Convert DVD for PS3 with 5.1 under Ubuntu

There are many, many questions on how to convert video to be suitable for streaming to the PS3 – and as many solutions. Some of the issues I ran into are due to the configuration of my home theater, and others were because I was trying to accomplish this under Linux.

My setup for playback is a PS3 connected wirelessly (but wired will work fine) to my home network. The PS3 outputs the video over HDMI, and the sound over TOSLink. I run XBMC on my Ubuntu desktop to serve up the video content stored there.

The first, and most obvious path to success is to use HandBrake – it is available across platforms and is simple to use. More recent versions have dumped the specific PS3 encoding options, but the iPod/iPad encoding settings seem to create videos that work just fine in my experience. Where Handbrake fell down for me was that the default encoding settings change the audio into stereo. I’ve got a 5.1 setup and wanted to keep the surround from the DVD.

HandBrake will let you create an AAC 6 channel encoding if you poke around a little in the configuration. Sadly for me, the TOSLink connection does not have enough bandwidth to handle 6 channel PCM, so the PS3 re-encodes the 6 channel mix into a 2 channel mix. This was a bit of a downer after a 2hr encode. If you have your audio going over HDMI, or don’t care about 5.1 then HandBrake may be the perfect solution.

It is also worth mentioning that ps3mediaserver can handily deal with .iso files (and lots more) and re-encode on the fly. I specifically didn’t want to go this route, for no reason other than I didn’t want to be bothered to set it up as I already had XMBC handy. I’ll assume there are others out there as stubborn as I am and they may find this useful.

My path to success turned out to be using k9copy to create an .avi file from the DVD that contained only the movie and the AC3 5.1 sound track. Then I used ffmpeg to convert that .avi file into a VOB format file that the PS3 would accept for streaming.

ffmpeg -i video.avi -acodec copy -vcodec copy -r 23.976 -f vob video.mpg

Once done (and it was fast as there is no actual re-encoding happening in the ffmpeg step) the resulting file streamed just fine from XMBC to my PS3 over wireless. As with most solutions, I spent plenty of time banging my head on more complicated paths until arriving at this very simple solution. I do have to give credit to a blog post that helped me reach the ah-hah moment. What I really like about this solution is the video and audio are exactly what appears on the DVD, only the wrapper they are stored in has changed: k9copy extracted the bits from the DVD that I wanted to have, and ffmpeg fiddled the container around to make the PS3 happy.

I’m still a huge fan of HandBrake and will continue to use this for converting video for portability (Android phone, iPhone, etc). However, k9copy has earned a place in my video conversion toolbox.

DVD vs Blu-ray

I was a fairly early adopter of the DVD format, buying my first DVD player (a Toshiba 2109) back in 1998 for a bit more than $700.  That player is still going strong and doing duty at my sister in-laws place, replacing their Sony player that stopped working reliably.   I’ve got more than 250 DVDs in my collection, and friends and family regularly borrow and watch them.

It took me a while to make the leap to Blu-ray.  Initially the format war gave me a good reason to stall.  My previous projector being a CRT didn’t have HDMI inputs and was not capable of a full 1080p display (1080i  worked fine).  Moving the Blu-ray also means fewer people are able to borrow the media and enjoy it.

Eventually my will power crumbled, I think what tipped me over the edge was the pack-rat in me.  The sheer volume of data that the Blu-ray format represents is just so cool, so many bits – in such a neat package.

The first Blu-ray movie we watched was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  The menu system and intro to the disc look really sharp, much more crisp than any DVD menu.  I did find that the special effects (groundhogs) tended to look a little unreal.  I was very pleased at the detail visible in long shots, it never felt constrained like DVD can at times.  In general terms the amount of detail helped make the picture much more engaging, things just looked “wow” all of the time.   Any time there was a limitation in detail, it seemed to be specifically the directors intention (ie: depth of field) vs. a limitation of the format.

I did have a chance to compare directly to the DVD version, switching between my PS3 (for Blu-ray) and the Oppo 980 (for DVD).  For Indian Jones, the special effects seemed to blend better into the overall image – they were more convincing on the DVD.  On the flip side, you could tell in the direct A/B comparison which was the Blu-ray and which was the DVD – there was clearly more fine detail in the image.  However, in isolation – both looked really good.   Similarly Wall E on DVD vs the Blu-ray version had similar observations – in side by side A/B comparison it was easy to see the extra details in the image, but if you switched to the DVD for a minute or two you quickly forgot and didn’t feel that you were missing anything.

It is probably important to note here that to see the difference you may need to have a fairly high end system, and a pretty big screen.  I’m using the Epson 1080UB and a 80″x45″ screen (more than 6 feet wide).  The first row of seating is about 11 feet away, so its a big sharp image that helps make the difference more obvious.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the challenges for Blu-ray.  Today the cost of the media is generally more expensive.  Large displays are certainly getting more common, but considering that DVD will look really good – without a direct A/B comparison Blu-ray may be a tough sell at the increased price point.  The Blu-ray players are also more expensive, and they are relatively slow compared to a DVD player (for menu operations and start-up).

I still intend to buy movies on DVD, but I suspect that the majority of my future purchases will be Blu-ray.  While DVD does look awesome with my setup, Blu-ray is awesomer.

IR4PS3 Review

Until recently, the PS3 was one of the cheaper options for Blu-ray playback and it has high quality playback.  Today there are stand alone players which will match the quality of playback, but not the boot / menu speed the PS3.  Still, the PS3 goes beyond movies by providing game play and media center duties.

One of the drawbacks to the PS3 is integration with standard universal remote controls, not having an IR control story.  The official Sony PS3 remote uses the same bluetooth connectivity as the wireless game controllers.  To work around this there are several 3rd party solutions exist such as IR2BT, ps3toothfairy, Schmart and IR4PS3, I chose to go with the latter.

I first found out about the IR4PS3 option via, a site I’ve often referenced ever since I invested in a Phillips Pronto TSU2000.  Having a complex audio/video setup is one thing, but it becomes a much bigger problem if my wife can’t make use of it – a fully programmable remote such as the Pronto makes the whole setup easy to use.  After reading the AVSForum thread on IR4PS3, I felt confident that it would be a good match for my setup.

The short version of the review is that ordering it was easy, it was shipped quickly, and works exactly as I would expect.  You do need to provide your own power supply, but the manual lists several low cost and easy to find options.  As it uses the bluetooth module from the Sony remote, compatibility with the PS3 firmware upgrades should be a non-issue.  I now can use my IR based universal remote control with the PS3.  Response time feel good, exactly as if the PS3 actually had IR support built in.  I would not hesitate to recommend it to others.

Read on for a full review with pictures..

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