Load DVD on AppleTV

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Contents

Copy DVD-Content to Disk

The first step is to transfer the data (basically the .VOB and .IFO files in the VIDEO_TS directory) from DVD to your harddisk.

Please notice: If the DVD is encrypted/copy-protected this process may not be legal in your country, so check the legal situation first!

Some useful tools:

  • DVDShrink (Windows): Backup and shrink DVDs, development discontinued, problems with recent copy protections; try RipIt4Me or DVDFab Decrypter if you run into problems
  • DVDDecrypter (Windows): Backup DVDs, also discontinued development, try RipIt4Me or DVDFab Decrypter if you run into problems
  • DVD to Apple TV (Windows):Convert DVD to Apple TV video MP4 and Apple TV audio MP3, M4A
  • RipIt4Me (Windows): combines several ripping tools, also discontinued recently
  • DVDFab Decrypter (Windows): Free version of commercial DVD backup tool, active development
  • MacTheRipper (OS X): Backup DVD for Mac


You can play the .VOB files in the VIDEO_TS folder directly on your Apple TV by using the NitoTV plugin without any encoding or transformation. But keep in mind that you will need up to 8 GB diskspace for a movie. If you have installed NitoTV and don't care about disk space, skip to step Load Movie-Files to Apple TV.

The following steps of this guide describe, how to encode the video content from a DVD with a modern video codec, which makes it possible to reduce the file size about 50-70% without loosing noticeable quality and plays on Apple TV without any plugin.

Recommended Encoding Format and Settings

What codec and what settings to use depends on what you expect from the encoded file. In this recommendation we assume that you want to create high quality movie files from DVDs, if possible without loosing the DVD quality. We also don't want to waste disk space and the files should be as compatible with Quicktime / AppleTV as possible (if it does not cost noteworthy quality or disk space).

Codec: H.264/MPEG-4 AVC (x264), Main Profile

If you want to watch a video on your DVD with AppleTV, you have to rip the DVD to you computer, and convert it to a file which Apple TV / Quicktime can play. Now you have the choice between a lot of formats/codecs. Since VOB files from DVD are MPEG-2 encoded, it's easy to create mpg files from them, but this could result in 6 or 7 GB large files. Since MPEG-2 is not very efficient, you lose a lot of quality if you shrink it to a smaller size. So many people choose to use DivX or Xvid in the past. Those are MPEG-4 ASP codecs which allow a better compression (about 50% size with the same quality). But today there are better codecs, so Apple TV has been designed with MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) in mind (.mov from Quicktime 7 is a H.264 codec, as well as the free x264, which is used by the encoding tools described below). H.264 allows about 30-40% smaller files at the same quality compared to xvid/divx at the cost of slower encoding speed and the need of faster hardware to decode it (e.g., Xbox/XBMC only supports H.264 with a resolution of 352x288, while Apple TV supports 1280x720 up to 5 Mbps). H.264 is also the codec of choice for most new video applications like HD DVD, BlueRay, DVB, T-DMB, 3GPP, ISMA, AVCHD, NeroDigital, Quicktime... So it's a good idea to use the more advanced H.264 codec.

H.264 has been designed for a lot of different devices, so there have beens specified several sets of capabilities, which are referred to as H.264 profiles. For small devices like mobile phones or the iPod there is a baseline profile, according to the specs Apple TV should support the main profile, BlueRay and HD DVD use the high profile. The higher the profile, the more advanced features of the codec are used. These features make the codec more efficient, but makes encoding slower, and needs faster hardware for decoding. Perhaps Apple TV hardware would be capable of decoding high profile H.264, but many of the additional features of high profile only benefit from high definition and higher bitrates, which is limited to 5 Mbps by the Apple TV hardware. Aside from the limited hardware, Quicktime can't decode high profile anyway. There are even features from main profile, which Quicktime does not support.

Since Apple TV uses Quicktime to play movies, we have to bear in mind those limitations. Luckily most encoding GUIs have Quicktime or Apple TV profiles, which take care for us. Since there are only a few limitations, it's not worth to drop Quicktime compatibility, because you don't save noteworthy bitrate at the same quality, on the other hand this would require to use a different player on AppleTV and does not sync using iTunes. If there is no pre-configured profile in your GUI, make sure to use the H.264 main profile and have a look at the doom9 forum thread for information which featurs are not supported.

