How to put your movies on your media server

All the classics Credit: flickr/bargainmoose

Want to copy videos to your media server? With HandBrake, it's surprisingly easy.

I have a huge movie collection. It used to all be on VHS tapes, then I moved to DVDs, and now I'm slowly moving to Blu-Ray. That's all well and good, but along the way I decided I liked the convenience of making my hundreds of movies accessible from a single hard drive instead. Does this sound good to you? Here's how you, too, can put twenty boxes of DVDs into a single 2TB hard drive.

Note: Before you go any farther, you should know that most movies comes with some kind of Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption. I feel that since I bought these videos I should have the right to do with them what I want -- so long as I don't try to sell or distribute their contents to others. I am not a lawyer though and this is a legal gray area. If you decide to follow a similar course, you should be fine, but neither I nor ITworld can be responsible for any legal damages that may result from this how-to article. Got that? OK then.

[Here's what buying movies and TV shows online looks like, drawn in marker ]

The media server and extender

Before you start any of this you need a media server and a media extender. A media server is a program, such as iTunes, MythTV, or Windows Media Center, that enables you to "broadcast" your videos to other computers and media extenders. A media extender, in turn, is just a device, like an Apple TV, the Xbox 360 and most 2011 and newer Blu-Ray DVD players, such as a Sony BDP-S580, that lets you view video from your media server on your TV.

Most, but not all, of these programs and devices support one version or another of the Universal Plug and Play Forum's (UPnP) Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA). In theory any DLNA server can transmit to any DLNA media extender.

Yeah. Right. It's a nice idea, but in my years of experience with these things the only way you can be sure that a media server and extender will actually agree to work with each other is if you get them from the same vendor and they're from the same generation of technology.

After far too much time fooling with these devices I finally settled on using iTunes for my media server and Apple TV for my TV connection. It's not ideal. Neither are DLNA compatible -- whatever that means. In addition, while the Apple TV is a good device -- and now with AirPlay Mirroring you can actually use it to display video from your new Mac, iPhone, or iPad -- iTunes is... annoying.

Still, while iTunes is slow and its library management has always been a pain, it does work well with Apple TV -- most of the time -- and that makes it more reliable than any of the other combinations I've tried. So, for my purposes, I'm going to be using iTunes as my server and the Apple TV as my target device in this tale. Don't worry, the steps are pretty much the same for whatever device you choose to use.

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