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Friday, February 11, 2011

How to turn your PS3 into a media center

5 comments
I now have my new PS3 up and running as a full media center that can play music and movies at the push of a button. I'm slowly filling up my new external hard disk drive with copies of my DVDs and I'm really happy with both the quality and functionality of the system.

I should state that I'm only using the system to back up and watch DVDs that I already own. I am in no way condoning piracy or copyright theft.

Right, now that's out the way, here's what I did and my thoughts on the matter.

I wanted to use my PS3 as a media center so that I could box up all my DVDs and move them out of the living room to create some space. The first thing I needed (apart from the PS3 itself of course) was some decent media storage. As it was going to be plugged into the PS3 in my television cabinet it needed to be small and quiet.

I chose a 1 terabyte external portable hard disk drive from Western Digital. I've had a few WD devices in the past and found them easy and reliable to use. The device I actually used was this one, which I picked for a few reasons. First of all it is very small and easy to tuck away (it's only a little bigger than an iphone; remarkable for a spindle driven drive of this size!). It also runs extremely quietly and draws it's power from the usb hub rather than requiring a separate plug socket. In fact the only slight issue I have with it is the HDD activity light is quite bright and lights up the back of the tv cabinet when it flashes - nothing a bit of tape won't put right though.

Right, so I had my media player (the PS3) and my media storage (the external HDD), the next stage was to get my DVDs copied onto it.

I immediately ran into a problem. The PS3 only supports external drives that use the FAT32 file allocation system, and the device I had purchased was supplied formatted with the NTFS file system. I plugged the drive into my pc, but Windows no longer supports FAT32, so I couldn't reformat it into the correct file system using Windows Explorer. Instead I had to use fat32format, a free programme designed to solve exactly this problem. One word of warning; I tried to use the windows gui version of the programme, but it didn't work properly. Once I used the command line version (very easy to do just by following the simple instructions on the fat32format site) my drive was formatted with the FAT32 in a few seconds.

The next problem was that the FAT32 file system does not allow files larger than 4GB in size to be saved. Most DVD movies are larger than this size. So, there were two options; either compress the movie so that it was less than 4GB in size, or split the movie file into several smaller files.

I did not want to compress the movie files if I could help it, as the quality of the movie picture would be reduced. Fortunately the PS3 allows for sequential playing of movie files without pauses, so I decided to split the files once I had got them copied. Which was the next hurdle; how to get the DVD movie file off the DVD disk and onto my external HDD in a format that the PS3 could play.

Two programmes came to the rescue. The first was AnyDVD, which strips the copy protection from the DVD disk on the fly. When running AnyDVD you don't actually need to do anything. If AnyDVD is running in the background (i.e. in the system tray) on your pc then it will automatically strip the protection from any DVD you put in the pc's DVD drive, allowing you to do what you want with it. Clever stuff.

I'd just like to reiterate here that you obviously shouldn't use the software for piracy or to steal copyright. I was using it to only back up DVDs that I already own.

So, I had my DVD disk in the pc disk drive, the copy protection was removed, and my external HDD was also plugged into my pc. Now to get the movie file off the DVD disk and onto the external HDD.

For this I used DVDShrink, another free programme. This programme gives the option to compress DVD movies or to split them into smaller chuncks for sequential playing. I chose the latter method so as not to lose any picture quality.

Once you open the DVD in DVDShrink and it has analysed the disk you should click on the Reauthor tab. From here you can select the file you want to copy - the main movie is obvious as the files have the running time listed next to them. If you are not certain however DVDShrink has a neat preview feature that allows you to preview the selected file in a small window. Once you've identified the correct file just double-click it to move it to the copy window. Then you need to select the Compression tab where you can choose to compress the file to a reduced size. I made sure to select "No compression".

The next thing to do is to go to the DVDShrink options and, assuming the movie file is larger than 4GB, click the option to split the file into 1GB chunks. Then it's just a matter of selecting the Backup option and selecting where you want to save the file. That's it. It sounds complicated, but after doing it a couple of times I was running through the process in a matter of seconds. A full length DVD movie took between 10 and 15 minutes to copy.

The last thing to bear in mind is the folder structure you use on the external HDD. Before copying any movie files onto it you should create the following directories on the drive: MUSIC, PICTURE, and VIDEO (all in caps). Your movie files should go in the VIDEO folder. You can use subdirectories too, though only the first level of these will display by default. Obviously you can put music files and pictures in the relevant folders too if you like (the PS3 will recognise most common formats).

You can save your movie files on the HDD with spaces in the names and with long filenames if you like. The files generated by DVDShrink are in the VOB format, and the PS3 will play these quite happily (it will also play most other video file formats). If you select the first file in a folder to play it will play them all sequentially without pauses between the files, giving you the whole, uncompressed movie.

So, on my HDD I now have the following folders:
  • MUSIC
  • PICTURE
  • VIDEO
    • Movie 1 Name
      • Movie 1 part 1.VOB
      • Movie 1 part 2.VOB
      • Movie 1 part 3.VOB
      • Movie 1 part 4.VOB
    • Movie 2 Name
      • Movie 2 part 1.VOB
      • Movie 2 part 2.VOB
      • Movie 2 part 3.VOB
      • Movie 2 part 4.VOB
    • Movie 3 Name
    • etc
Once I had some movies on my HDD I plugged it into my PS3 and ensured that Sequential Playback was activated (from the Settings > Video menu on the PS3). I went to the Video section of the XMB and there was my HDD listed. I clicked on the HDD and my movies were all listed there. I selected a movie and clicked play, and I had immediate access to my entire DVD library (or will have once I have finished copying them all!).

The picture quality is actually better than when I used the disks in my old DVD player as the PS3 has an excellent upscaling system that brings the image up to almost HD quality.

Overall I'm very, very happy with the system and will finally be able to move all my DVDs out of the living room!

I'll be posting a guide on how to create a streaming media server using a pc soon.

Edit: This topic is continued here, with some new advice.

5 comments:

  1. Geez! There's a reason Emarald calls you Bill Gates ;)

    Actually sounds pretty easy once it all comes together. Thanks very much for the great write up.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very comprehensive guide, thanks Merecraft. I will give this a go in the next few days. Good stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks guys, hope you both find it useful! :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey man. Know this is old, but I've only recently started with the home media centre thing. Have also been ripping my DVD library to play on my PS3 via an external hard drive, but I've been compressing the files using Handbrake. Didn't know about the sequential play thing. Going to try and rip a movie into separate .vob files and play it from the hard drive like you described. Thanks again :)

    ReplyDelete

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