Container-Format: MP4

Another question is the container format which will contain the video and audio stream. For xvid/divx mostly AVI was used, but it does not support important features needed for H.264 encoding like B-frames, variable bitrates...

There are new container formats for the new codecs, most important probably:

  • MP4, a multimedia container format standard specified(ISO/IEC) as a part of MPEG-4 and
  • MKV, a free, open source container format.

Since MP4 is an MPEG standard format, very similar to .mov, is supported by original Quicktime / Apple TV and MKV on the other hand lacks support of encoders and players, I'd recommend MP4. You can use MKV too, but you can't use iTunes to sync the files (with MP4 you can) and you have to modify Apple TV to make Quicktime understand the container format by installing perian 1.0 or using another player.

Resolution: 720x480 (NTSC) or 720x576 (PAL), anamorphic

Next question is the target resolution. DVD uses 720x480 (NTSC) or 720x576 (PAL). A common resolution used for xvid / divx is 512x348 to create 2 CDs -> 1.4 GB. But if you compare that to the original resolution on DVD, you will notice that you lose about 50/60% (NTSC / PAL) of the available information (pixels), so you lose a lot of quality. If you watch that video file on a HD screen you will notice a big difference when compared to the original DVD. So the best quality would be original DVD resolution. But PAL/NTSC resolution is fixed and not 16:9, that's because the 16:9 videos are stored horizontally scaled down. The information if it's 16:9 or 4:3 is stored on the DVD, so the player can scale it back to the correct aspect ratio. This is called "anamorphic encoding".

If you are interested in details on aspect ratio and anamorphic encoding, have a look at:

The bad news is, if you want to encode a 16:9 movie to a fixed aspect ratio, you have to use 875x480 (NTSC) or 1050x576 (PAL), if you don't want to lose any information. In case of PAL this will cost 40% more filesize and bitrate, without any additional information or quality benefit. Luckily there is a setting for anamorphic encoding in H.264 / MP4, so you can stay with 720 width and tell the player to scale the width the same way the DVD player does. So with anamorphic encoding you can save a lot of disk space and bitrate (which is limited to 5,000 Kbps on AppleTV).

For 4:3 you don't save as much bitrate as for 16:9 by using anamorphic encoding. So you could resize to 656x480 (NTSC) or 720x528 (PAL). But keep in mind that you allways lose quality if you resize (by the resizing process itself), and you lose more quality if your target resolution contains fewer pixels (e.g. 720x480 -> 656x480 = -9%). So if you want the best quality you should use anamorhic encoding.

Sadly Apple choose a different implementation for anaorphic encoding, which is not supported by most encoders yet. People from Handbrake and mp4box (used by StaxRip, MeGUI) are working on a solution, but if you want to encode a file today, you have to do it without anamorphic encoding. In this case you have to resize. Here some suggested resolutions for resized, non-anamorphic encoding:

Aspect Ratio Resolution
4:3 (NTSC) 656 x 480
4:3 (PAL) 720 x 528
16:9 720 x 396
2.35:1* 720 x 300

* usually stored in 16:9 aspect ratio with additional black bars which need to be cropped

All the resolutions mentioned above, anamorphic as well as non-anamorphic, should not be your target resolution. There are still black bars in the video, which don't contain information and cost bitrate / quality, so you should remove them. That's why all encoding guis have a crop or auto-crop feature. You should keep in mind, that the vertical and horizontal number of pixels should be divisible by 16 to get the best efficiency (quality). If this would remove too much of your video, you should at least make sure that it's divisible by 4 (that's OK for H.264 as opposed to older codecs). It depends on your video what the real target resolution without black bars will be, e.g. if you crop 8 pixels on both sides of an anamorphic 16:9 PAL video, you get a target resolution of 704x576. If it's 2.35:1 resolution you have big black bars, which will lead to a target resolution like 704x436 or something similar. If you look at your preferred encoding GUI you'll see that cropping is quite simple - actually it's done automatically by most tools.

If you care about how the resolutions were calculated, have a look at the following articles:

Bitrate: 1,500 - 2,500 Kbps

Apple Specs say, that the maximum bitrate is limited to 5 Mbps. But if you look at the intro movie installed on Apple TV, you see that it's a 6 Mbps movie and it runs fine. The problem with high bitrates is, when there is a scene with many details, the variable bitrate may be too high, so the movie stops some times. And the higher your bitrate, the more disk space is required. So you should choose the lowest possible bitrate with a good quality.

