 File selected.
You will notice that in the middle, Quality has the option of Constant Quality selected with the slider at RF 20. The lower the RF number, the higher the quality. The RF of 20 will turn out a good quality movie with the file size is a little less than 1GB/hour of video. The thing I try to remember here is that some devices won't take a video file that is larger than 4GB, so I try to keep my files smaller than that. I am using 3rd Gen Apple TVs in my home for most of my viewing, which has the 4GB file limit. If you have trouble getting a file under 4GB, you can try checking Average Bitrate and put in 1750. I find that you end up with a good compromise at 1750kbps.
You will notice a section called Encoder Options that has a bunch of things you can tweak. Leave the Preset slider set at medium. If you are doing a regular movie, you can leave this part alone, but if you are doing an animated cartoon-type movie, in the Tune dropdown, select animation. Make sure Profile is set to high. Make sure that Level is set to 4.1.
At this point, things should be ready for conversion. Press Start and leave. Converting a movie will take a while, so plan on finding something else to do in the meantime.
There are a couple of additional things you can do before you convert if you want to. You will notice that in the very center of the Handbrake window, there are some buttons: Video, Audio, Subtitles, Chapters. We've been looking at the Video section, but you can adjust other settings in these separate sections. In Audio, you can select to include only English and drop other languages to make the file smaller. In Subtitles, you can include subtitles that you want. In Chapters, you can see if chapters exist or if you will have to add them later.
After the movie conversion has been completed, I like to attach metadata to the movie with iFlicks. It does a lot of the hard work for you in that it will look at the nicely named movie file and run a search to find the metadata and insert it automatically. It will grab a nice looking poster and attach it as well (from TheMovieDB.org).
Make sure you have the movie file named properly. The most commonly accept naming convention for a movie file is Movie Title (Year).mp4, so you should have something like The Shawshank Redemption (1994).mp4. Although, I am picky and name my files like Shawshank Redemption, The (1994).mp4. I don't like to have 'A' and 'The' at the beginning.
I double-check a few things in iFlicks. I like to make sure the movie has a proper Content Rating because I have young children at home, and I like to block them from watching certain things. Also, that the Definition is correct. A DVD will typically be SD quality, while a Blue-ray will be HD 720p or HD 1080p. Push Start at the bottom, and it should work its magic and attach the metadata and poster.
If it doesn't grab the right metadata for some reason, click the magnifying glass next to the movie title at the top, and you can manually select a result. The same goes for the poster. If you didn't like the poster iFlicks grabbed, you could pick a better one.
Chapters are a must for me. If you copied your movie from a DVD or Blue-ray, then the chapters are probably included already. Movies from other sources don't always have chapters. I use an app called Subler to add chapters. Open your movie file with Subler, select the gear dropdown at the top, and then Insert a chapter every. I usually do every 10 minutes. Save the movie, and it is ready to go.
Subler is also great for adding subtitle tracks if you need them. If you need to add them, click the plus sign and find the SRT file of your subtitles. There are many places online to find SRT files for subtitles.
Yep, That's It
That is essentially my process for now. I save all of my movies on a huge Drobo and then drop them into iTunes, which I have running on a server. I have Homesharing turned on in iTunes as well as on my Apple TVs. This makes the movies available on the Apple TV under the Computers app.
I do plan on moving over to Plex shortly. I've heard excellent things about it. I've had periodic trouble streaming in my home using iTunes. It has been fairly solid, but sometimes it just gives up and will stop streaming to a device. It happens most often with my iPad Pro. I end up having to close and reopen iTunes on my server, which is very annoying. If my kids are already streaming something, a tantrum will soon follow.