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Beauty and the Box

Yesterday, I took my 5-year-old daughter, Quinn, to the Beauty and the Beast sing-a-long event. Quick summary: would have worked better with more people (we only had about 20, and most were shy), but helped to be in front of some theatre girls who knew the songs by heart and were into it. Still, one of my favorite movies, one I’ve surely seen 20 or 30 times. But let’s get back to digital media…

The event was meant to promote Tuesday’s re-release of Beauty and the Beast on home video, this time in its first HD edition. I’ve already owned B&tB on VHS and DVD (the 2003 edition cleverly contained the “work in progress” film circuit version, the original version, and the IMAX re-release that added an unneeded song). So I found myself wondering if I would be buying this release. Probably not, since I don’t own a Blu-Ray player and now that we’re many years into the Blu-Ray era, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. We don’t do a lot of movie watching anymore, as most of what we watch is DVR’ed off the DirecTV, and I didn’t fall for the “PlayStation 3 as Blu-Ray trojan horse” due to the PS3’s absurd unaffordability. And I don’t feel like we’ve missed it.

Then I thought: “wait, Blu-Ray isn’t the only form of HD.” There’s also on-demand from DirecTV, and what about iTunes? A little search there shows that yes indeed, the B&tB platinum edition will also be available on iTunes: $14.99 for SD, $19.99 for HD.

Of course, these Disney classics are usually only available for a short time before they “go back in the vault”, to enhance demand for the next re-release. So if I felt I did need to grab an HD version before it went away, which would I get?

Thinking about it, I think I’m more likely to buy an AppleTV — or at least rig a Mac Mini to a TV — before I get a Blu-Ray player. As it is, I could play the HD .m4p on a bunch of the devices I currently own (computers, iPhone, iPad), and the only thing that’s missing is connectivity to the TV. In fact, various video out cables allow for iOS devices to serve as a sort of “poor man’s” first-gen AppleTV, depending on your available connections, how many videos you’ve loaded on your iPod, and your tolerance for SD. A Blu-Ray disc would be locked to the TV the player is connected to, and wouldn’t be rippable for the iDevices (though this particular bundle may come with a digital copy… haven’t checked).

Still, I’m surprised to find that I’ve blundered into exactly what Steve Jobs purportedly told a customer in one of those alleged off-the-cuff e-mails: Blu-Ray is coming up short, and will eventually be replaced by digital downloads, just as CD successors were beaten by downloads (anybody spun up an SACD lately?).

BTW, Apple’s resolute anti-Blu stance is made all the more interesting by the fact that Apple is a board member of the Blu-Ray Disc Association.

Another note about the AppleTV: teardowns and other spelunking reevel that the new device runs iOS and has 8GB of storage, which would be suitable for apps, should Apple ever choose to deliver a third-party SDK. Clearly the UI would be different — perhaps it exists not as an “AppKit” or “UIKit” but rather a “TVKit” atop Foundation and the rest of the usual Apple stack — but there would be all sorts of interesting opportunities.

One of the most obvious would be for all the existing iOS streaming media apps to connect to the TV. This includes the sports apps — everyone knows about the MLB app, but look further and you’ll find apps for major events like the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup also have their own apps with live video available via in-app purchase, DirecTV’s “NFL Sunday Ticket” streams to phones, etc. There are also specialized video apps for all manner of niches. For example, as an anime fan, I use Crunchyroll’s streaming app, and might someday sign up for Anime Network Mobile. I imagine every other little video fetish has its own streaming app, or soon will.

(By the way, none of these apps can use the standard def video out cables like Apple’s iPod or Videos apps can. When you connect the composite video cable and do [UIScreen screens], you only see one screen, so these streaming apps can’t access the video out and put their player UI over there. rdar://8063058 )

By Apple fiat, essentially all of these apps need to use HTTP Live Streaming, and an AppleTV that permitted third-party apps would presumably drive even more content providers to this standard. I had previously wondered aloud about doing an HTTP Live Streaming book, but if we get an AppleTV SDK, it would make perfect sense for the HLS material to become one or two chapters of a book on AppleTV programming, along the lines of “if you’re programming for this platform, you’re almost certainly going to be streaming video to it, so here’s how the client side works, and here’s how to set up your server.”

