Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

Storage for Plex Movies

I had already installed Plex Media Server on my PC and had been pleasantly surprised by how good the software was, so much so that I now wanted to rip all my DVDs to hard disk. After a few calculations I figured out I would need quite a bit more storage to hold all my ripped DVDs for use with Plex Media Server.

Originally I thought that a NAS device might be the way forward. I could get a four bay device for future expandability, and upon first glance it appeared that PMS would run on selected NAS boxes too. I almost bought a four bay Netgear ReadyNAS, until I read that the CPU in most NAS boxes just isn't up to the task of transcoding video.

That would mean the NAS would just store the content and the PC would need to be switched on to act as the Plex Server. This to me, just didn't seem worth it.

Why not just add some extra hard disks to my PC I thought? But what about the added benefit of RAID you get from a NAS?...

I ended up buying some 4TB WD Red NAS hard disk drives and using Storage Spaces in Windows 10 to set up resiliency, mimicking the RAID you get from a NAS box.

Ripping a DVD Collection to Plex

It was probably around 2002 or 2003 that I ripped all my CD collection to MP3 so I could listen on the move, which I recall was a painful process. So the thought so doing the same with my DVD collection wasn't too appealing.

As this was going to be a painful process I only wanted to do this once, so I spent some time deciding on the video codec and container to use.

Plex works with most codecs and containers (except ISO disc images). This is one of the best things about Plex Media Server. It transcodes the video on-the-fly depending what hardware the Plex client is able to play. This enables you to watch video on phones, tablets, smart TVs etc and not have to care whether they play AVI, MP4, MKV etc...

I also don't want to recode all the DVDs during the process as this would take too long and potentially degrade the video quality.

The final solution was a two stage process.

  1. Rip each DVD using DVD Fab into VOB files.
  2. Use MakeMKV Batch Converter to merge the VOB files into the MKV container.

All that was needed then was a load more hard disk space!

Time to start testing your websites in Safari on Windows?

Apple recently added their Safari web browser to the Apple Software Update and pre-checked the box by default. This effectively means that a lot of Windows users will now, possibly without knowing it, have installed Safari.
I'm not going to discuss the ethics of this practice here, instead read John's Blog - CEO of Mozilla.

But what it means for the humble web designer or developer is that we should really be installing Safari on our Windows machines and adding it to the list of browsers we test our sites against as the number of users is bound to increase as a consequence.

Apple pushed Safari web browser through their Apple Updates service

Competition in the browser business is good and over the last few years Firefox has begun to gain ground on Microsoft's Internet Explorer domination. It has also forced the browsers to become more standards compliant, thereby helping web developers and designers design cross-browser, cross-platform web pages.

According to Apple, Safari is a standards compliant browser built on the open source WebKit project, so hopefully if your pages have been built to W3C standards they will require minimal checking, but it is always wise to test. Apple have a range of web developer resources for the Safari browser, including the Safari CSS support, Safari developer FAQ, and a general web development best practices guide.

Converting 3GP Video to AVI

Since my last entry concerning the mobile video format 3GP, I've come across a much more useful and professional program that converts 3GP to AVI.

It even converts 3GP to animated GIF although the picture quality is obviously greatly reduced and you lose sound in this format.

3GSauron

3GSauron is freeware and is a stand-alone EXE, so you don't have to install it. The only downside with the software I can see is that you can only convert files one-at-a-time.

I've added a link to the authors site below where you can download it.

http://www.3gsauron.com/

PC Plus Magazine For Your Java Mobile Phone

PCPlus the UK computing magazine for computing enthusiasts recently launched a mini version of it's popular magazine specially designed for Java-enabled mobile phones.

Having received my 3rd edition of the mini magazine, I felt obliged to shout about it. Since I subscribed three issues ago the service has been improved to include SMS download prompts and much faster loading times (Tested on a Nokia 6600).

It's perfect for those train or tube commuters who wish to while away a few minutes of their journey.

The magazine contains news stories from the industry and reviews of the latest PC hardware.

The service is free and you can view demos and subscribe to the magazine from the link below.

http://www.threeoclock.com

Windows Media Player Now Rips to MP3

As Windows Media Player goes I think it's a pretty good media player, but the new release (Media Player 10) includes a killer feature that now makes it much more useful as a CD ripper.

Previously Windows Media Player could only rip tracks to it's own WMA format, however with the new player you have the option of ripping to unencoded MP3 format. A boon for all you Windows iPod fans.

Not only does it rip to MP3 but it doesn't restrict the rip speed like Musicmatch's Jukebox.

This is a great feature that is long overdue, but I'm sure Microsoft's competitors don't think the same, including the company that used to make the MP3 ripping plugin for the old version of Windows Media Player.

The other feature that's been added to the new Windows Media Player 10 is search functionality, a very useful tool when you have an extensive media collection, and considering it's not a google search it's pretty fast.

Windows Media Home

Preparing an Internet PC

The title of this article speaks for itself, however preparing a Windows based computer for a life connected to the internet is not as plain sailing as it used to be.