There is no perfect bitrate for all movies, because all movies have different video streams / details... But if you choose something between 1,500 and 2,500 Kbps, you will probably get nice results. When encoding a new movie you should allways create a small test file with only a few seconds to see if your settings are OK.

Using H.264 with anamorphic encoding, 1.5 - 2.5 Mbps bitrate and original DVD resolution, makes it possible to downsize movies to about 1.5 - 2.5 GB without losing (noticeable) quality. If you are using a non-anamorphic, smaller resolution, you can use a lower bitrate.

Audio-Codec: AAC

For audio, AppleTV supports AAC up to 160Kbps LC (Low Complexity), which is also part of the MPEG-4 standard. AAC is used for songs from iTunes store, it's more efficient than MP3 (same quality at lower bitrate), supports multi-channel audio and could be seen as the successor of MP3.

If you have 5.1 sound on your DVD, you can convert it to Dolby Pro Logic II, which can be up-converted to 5.1 by an amplifier which can decode the Dolby Pro Logic II encoding. If you don't have such an amplifier, it's still valid 2.0 stereo which works almost everywhere. MP4 does not allow AC3 sound, but anyway AppleTV can only output stereo (cinch) or pass-through the signal via optical audio to an amplifier. If you amplifier has optical audio in, and if it can decode AC3, you can use it (ATVFiles has a feature to pass-through the signal), but not with an MP4 container. For AAC 5.1 you need an amplifier which can decode this. So for AAC Dolby Pro Logic II you could use both, stereo or an amplifier which can decode the 5.1. signal.

Two interesting articles about AppleTV and 5.1 sound:


Encoding GUIs

Encoding GUIs, which can encode VOB files (which are MPEG2 encoded) from DVDs to MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) into an MP4 container. The guides below are not complete yet, but there are a lot of links to very detailed guides on other sites. But keep in mind that most of the guides don't explain how to create files for Quicktime or Apple TV, but for standalone DivX players (ripping DVDs to 1 or 2 CDs, which limits resolution / quality) or PCs (no limitations from hadware or decoding capabilities). But the guides are very useful to understand how the encoding tools work. So if you want to follow one of the linked guides keep the recommended settings in mind (H.264 codec - main profile, MP4 container, resolution, audio codec AAC, bitrate 1.5-2.5 Mbps).

Though anamorphic encoding with the original resolution gives the best results, these files sadly don't play correctly with Quicktime (this will probably change soon, but files will have to be reencoded with new encoder versions). To decide which target resolution to use please have a look at the chapter about resolution.

MeGUI

MeGUI is one of the most advanced encoding frontends, which provides a lot of options to get a really high quality. To make it easier for beginners, there are predefined encoding profiles. If you want to play the encoded file with Quicktime or sync it with iTunes to your Apple TV, it's recommend to use the CE-QuickTime profile, which sets x264-encoder options which are known to be compatible with apple decoders (Quicktime...). If you have your VOB files, you need to start with D2VCreator from tools menue (select Demux all Audio Tracks), after that load the created .d2v file with AviSynth Script Creator, where you should uncheck clever anamorphic encoding and use auto crop and resize. On the second page you can analyze the video and perhaps apply a deinterlacing filter. After that you can load the created AviSynth script into the MeGUI main window, select codec x264, container mp4, Quicktime profile. Use config to adjust the bitrate. I'd recommend something between 1,500 and 2,500 Kbps for original DVD resolution (non anamorphic, resized to something like 720x400). Now you need to select the audio file (probably a .ac3 file), which has been created (demuxed) by D2VCreator before, and select NDAAC -LC -96Kbps. After every step you have to go to the queue tab and click start.

These are the most important settings to create a .mp4 file which works with an original Apple TV / iTunes / Quicktime. Have a look at the great guides mentioned below for more details!

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Project Homepage

Operating Systems: Windows XP/Vista (try to run as admin if you run into problems on Vista)

Tutorials/Guides:

StaxRip

StaxRip is a simpler GUI than MeGUI, but still very powerful. You have to choose Profiles -> x264 -> more -> CE Quicktime and Profiles -> Container -> MP4. Select you VOB files as source. Uncheck Anamorphic. Set Video Bitrate to something between 1,500 and 2,500. Set Audio Track 1 to AAC -> LC VBR 110-150 kbps (perhaps you have to double-click the field to select a .ac3 file, it is empty). Make sure resize width is set to the cropped width (e.g. 708), perhaps you have to check deinterlace.