Arsenic and old interlace

Rather than continue to post comments to my previous blog about trying to rip a DVD, de-interlace it, and convert it to an editing-friendly codec, I’m posting the followup as its own message.

The overnight re-encode with JES Interlacer failed just like the previous attempt that made the 40GB file: it got stuck on one frame of the complete video track and padded out the last 40% of the movie with that. At least with a fixed data rate of 3000 Kbps, the broken file wasn’t 40 frickin’ gig…

So then I opened the full-length video track m2v file with QuickTime Pro (which pinwheeled for like 10 minutes) and, noticing that the Pixlet export dialog had a “deinterlace” checkbox, tried using that for my export.

QTPro export and transcode

Unfortunately, it too ended up getting stuck on the same frame.

So, plan D (or was I on “E” by this point?) was to go back to MPEG Streamclip, open the demuxed m2v file (which, remember, was created by Streamclip in the first place, from all the VOB files) and do the “export to QuickTime” from there, again depending on the Pixlet exporter to handle the deinterlace. The 3000 Kbps export from before looked like ass, so I went up to 10 Mbps.

MPEG Streamclip export to Pixlet

Ah, finally! After a three-hour encode, I finally got the whole thing exported to Pixlet, with deinterlace:

Exported DVD rip with Pixlet video

The file is about 10 GB, and there are still some artifacts on a few high-contrast places (e.g., panning across dense black-on-white text). However, it scrubs like a dream, something you don’t get with a codec meant for playback, like H.264. We tend to forget how you need different codecs for different reasons, like whether you can afford asymmetry in encoding and decoding (e.g., a movie disc that is encoded once, and played millions of times, is a scenario which tolerates a slow and expensive encode so long as the decode is fast and cheap). In the case of editing, you want codecs that allow you to access frames quickly and cheaply in either direction, which tends to rule out temporal compression. The Ishtori tutorial’s editing codecs page recommends the RLE-based Animation codec, Pixlet, Photo-JPEG, or the commercial SheerVideo codec.

I might encode at an even higher bitrate for my second AMV project, but for now, I’m not super keen on burning up the last 100 GB of my drive space, so I’m OK with the current quality/size tradeoff.

Now to rip discs 2-5 of His and Her Circumstances and either start storyboarding or at least writing out a rudimentary shot sheet (smart) or throwing down edits like I know what I’m doing (dumb… but probably what I’ll do, since this is more experimental than anything).

Adventures in deinterlacing…

So, a while back, I mentioned wanting to edit an AMV. I started laying the groundwork for that today, and so far, it’s an uphill climb. I’m working from Ishitori.net’s guide to making AMVs on the Mac, a helpful reference since most of the easily-found AMV guides are for Windows users.

So far, though, just ripping the DVDs in an editing-friendly format is a struggle. I had originally thought it would be as simple as going through Handbrake and making sure to account for interlacing. Problem is, Handbrake is far more inclined to give you a playback-oriented transcode (e.g., H.264), than something amenable to scrubbing in Final Cut. Ishitori’s guide suggests using MacTheRipper to de-CSS the files and get plain ol’ VOBs on your hard drive. Check. To do anything with them, of course, you need the QuickTime MPEG-2 Component, which I had a copy of like 8 years ago at Pathfire, but ended up re-buying today.

The next couple steps involve getting the footage in shape for Final Cut. That means:

  • Deinterlace
  • Convert to square pixels
  • Demux (actually, AMVs generally only need the video track
  • Transcode to Motion-JPEG, Pixlet, or some other editing codec

Ishitori suggests using Avidemux for deinterlacing and general image filtering, but I found both the X11 and Qt versions to be completely unusable. The X11 version won’t open a file unless you run it as root from the command line, and even then it seems to mis-read its plugin files. The Qt version just crashes a lot, and can’t work with any drive other than the boot volume (hilarious). Tried building from the latest sources in subversion, but that failed too, and I wasn’t really inclined to go on a wild dependency chase.

