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Anyone running mkv rips of their movie collections via Plex? (aka A Media Server Conundrum)

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I'm quite interested in possibly ripping my entire Blu-ray collection (some 500+ discs and counting) as 1:1 MKV files and playing them back with Plex, but I'm a touch confused by all the various routes one can go about doing this (NAS, HTPC...etc). I don't want to introduce compression to movie files themselves, but I'd probably be looking at ripping select special features from some titles (chiefly Criterion and Masters of Cinema releases) and I'd likely compress those a little via handbrake.  

 

Does anyone have any particular advice on planning for all this? In addition, how are discs with seamless branching (The Alien films, Bladerunner...etc) handled when ripping? Will I have to create separate 25-30GB files for each version of a movie?

 

I'm guessing this will be quite a costly undertaking, but my Oppo blu-ray player is showing its age and is a bit fussy with some modern discs, and doesn't even play any episodes on any of my Sopranos Blu-rays. Another region free Oppo player is probably going to set me back a similar amount to a bunch of hard discs and a server...etc. If I can, hopefully, move next year it would also be nice to have all my media mobile friendly instead of hauling more boxes around that could happily stay in a storage locker.

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I rip the Blu-rays to .mkv with makemkv for Mac, and then I compress it with x264 and handbrake. I'd be glad to share my settings and think they are close to the originals. My x264 files of Blu-Rays often look better than the movie files Apples sells in iTunes.

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I'd definitely like to keep the mkvs free of compression for movies and tv episodes themselves so wouldn't convert them to x264, but for special features it'd be good to have some recommendations as I'm not too fussed about compressing those. Have you encountered ripping discs with seamless branching though? What's the approach there? How about Lord of the Rings discs and combining the two-disc movie splits into one file?

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I haven't had any issues with seamless branching as far as I know. Each branch shows up as its own title in MakeMKV.

I haven't ripped/converted any split movies, but you can combine MKVs with MKVTools and probably other programs.

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The seamless branched files would each need their own files, yes. 

 

Some upsides and downsides to our encoded vs non-encoded workflow and Plex:

  • By not encoding any files, you'll save a lot of time over 500 discs since you only need to rip them.
  • You will need about 15 TB for your 500 discs vs about 3.5 TB with x264.
  • If you want the files available remotely, or use home devices that won't play an uncompressed mkv, Plex will compress on the fly, but
    • you'll need a server/computer with a good CPU to handle compressing 30GB mkv's versus
    • the setting I use can direct stream a movie with no additional compression at 8,000 kpbs
    • For many devices, Plex will not direct stream an uncompressed mkv locally

I think if you are going to mainly run Plex locally and run it off of a Home Theater PC, that uncompressed is the way to go, and if you want to use an Apple TV, Roku, PS4, or using the files remotely, then compressing beforehand would be preferable in most cases.

 

Not trying to persuade you ;) , but these are things I would not have known or considered if I hadn't been through it already.

 

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I think conforming the entire library to x264 would be fine... for now, but I'm thinking long term really. Do I really want to rip everything now, and then again in a year or two? I still have my heart set on one day owning a projector. The Criterion disc rot issue last year has also left me with lossless rips on the brain. 

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Yeah, its a tough call. Maybe try handbraking a few movies and see what you think. I messed around with encoding settings for a long time (years) before I was satisfied. The idea I had for settings were different from what handbrake recommends in their presets, but I didn't know how to manually create and implement them. Then I discovered Don Melton (used to work at Apple, created Safari) created pretty much what I wanted. I've had some conversations with him about it over twitter and I think what he came up with is ideal.

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I need to pick up an external Blu-ray drive. Any recommendations? I certainly don't mind experimenting initially as I can't afford to dive into this right away (especially not if I go the mkv route and need to spend £400+ on several 4tb drives). I have to rummage through boxes to get to any disc these days as I've currently no room to display them, so having everything on a server is very appealing. 

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Id probably grab the lowest priced one you can find with decent reviews. Speed of the drive or connection (USB 2 vs 3) don't make that much of a difference as far as I can tell.

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If you want to read up a little more on it:

 

It's dangerous to go alone! Take this!

 

I don't use Don's script, but I use his settings in the Handbrake GUI. If you are on the fence with lossless vs encoded, absolutely use the --big modifier. Don doesn't even personally use it, but I think there's a difference and I encode everything with the --big modifiers.

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Perfect. Thanks so much, Cam.  Certainly seems worth experimenting with that first, and since I am merely looking to put my discs away in storage I at least have the option to do them as mkv at a later date if I enjoy the experience of Plex...etc. I may at least back up my Criterions and any oop discs I own to MKV sooner rather than later however. I know I will end up with a full lossless library at some stage, but the chore of ripping everything again how ever long from now may simply be the price to pay for saving a bit of money on HDDs...etc at this stage. I'm curious to see if h.265 rips will actually allow us lossless quality but at reduced sizes when the codec is more widely accepted.

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This is what one of my Plex movie folders looks like when Im done:

 

2001---A-Space-Odyssey-(1968).png

 

-The movie is encoded at my preferred setting, so quality is at a level Im satisfied with that I don't care to save the uncompressed video.

