After a few solid days of experimentation, trial-and-error, reading dozens of forums/threads, trying every suggestion found – I have finally arrived at a method for easily getting your Blu-Ray collection onto/through your Apple TV. This directly correlates to my previous article on creating a DIY Kaleidescape system via Apple TV.
The first step is of course to get a Blu-Ray disc, hereafter referred to as a BD.
Secondly you need to have either a PC or Intel Mac running windows of some sort. Some of the steps require windows only solutions at this time.
Third you need a BD drive for your computer. LG has an excellent selection with great performance and support, and I picked mine up from www.newegg.com for $130, replacing one of my DVD burners.
Let me preface this by saying the BD standard is significantly more complex than that of standard DVDs, and of HDDVDs. While you only had one video encoding option and 2-3 audio options for DVDs, BD’s have 2-3x as many. Not all are currently supported by output devices or programs at this time. It has always been my goal to preserve as much quality as possible in my collection, and the best possible combination at this time through an Apple TV is 720p video and AC3 DD audio. Yes this is a slight downgrade from the best BD option of 1080p and True-HD audio. Unfortunately there is no way around it, as it’s a hardware limitation. I’ll detail that later.
Step 1: Procure a program called AnyDVD HD and run it. This program removes the protection/encryption of a BD disc in the drive and allows you to copy/uncompress it to your hard drive, to work with it. Currently there is only one option, and that’s to take the whole disc. In the future it may be possible to only pull selections to save time such as just the main movie and one soundtrack. Anyway, right click on the AnyDVD icon in the tray when it’s running and a BD is inserted, and choose rip to drive. Where you put these files is not important, they are temporary and will be deleted later. This will take 30-45 min to complete depending on the movie and read speed of your drive.
Step 2a: This step *may* not be needed, it depends on the movie. Some BD movies do not have a separate AC3 DD english soundtrack. Some ONLY have a primary english track in True-HD, and that’s not useable yet. There are listings on the net (google for them) of each movies details if you want to check that way, or you can do it the easy way and start this step even if you don’t need it. Install and run a program called tsmuxer (free). This will at the very least show you the breakdown of the movie – all the video and audio tracks. If you only see an english surround track in True-HD, you will need to go a little further with tsmuxer. If you see an english AC3 5.1 track, it’s ok to use and you can skip tsmuxer.
Step2b: A few titles have the main movie split into multiple files. For these, simply open the first one in tsmuxer, and click the append button to add the rest, usually just one more.
Assuming you do need to go further, you will select the 1080 video track and the english True-HD audio track – uncheck everything else. Highlighting the video track, uncheck all the options. Highlighting the audio track CHECK convert to AC3. In output choose m2ts, and pick a directory, it doesn’t matter where.
Another option is if the title only has a DTS or DTS-HD english soundtrack – no dolby at all. In this case there are two more things that need to be done. First, if the track is DTS just select it. If it’s DTS-HD, select it and check Downconvert to DTS. In Output select Demux (split). This will create separate audio and video files. Next install and open a program called eac3to (Google for it – free). Use this to then input the DTS track you just made, and output an AC3 track. (Details coming shortly) Now use tsmuxer once again adding the video track you just made and the new AC3 track, using M2TS muxing (combining) as the Output.
Step 3: This part requires some beta code at the moment. Handbrake is a GREAT program that can encode video to a variety of outputs including Apple compatible files. The latest release version is awesome for regular DVDs, and the unreleased beta code is really good so far with BD. Currently you need to able to compile your own code to create this beta version (contact me for help with the windows version – Mac peeps instructions are on the handbrake page).
Open the beta handbrake and click source. Choose the output file you made with tsmuxer if you did that step, otherwise you are going to point to the files you ripped from the BD directly. To choose the original file you need to know which one it is – simply go into the rip folder, navigate through to the stream folder and choose the largest file – that’s the movie. NOTE: most files will open very quickly, however some take up to 1 hour to complete the Reading Source stage – let it run.
For Output Settings choose M4V file type and check Largefile size.
Under Picture Setting type 1280 in the first dimensions box, leave the 2nd blank, it will auto populate to the appropriate size. Anamorphic is none.
Under Video, choose H.264 for the video codec. Set the constant quality slider to 50%. 59% is often used, and works on some BD and all DVDs. I have found that the higher bitrate BDs such as Transformers uses MUCH higher data rates and overloads the Apple TV processor. 50% works all the time, so far at least. There is no visible difference.
Under Audio & Subtitles (subtitles are not yet supported) is where you will setup the audio streams. In the source box select the sound track (Do not use automatic). If you used tsmuxer you will only see the single english AC3. You need to create 2 soundtracks, the first being set to the english track with the AAC codec – that’s just to satisfy the AppleTV and play the file. Add a second track and change it to AC3, that will be played by default. If you are working from the original files, you need to choose your soundtrack from the list, which may or may not be labeled in languages. Generally English is listed first, so the first AC3 5.1 listing would usually work.
Make sure your output setting is m4v, choose your destination and encode! Depending on your machine times will vary greatly from a couple to several hours.
Add the new file to iTunes, sync your Apple TV and voila! enjoy pristine 720p movies!
NOTE: This article will be updated as time goes on to provide better information. Currently being tested are movies with subtitles and chapter marker support.
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