Plan B: I found JEI Deinterlacer. Cool! Oh wait, it won’t read later VOB segments from a long rip. Not so cool, unless you only want to deinterlace the menus and not the main program.

Plan C: Use MPEG Streamclip to pull all the VOBs together, and demux the entire video stream into another file.

OK, this might work…
MPEG Streamclip demux preview

Takes about 5 minutes…
MPEG Streamclip progress

Next, open it in JES Deinterlacer. Not the most intuitive GUI ever, but all these video tools have a million options and read like a brick.

JES Deinterlacer open panel

Downside #1: JES Deinterlacer pegs the CPU and puts up a SPOD (“spinning pinwheel of death”) for about 10 minutes while opening the file.

Anyways, JES Deinterlacer can transcode as you go, so I figure I’ll save a step and export my deinterlaced video to Pixlet.

JES Deinterlacer progress

Only two problems here: first, I didn’t set a bitrate and figured I’d let QuickTime decide. That defaulted to the highest possible quality (about 30 Mbps) and a 40 GB file. Kind of overkill, considering the source was 5 Mbps MPEG-2. Other problem is that at some point about 2/3 of the way through the file, it got stuck on one image and encoded the rest of the file with that same image. Niiiice.

Anyways, I’m letting it run again with a saner output bitrate for Pixlet (6 Mbps, which should give me a 6-7 GB file), and hoping that it doesn’t get locked on one frame again. It started about an hour ago, and looks to be about 25% done (on the dual 1.8 G5… would be interesting to see how it performs on a Core 2 Duo).

So, maybe I’ll be ready to edit when I get up tomorrow, or maybe I’ll be really pissed off.

Click here to not work on iPod

Since getting the iPod Classic, I’ve been putting more and more video on it… in part because my collection of 660 CD’s only fills half the iPod’s capacity.

Along with buying the anime series Rumbling Hearts from the iTunes Store and subscribing to some video podcasts (which tend to be either massively over- or under-produced, but that’s for another blog), I’ve been ripping DVD’s with Handbrake.

Behold the “advanced options” pane (click for full-size), which is selectable once you’ve provided a source VIDEO_TS folder and chosen one of the various H.264 settings, such as “iPod Low-Rez”:

Handbrake H.264 advanced options

Now here’s the thing with this pane: using some (or any?) of these options will produce a file that can be played by QuickTime, but not by the iPod. Maybe the iPod doesn’t like B-frames, maybe it doesn’t like some of the other settings, but I tried to make some sensible choices given the nature of the source material (e.g., I was ripping anime, so I set the B-frames fairly high, as the above tooltip advocates), and the result was a file that iTunes refused to copy to the iPod, with the error message saying that it won’t play on the iPod.

With a four-hour encode down the tubes, I’ve gotten more conservative and since then, the only settings I’ve messed with are size, aspect ratio, and bitrate. I may try some more experiments with smaller sources to figure out which of these options are iPod-friendly.

One thing that Handbrake gives you an immediate appreciation for is the sophistication of video encoding. As much as common discussions drift into a trite sort of “H.264 good, VC1 bad” kind of nonsense, just mousing through the tooltips gives you a sense of just how much the H.264 settings can be tweaked. Moreover, you also appreciate that a good deal of care and thought can and should go into these settings. The human element of encoding is somewhat underappreciated, at least until you meet real encoders (Ben Waggoner is the obvious example), and you realize there’s a lot more to it than clicking an “encode” button. Sometimes you can see it when the same source material gets encoded by different people. The original one-disc version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid looks like it was encoded by a five-year-old as part of a theme park attraction: it’s blocky and noisy. The two-disc version that came out a few years ago is striking by comparison (though the backgrounds of hand-painted Disney movies still seem noisy to me).