-The movie file has a 640 kpbs AC3 track and a 192kpbs AAC for compatibility. Commentaries are also included, usually at 160kpbs.

-FLAC file of the uncompressed audio track that I don't use and only save for future proofing.

-All the extras encoded at the appropriate bitrate.

-Two .sup subtitile files that I don't do anything with right now because I don't like how Plex handles subtitles. But they are there if I ever want to deal with them.

-Encode log from handbrake.

-I sometimes add a movie poster .jpg if I don't like what Plex offers.

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Very helpful. I'd definitely do special features at x264 no matter what route I go down for the films themselves. The podcast was interesting. Covers much of the same ground as the webpage you linked to, but leaves further food for thought, particularly when he's discussing discs like Saving Private Ryan. It does seem like you kind of need to be on top of things for more challenging movies, and need to know the look of a movie well. In most cases I'm capable of taking that on, but time wise it may ask a lot of me given the types of films in my library (many old and particularly grainy).

 

 

What's the issue you have with Plex and subtitles? (a good 30% of my collection is foreign). Also, are you renaming those special features files manually?

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but leaves further food for thought, particularly when he's discussing discs like Saving Private Ryan. It does seem like you kind of need to be on top of things for more challenging movies, and need to know the look of a movie well. In most cases I'm capable of taking that on, but time wise it may ask a lot of me given the types of films in my library (many old and particularly grainy).

This scenario is exactly what Don's settings have fixed. Before, you basically had one of two choices: you could choose a quality level, but the bit rate might vary a huge amount depending on the source, or you could pick a target bit rate, but you might be using too little nor not enough bitrate for the specific scene.

 

x264 has a VBV buffer I thought would be a great way to get all the benefits from choosing a quality level, but create a cap so it doesnt get out of control. I just didn't know how to really set that up. Don did exactly that.

 

HandBrake's "AppleTV 3" preset is closest to what I wanted but transcoding "Planet Terror (2007)" with it results in a huge video bitrate of 19.9 Mbps, very near the original of 22.9 Mbps. And transcoding "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)," while much smaller in output size, lacks detail compared to the original...

 

...To follow that template, the transcode-video.sh script configures the x264 video encoder within HandBrake to use a constrained variable bitrate (CVBR) mode, and to automatically target bitrates appropriate for different input resolutions.

 

These targets are technically maximum bitrates. But since this script modifies CVBR mode with a minimum quality threshold, x264 is allowed to exceed these bitrate limits to maintain that quality level. However, the final output video bitrate is still usually below or near the target. And almost always below the target when additional compression is applied via x264's preset system.

It's the closest to "set it and forget it" as I've seen.

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What's the issue you have with Plex and subtitles? (a good 30% of my collection is foreign). Also, are you renaming those special features files manually?

If the movie is foreign language, I will always burn in the subtitles. The problem I have with Plex is with "soft subs". Those files in my 2001 example are just English CC and English subs that I would want to be optional. As soon as you turn those on in Plex, the media server will force a transcode of the video, even with a file that will normally direct stream (which all of my files do).

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This scenario is exactly what Don's settings have fixed. Before, you basically had one of two choices: you could choose a quality level, but the bit rate might vary a huge amount depending on the source, or you could pick a target bit rate, but you might be using too little nor not enough bitrate for the specific scene.

 

x264 has a VBV buffer I thought would be a great way to get all the benefits from choosing a quality level, but create a cap so it doesnt get out of control. I just didn't know how to really set that up. Don did exactly that.

 

 

It's the closest to "set it and forget it" as I've seen.

 

You mentioned before you're not running his scripts but using his settings in the handbrake GUI. How exactly are you setting that up? Is there any reason you choose not to run the scripts? 

 

 

If the movie is foreign language, I will always burn in the subtitles. The problem I have with Plex is with "soft subs". Those files in my 2001 example are just English CC and English subs that I would want to be optional. As soon as you turn those on in Plex, the media server will force a transcode of the video, even with a file that will normally direct stream (which all of my files do).

 

I see. Good to know. Funnily enough I was just reading Don's note about burning foreign language subtitles into the movie file itself. Seems like a good idea. Is there a way to position those in the frame? Doesn't bug me quite as much in owning a TV, but from a projection point of view when you have a 2.35:1 movie and have masking on your screen discs where generated subtitles hover between the lower black bar and a portion of the film frame are a pain in the arse. My Oppo player actually lets you shift them up into the frame. 

 

That's a bit crazy that Plex will force transcode. Are Plex looking to fix that?

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You mentioned before you're not running his scripts but using his settings in the handbrake GUI. How exactly are you setting that up? Is there any reason you choose not to run the scripts?

No reason other than I like running the GUI. I might start using the script though. If you use the GUI, let me know, and I'll post a screen cap of the settings.