This are again the most important settings for Apple TV compatibility, have a look at the following guides for a detailed description.

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Project Homepage

Operating Systems: Windows XP/Vista (try to run as admin if you run into problems on Vista)

Tutorials/Guides:

SUPER

SUPER is another free encoding tool, which makes it very easy to create h.264/mp4 files. SUPER is only a frontend for several different tools, it uses basically the same tools for encoding like StaxRip and MeGUI do.

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Project Homepage

Operating Systems: Windows XP/Vista

Tutorials/Guides:

Nero Recode

Many people already use Nero for burning, if you have a permium version Nero Recode is already included. Otherwise you can buy a Nero Digital Pro license for about 30 EUR. Nero Digital is another H.264 implementation, with Nero Recode you can create MP4 files, which will play on Apple TV. Nero Recode does not support anamorphic encoding.

Recommended settings to create a H.264 MP4 file which works on Apple TV:

Nero Digital Category: Nero Digital AVC
Nero Digital Profile: HDTV - AVC
Fit to Target: Disabled
Video Quality: 2.00 Mbps
De-Interlace: Disabled, unless interlaced source file exists
Crop: Automatic
Resize: Automatic, Letterboxing (Square Pixel) enabled. Typical dimensions are around 7XX x 3XX.
Audio #1: 5.1-channel Surround, Automatic Settings, Standard Volume
Subtitle: 1: (Select Correct Subtitle File)
Nero Digital Settings: Expert Mode
AVC Encoder: Auto
Rate Control: Fast Encoding (1-Pass)
Min Quantizer: 0
Max Quantizer: 51
Decision Quality: Best
Maximum Vector Range: -32 to 31.75
Max Reference Frames: 1
Max GOP size: 300
Max B-frames: 3
CABAC: Enabled
Bidirectional Prediction: Disabled
Macroblock Partitions: Enabled
Weighted Prediction: DISABLED. DO NOT ENABLE, AS THE APPLETV WILL EXHIBIT MACROBLOCKS! !!!NOT SURE ABOUT THAT!!!
8x8 Transform: Disabled
Deblocking: On, -2 strength
Visual Enhancements: Picture Level, Macroblock Level, Advanced, and Enhanced Chroma Prediction turned on

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Project Homepage

Operating Systems: Windows XP/Vista

Tutorials/Guides:

Handbrake/MediaFork

Handbrake is a simple, easy to use encoding GUI, perhaps the best choice for OS X. Starting from Version 0.9.0 handbrake has an Apple TV preset which makes it very easy to configure. By now handbrake is the only tool (besides Quicktime), which has implemented anamorphic encoding, which original Quicktime (hence Apple TV) can understand.

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Project Homepage

Operating Systems: OS X, Windows XP/Vista, Linux

Tutorials/Guides:

ffmpegX

Like Handbrake, ffmpegX is a simple, easy to use encoding GUI for OS X. There is no Apple TV preset, only an iPod preset. But since iPods don't support many Apple TV features, it's not a good idea to use it. Better choose h.264/x264 preset and apply the settings like bitrate and resolution as explained above. From options tab you should choose all options except "constant bitrate" and "quicktime decoding".

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Project Homepage

Operating Systems: OS X

Tutorials/Guides:


Add Metadata

For editing metadata (title, tv show episode, cover...) of your MP4 files, you could use iTunes, or better a tool based on AtomicParsley, e.g. PAD, MetaX, Lostify (OS X) or YAMB (Windows).

Load Movie-Files to AppleTV

There are basically 3 ways to load your movie files to AppleTV:

  1. If you have used a MP4 or MOV container, an AppleTV or Quicktime profile for encoding and your resolution and bitrate is below the limits from Apples specification, you can use iTunes to sync movies to AppleTV.
  2. Or you could Install SSH and ATVFiles on your AppleTV and copy the movie files using Fugu (OS X) or WinSCP (Windows) to your AppleTV. This way you are not limited to any Quicktime / iTunes restrictions. You can copy any file which works with one of the many plugins like nitoTV, Perian (codecs)...
  3. Or you could load the files to a file server / NAS / network share, and mount it as a local directory for ATVFiles. A NAS could be a good idea, because a NAS with 500 GB storage is much cheaper than AppleTV itself and only needs 5-20 Watt (not very much compared to a computer) and could be used by other clients too. You can use different protocols to mount your network shares on AppleTV:


Known Problems

Links

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