bluray - Blue Ray... Ray Winston, but blue, get it? oh never mind

Ripping BluRays on iMac for Apple TV2

Since upgrading the TV, adding a AV amp, a BluRay player and wiring in a set of 5.1 speakers, I’ve been looking to get some milage out of the Apple TV we have owned for getting on for a year now.

I jail broke the ATV (second generation black unit) some time ago, back when it was running iOS 4.2.1. The jailbreak was mainly to allow me to play movies directly off a Western Digital My Book NAS, rather than having the iMac powered up every time we wanted to watch a film. I installed XMBC and everything worked kind of OK, but it never really got much use.

Since then the AV system has been installed, and the iMac is down in the living room now, so is generally speaking on all the time. As well as that we have a complete Cat6 wired network going to all network compatible devices in the house.

A few weeks ago I decided to upgrade the ATV to the latest iOS (4.4.4), thereby un-jailbreaking it and going back to the ‘Apple’ way of doing things.

The main thing I’d like to use the ATV for is playing rips of our DVD and BluRay collection. To do this I needed to rip the disc in a compatible format to iTunes, and add the required metadata to the rip so it gets the cover art etc to appear in the ATV menu.

Thus begins my tail of ripping BluRay’s and the process I use to do so…

Before I go any further, the legal ramifications of ripping BluRay discs you own is a little sketchy to say the least. I doubt you’ll get into bother if they are your own discs (and remain so) but please read and follow these instructions at your own risk :)

First thing you’ll need is a drive to read the BlueRay. As you’ll no doubt know, there is no provision on a Mac of any type for reading BluRays (for more, read here).

There is all sorts of info on the ‘net about what file formats to rip BluRays into etc, but I could find very little on what drives are and aren’t available – and more importantly – compatible with a Mac.

After quite a bit of googling, I found what looked to be the ideal candidate. It has a small footprint, is bus powered (power comes from the USB cable you use to connect it to the computer), was able to read 3D films and seemed to be producing good results for other Mac users.

The drive is a Samsung SE-406AB. The unit is very compact, taking up hardly any more space than a BluRay disc case. The unit is able to be powered off a single USB feed, but if there isn’t enough power from one USB port the lead that comes with the drive has a second USB plug on it to draw any extra power it might need. My 2011 iMac seems to have enough power in a single USB port to power it.

Apparently this drive can be plugged into the back of our Samsung D7000 TV to play DVD’s and BluRays too.

Once you have your drive you need software to take the film off the disc and onto your hard drive. As yet I haven’t found anything that makes a decent job of extracting the film and making it iTunes compatible.

MakeMKV

Because of this, the ripping is a two step process. First step is to get the film onto the iMac, best way to do this whilst retaining the highest quality picture and sound is to convert it to an MKV file. The software I use for this is MakeMKV. MakeMKV is a free application that does exactly what it says. It takes the contents of a BluRay (or DVD) and turns it into an MKV file. There are no settings as far as quality goes – you do get a like for like copy. The only part you have to select is what item on the disc you want to convert, what soundtrack you want (language and speaker requirement) and if you want subtitles or not.

As you are wanting to rip the film, and as that’ll be by far the biggest file on the disc, select the file with the largest size. Expand this and select the audio formats you can handle. Next specify where you want the MKV file to be placed, once done you can start the ripping process. It’s relatively quick – between 1 and 2 hours depending on the size of the film.

Something I found out after taking my Mac from 4gb of Ram to 16gb is the ripping process uses very little ram but all of your CPU and then some. If you fire up activity monitor during MKV creation you’ll notice the CPU is running at upwards of 350%. The extra Ram hasn’t really made much difference.

An hour and a half down the line and we’ve now got our MKV file on the desktop. Because we’re not compressing at this point, the file is a hefty 30gb. You don’t need to make too many of these before you’ve filled your Hard drive up.

At this point, you’ll still not be able to play this file on your Mac (unless you have a copy of VLC on there). So we now need to convert this into a file format iTunes is happy to accept. At the same time we’ll be adding in all the film metadata (actors, synopsis, cover art) so when you view it in iTunes or on the ATV you get all the information you need. If you have parental controls set up on the ATV it’s at this point you want to make sure you add in the certification rating for the film.

iVI

To convert the MKV to M4V I use iVI by South Pole Software. I have used Handbrake in the past, but the options are so extensive you end up spending most of your time fiddling around – the other difference between the two is Handbrake doesn’t get you the film metadata, so you’d need an extra step in your workflow for that.

The only quality settings you need to worry about with iVI is defining what the film will be played through, you click the different options depending on what you’re doing and iVI takes care of optimising the M4V file to the output chosen.

There are also options to have the M4V file added to iTunes, you can automate a ‘hot folder’ for transcoding anything that appears in there and there is a rules based processing system that allows you to do certain things dependent on file name or the media type etc.

If you ensure the name of the MKV file matches that of the film, you will then see iVI display a thumbnail of the cover art. If you click on the film within the iVI interface, then select ‘info’ you’ll be able to view all the metadata iVI has managed to find for the film. If it was unable to find any metadata you can add the film name into this screen and perform a search to locate the metadata.

Once you’re happy with the settings and metadata you can click ‘convert’ to begin the transcoding from MKV to M4V. The reason I mentioned the MakeMKV process was quite quick at 1 or 2 hours is because this step of the process takes an age. I’m not sure exactly how long as I set it to run during the night, but I imagine it’s around 5 or 6 hours.

Once the transcode has completed, the M4V file will be placed into the iTunes library and will appear in the ATV menu (so long as iTunes is running).

I had a few issues with the first few M4V files were they stuttered very badly within ATV – so much so I felt ill watching them. I sent a mail to South Pole Software detailing the problem, they responded very quickly with a simple fix and everything has been running fine ever since. The support from them is great, and the software does exactly what I want with no fuss and no unnecessary options or ‘fluff’ getting in the way.

Along with the ripping if discs for playing from the ATV, and the recent introduction to the UK of Netflix (available on the ATV) it moves us a step closer to cutting the cable on Virgin/Sky and going completely online for our TV watching.

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