 

 

I see. Good to know. Funnily enough I was just reading Don's note about burning foreign language subtitles into the movie file itself. Seems like a good idea. Is there a way to position those in the frame? Doesn't bug me quite as much in owning a TV, but from a projection point of view when you have a 2.35:1 movie and have masking on your screen discs where generated subtitles hover between the lower black bar and a portion of the film frame are a pain in the arse. My Oppo player actually lets you shift them up into the frame.

As long as you are using the anamorphic settings and allowing handbrake to crop (and it's hard not to), the subs will always be in the frame because there are no black bars in the video stream. The bars are just generated by the player if needed.

 

That's a bit crazy that Plex will force transcode. Are Plex looking to fix that?

Last time I was looking over the forum, it seems like it will come at some point, but it's not a focus. I've actually had the web player glitch on me a few times and started to display soft subs as they should.

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No reason other than I like running the GUI. I might start using the script though. If you use the GUI, let me know, and I'll post a screen cap of the settings.

That'd be helpful certainly.

 

It's rare for me to do anything involving scripting so I'm not entirely sure what the hell I'm supposed to do with his scripts. I am trying to understand this at 2AM, mind you.

 

 

As long as you are using the anamorphic settings and allowing handbrake to crop (and it's hard not to), the subs will always be in the frame because there are no black bars in the video stream. The bars are just generated by the player if needed.

Ah, of course. Great. He brings up the issue of handbrake cropping in the podcast, and when and when not to let it run automatically (the Dark Knight sequels with their ratio flipping for example). His script for dealing with that seems quite clever. He also delighted me in mentioning Shaun of the Dead which is 2.35:1 but for some reason the Blu-ray encoded ended up with small black borders at the sides. He notes that in those cases to crop for either width or height, but never both. Sadly he did not mention his settings for dealing with Shaun's width cropping.

 

 

This is all rather exciting.

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Ah, of course. Great. He brings up the issue of handbrake cropping in the podcast, and when and when not to let it run automatically (the Dark Knight sequels with their ratio flipping for example). His script for dealing with that seems quite clever. He also delighted me in mentioning Shaun of the Dead which is 2.35:1 but for some reason the Blu-ray encoded ended up with small black borders at the sides. He notes that in those cases to crop for either width or height, but never both. Sadly he did not mention his settings for dealing with Shaun's width cropping.

That is some special sauce in Don's script you can't recreate in the GUI, but as long as you know about the movie you are encoding, it will rarely be an issue. I got screwed on this recently when I encoded The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I forgot the movie switches between 1.33:1 and something closer to 1.85:1.

 

This is all rather exciting.

Yeah, somehow I find fun in all of this  :Psycho:,  haha. I think it's a little about cataloguing, collecting, and striving for the best quality is like a game in itself. I try not to encode too many unwatched movies on Plex, because if all Im doing is hoarding, that's missing the point.

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Pretty much Don's settings if the source is a Blu-Ray. Ignore the stuff greyed out:

 

HandBrake-and-pwtalk.net-cgi-bin-protect

If you select "Slow" as then check "Use Advanced Options" it will fill in most of that for you.

 

Then go to Advanced and make sure the options look like this: 

 

HandBrake.png

 

I encode an AAC track for Apple device (and many other device) compatibility.

 

HandBrake.png

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That is some special sauce in Don's script you can't recreate in the GUI, but as long as you know about the movie you are encoding, it will rarely be an issue. I got screwed on this recently when I encoded The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I forgot the movie switches between 1.33:1 and something closer to 1.85:1.

What was the option in the end with Grand Budapest? That doesn't just have two ratio switches but three! Did you just have to allow for the encode to waste bits on the black bars throughout?

 

Yeah, somehow I find fun in all of this  :Psycho:,  haha. I think it's a little about cataloguing, collecting, and striving for the best quality is like a game in itself. I try not to encode too many unwatched movies on Plex, because if all Im doing is hoarding, that's missing the point.

As I wrote earlier, my frustration lately is all my discs being boxed up at the moment, and having to route through them to pick stuff out all the time. More often than not I just don't bother as nothing is boxed away in any kind of order as they've all been unpacked and re-packed so often, so there's excitement at the thought of just having the pleasure of watching stuff again and re-discovering my collection... and then excitement grows when I think about the fact I can bid farewell to loading times, forced FBI warnings, trailers...etc

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What was the option in the end with Grand Budapest? That doesn't just have two ratio switches but three! Did you just have to allow for the encode to waste bits on the black bars throughout?

 

Handbrake originally auto cropped to 1.33:1. After that I re-encoded with 0/0/0/0 crop all around. It does encode black bars into the video, but it's definitely the way to go to make sure OAR is preserved.

 

and then excitement grows when I think about the fact I can bid farewell to loading times, forced FBI warnings, trailers...etc

OMG, I actually think this is one of my favorite aspects of using my own media server. Going back to a disc and dealing with unskippables is like  :jackblack:

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Why have you got 30fps there? 

 

That input of 30fps with "Peak Framerate (VFR)" is only to make 30fps the peak. If the souce is 24fps, for example, it will be preserved. 30fps is a limit of some players like Apple TV, but I don't think I've ever encoded a source over 30fps.

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