Friday, December 23, 2005

Once a geek, always a geek

It is a well known fact geeks (such as yours truly) can't easily stop being geeks. "Professional deformation" others say, but one must admit that so many hours invested in learning how things work just for the fun of it do have a profound impact on personal traits and habits.

For a while, I have been enjoying watching video recordings from several sources on my TV, which is also used as a secondary display for my computer. This arrangement makes it possible for me to decode almost the whole plethora of formats available. But there is a drawback: the noise emanating from the fans that prevent my computer and associated storage units from overheating and burning are annoying as heck. I also fear they might impair my hearing on the long run, so obviously something has to be made about this situation.

Where I live, it's not easy to find liquid cooling systems. Also, I don't have the time to transcode all that material to standard DVD (the media is still unreliable and the selection and recording process is very time consuming too). What a geek's got to do then?

Well, several manufacturers are now offering HDD cases with built-in decoders and video ports. Get one, add your hard disc filled with DiVX, XviD, Mp3 and many more files, connect it to your TV and you're set!

Only problem is, they are also rare around my neck of woods. Ack!!! Curse this company-driven market.

But while I wait for my decoder HDD case to arrive, I found another solution: a dvd-player/home theater set which also plays many kinds of mpeg-4 video. It's not as flexible as the aforementioned option, but at least I think I can set aside some time to transcode everything I have to DivX (their decoder is free, and the encoder license is quite affordable). Thanks to their advanced compression format, I can make a whole season of Stargate SG-1 fit within a DVD-R.

Let's take a look at the steps I took on this geek-x-periment:

1 - Select DVD/HTS device.

After shopping around, I settled for the Philips HTS3300. You can take a look at it here. There are several sub-versions depending upon where you live (RCA or SCART connectors at the back, for example). But I'll give you a short list of reasons why I chose it:

* Decodes and displays DivX versions 3 thru 6. Be forewarned though that video files encoded using QT (quarter pixel) or GMC (Global motion compensation) are not supported.

* Built in support for separate subtitle files.

* Plays and converts NTSC or PAL DVDs to the appropiate format for your TV.

* It's Region-free hackable.

* Even though the manual states only DVD+R(W)s can be used, it also plays DVD-R(w)s.

* Built-in Radio tuner.

* AUX-in input. Hey! I can use it as an amplifier for my synths too!

2 - Installation.

This HTS comes with 5 little speakers, a subwoofer and plenty of wiring with Easy-Fit color-coded connectors at the end so you can plug-in each speaker without confusion. I suggest you to obtain a kit of 5 speaker mounts though. Also, only the frontal channel speaker is magnetically shielded (don't put the others to close to your CRT TV or you'll end up creating color spots on the screen).

After installing the speakers and routing the wires appropiately, plug the power cord into an AC outlet and connect the TV selecting the appropiate composite video input (Component progressive video must be enabled manually, but that's piece of cake). Cross your fingers and turn power On.

3 - Configuration.

Now is when the geek side of the force shows up!!!

Make the unit multi-region capable:
Grab the remote control, push [OPEN] and wait for the disc tray to open, then push [9] [9] [9] [9] [0]. Cycle power and you're done!

Upgrade the firmware:
Click here and decompress the file on your desktop. Read the PDF instructions first!!! Not all units require a firmware upgrade.
If you decide to continue, burn a CD with the .BIN file (single session disc-at-once), insert it on your DVD-player and press PLAY. The rest is automatic and the unit will shut off automatically at the end of the process.

Select the appropiate color signal conversion:
Depending upon where you live, you'll want to use the color mode (NTSC or PAL) Native to your region. The unit will automatically convert based upon your choice. Check your manual for the appropiate instructions.

4 - Transcode contents.

Go back to your computer and acquire an encoder license of DivX-Create (20 USCY).
Make sure to select the Home Theatre profile. After that, the process is as simple as dragging and dropping files into the encoder icon.

Rename your files using less than 30 characters. This is only so you can identify them more easily on the DVD navigation screen. Also, if you have external subtitle files, they must be named exactly as the video file that uses them. The supported formats are .srt .smi .sub .ssa and .ass

You don't have any subtitles?? May I suggest then the excellent SubTitle Workshop? It's a movie translator's dream come true!

5 - Enjoy!

Why not, it's a snap and you'll appreciate your files comfortably sitting at your coach-potato spot :)

Let me know what you think. Okie?


Bruno Unna said...

O sea... que... ¿exactamente qué es este aparato? No hallé en FOLDOC qué es eso de HTS. ¿Qué es?

Julio said...

HTS Significa Home Theatre System.
Este aparato es un reproductor DVD, pero tiene integrado el decodificado de audio (DTS o Dolby Digital) así como el amplificador.
También incorpora un sintonizador de radio.
Aparte de DVDs, sabe decodificar nativamente archivos mp3 y jpegs, así como DiVX y algunos otros formatos de video.

Precio local: menos de 200 dlls a 12 meses sin intereses.