With the amount of viruses, worms and trojan horses on the web increasing almost exponentially it's vital to make sure your computer is protected the minute you connect it to the internet.

Reports earlier this year suggest that an unpatched unprotected PC can be infected in less than 30 minutes!

Security Recommendations

The first thing I do when I've finished installing a fresh installation of Windows is to install a personal firewall. I recommend Zonealarm, it's very good and a free version is available from the link below.

Do this before connecting to the internet, if at all possible try to gather a collection of useful tools on a CD-ROM. The CD-ROM should contain a personal firewall, anti-virus software and the most recent Windows Service Pack for your version of Windows.

If you don't have the Windows Service Pack on CD then you'll need to download it. Make sure your personal firewall is up and running, then go to WindowsUpdate.com. Follow the instructions and download all the 'Critical updates'.

Once your updates have downloaded and installed restart your machine and install your anti-virus solution. I recommend the excellent AVG from www.grisoft.com, which also has a free edition.

You may also find that using an alternative web browser to Internet Explorer such as FireFox (www.getfirefox.com) or Opera (opera.com) will significantly reduce your risk of web borne viruses and spyware.

Zonealarm personal firewall

Using A Parallel/Serial Connection To Copy Files

Even in the days of wireless networks and Gigabit Ethernet it's still sometimes convenient to directly connect two computers together to copy files using parallel or serial ports. Not all computers have an Ethernet card or LAN connection built-in so it's sometimes the only option, or maybe you don't have a hub or cross-over RJ45 Ethernet cable lying around ready to use.

What Next?

Using a parallel or serial cable can be very useful for connecting two PC's together. You can reach up to 4Mbits/sec using a direct parallel connection. It's ideal for copying files to a new computer or laptop.

Windows XP Set-up

To set-up a direct parallel or serial connection in Windows XP on the Start menu select 'My Network Places', then under the 'Network Tasks' panel on the left-hand side select 'Create a new connection', this will launch the 'New Connection Wizard'. Select Next and then select 'Set up an advanced connection'. To set up a direct connection, whether you wish to create a parallel or serial connection you must specify whether the PC you are currently using is the host (contains the files you wish to access) or guest (The computer used to access the information on the host PC). On this screen you have to make this decision, choose either 'Accept incoming connections' or 'Connect directly to another computer', depending on your selection you will be asked whether to connect using your parallel or serial port or you will be either asked to enter the name of the computer you wish to connect to or select the users who you wish to give permission to access you machine. Once you've set up the connection on one machine you will have to do the same on the other machine before you can successfully connect, remembering if you've made the first machine the Guest to make the other machine the Host and visa versa.

If you are using a software firewall such as Zonealarm, you will need to make sure you add your computer's IP addresses if applicable to the 'trusted zone' to allow your connection to be established between your two machines.

Problems With Digital Archiving

What's wrong with digital archiving?

Archiving information in digital formats introduces a number of complications.

File Formats

Will current file formats last forever? History says otherwise. If history repeats itself current file formats will not be used in the next 10-15 years.

What problems does that introduce if we archive documents in todays formats? Will we be able to access them in the future? Will we have to convert them all down the line?

Proprietary formats

What's happens if an IT/Software company goes bust or discontinues a product. Will there be a system to upgrade or migrade databases and files?

Storage Media

If the issues with file formats have got you worried what about storage media?

The CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, DVD recordable drives, tape back-up drives etc. Will these media storage formats be around for years to come? With the pace of current development the chances are the answer is no.

Not only that but all digital media has a finite lifespan, meaning even if drives in 10-15 years are capable of reading these media formats with they still be in pristine condition?

Only time will tell if we can solve this increasingly serious problem, as more and more of our data is stored electronically this becomes a more and more pertinent problem.

I'll finish with a link to the BBC Domesday project 1986. A perfect example of the problems with digital archiving. The CAMiLEON project was commissioned recently to try to retrieve the contents of this archive from 1980's laserdisks and BBC Micro formatted files.

The CAMiLEON project

Convert 3GP video to and from AVI or MPEG

If like me you own a recent Nokia phone that's capable of recording and playing back video files then you might be interested to know how to convert videos to 3GP format (This is the format the Nokia uses to encode video) to play on your phone or convert video files you've recording on your phone to AVI.

After scouting the web in search of these tools I've found two applications that do the job. The first is the Nokia Multimedia Convertor 2.0, I've added a link to this below, it's free, but you'll have to register as a developer. The other-so-called application is quite a bit more amateurish, but nevertheless does the job. It consists of an application back-end and a VBScript/browser based front-end.

I've also noticed that Apple QuickTime 6.5 supports 3GPP and 3GPP2.

Apples guide to the 3GP format

Converting from 3GP to MPEG and AVI

The link below lists a couple of programs capable of converting your 3GP videos to MPEG and AVI files. It also explains how to use the 3gpToRawAvi converter that I've reviewed here.

http://www.gromkov.com/faq/faq2004-0067.html

Nokia Multimedia Convertor 2.0

Used to convert MPEGs to 3GP video format to play videos on your mobile. Free but requires registration.

Nokia Multimedia Convertor 2.0