Make a Dumb TV Smart Using Roku and Plex

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My brother-in-law gave me his huge 65 inch LCD TV. Score! But it was a dumb TV with no Internet capability or apps support. And I didn’t have cable or a digital OTA (Over the Air) tuner. Fortunately, there were many ways to turn a dumb TV into a smart TV. I chose the Roku 2 XS 1080p Streaming Player. Why? Because someone was selling one for $20 on craigslist.

Once I owned the Roku 2 XS, I started to see why it was the best media player to purchase (mere-exposure effect or familiarity principle). You see, the Roku 2 XS has the best features of the Roku 3 (USB port, Bluetooth remote, SD card) while keeping the backward compatibility of supporting a composite AV (audio/video) output, in addition to HDMI. The USB port allows me to directly connect a USB flash drive or portable hard drive full of videos to the Roku. The Bluetooth remote means I can hide the Roku behind the TV and still be able to control it. Finally, I think the old TV only does 1080p, so the 1080p supported by Roku 2 XS is perfectly fine.

Though the Roku supported wireless Internet, I hooked it up using a wired LAN connection to avoid any possible lag in throughput (can’t hurt when streaming 1080p HD video). Once I finished attaching the Roku to the TV with a HDMI cable, it was time to power it on. Because I did a factory reset on the Roku, I had to pair the remote again by pressing the little purple button inside the remote’s battery compartment for 3 seconds. I created an account with Roku and added channels (Roku’s name for apps); for example, the YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Video channels are the most popular if you have kids. (If you want to play videos from the SD card or USB port, you will need to install the Roku Media Player channel.)

The Roku has no off switch, so it is immediately ready to use (instead of booting up each time). I read that it will go to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity. Make sure to always stop playing before turning off the TV though. Or just unplug the Roku.

Cast to Roku

Because Roku supports the DIAL (Discovery and Launch) protocol used by Chromecast, you can cast to it from YouTube on your Windows desktop, Macbook laptop, or smartphone. Just click on the cast icon in the YouTube player and select the Roku.

The YouTube cast function and YouTube Channel are both temperamental. Sometimes when I try to cast, I have to cast twice before the video would actually play on the Roku. Sometimes the YouTube player says it is casting but it isn’t, so I have to manually stop casting and redo the cast. Worse, sometimes the YouTube Channel crashes and I am knocked back to the Roku’s main home page.

On Windows, my YouTube player did not show the cast icon. The problem was caused by the new YouTube layout. To fix it, I had to go to back to the old layout by clicking on my YouTube user icon and selecting the “Restore old YouTube” option. The old layout correctly showed the cast icon. Strangely, when I switched back to the new layout (by browsing to YouTube.com/new), the new layout now showed the cast icon. I saw this behavior using the Chrome browser, so other browsers may not have this issue.

Plex Stream From Desktop

If you have kids, you might prefer to avoid swapping movie DVDs by ripping them all to video files (I recommend using the open source HandBrake utility). Putting the files on a portable USB hard drive and connecting it to the Roku will give you a library of entertainment to choose from.

In my case, I didn’t have a portable USB hard drive, so I decided to just stream the movies from my desktop. The Plex Media Server was the free and simple DIY solution. I downloaded it, install it, launch it, created an account, added a Movies library, and selected the folder where my movie files were. The Plex Media Server scanned the folder (and its sub-folders), added the movie files, and downloaded nice preview images and summaries for each movie. (If you add and remove movie files, you can tell Plex Media Server to rescan by clicking on the options “…” to the right of the Movies library and selecting the “Scan Library Files” command.)

The Plex Media Server runs as a local web server which your browser can connect to. The Plex Media Server’s user interface will appear in the browser when you double-click on the Plex icon in the Windows’ system tray or the Mac’s status menu. In addition, the local Plex Media Server integrates with the Plex website online to allow you to access your videos from anywhere. I didn’t see a need for global access and thought it was a security risk, so I disabled the “Remote Access” option under Settings.

On the Roku, I added the Plex Channel, and signed in. The Roku displayed a 4 character alphanumeric code and asked me to input it into the Plex Media Server’s Link Account page at plex.tv/link. Once that was accomplished, the Plex Channel listed my movies.

Note: When playing .mkv movie files, the Plex Channel may crash randomly. Plex Channel is solid when playing .mp4 or .avi files.

Subtitles For Plex

Plex supports subtitle files, such as .srt files. To see the subtitles on your TV, you will need to make two changes:

  • Configure the movie to use subtitles. On the Plex Media Server interface, click on the movie to see its details, and select the subtitle file to use.
  • Configure the Roku to display subtitles. On the Roku, go to main menu Settings, Captions, Captions mode, and select “On always” (the other choices are Off and “On replay”). This is a global setting affecting all movies. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to turn subtitles on and off while the movie is playing.

Strangely, the Plex Channel interface provides an option to delete the movie. If you select the delete command, the actual movie file on the desktop is deleted (the corresponding subtitle file is not deleted). Thankfully, if you delete by mistake, you can find the movie file in the the desktop’s Trash folder.

Automobile Roku

I thought about setting up the Roku in my sister’s minivan. Instead of dragging all the movie DVDs around and swapping them in and out, my sister could use the Roku and a portable USB hard drive. I could connect the Roku to the car’s composite AV input and power it from the provided outlet.

Unfortunately, I found that the Roku took 45-60 seconds to boot up and about 5-6 button clicks to play a movie file. When you have kids, you can’t afford to take a minute to load the movie. You just want to pop in the DVD, hit play, and start driving. Better yet, start driving and the DVD will automatically continue playing where it left off. The Roku did not have such a hands-off continue playing feature. So it was a no go.

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Rotate Video Without Black Bars

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rotate_video_black_barsHave you ever taken a vertical portrait video using your iPhone, import it to your computer, find that Windows Media Player will play it horizontally, and gotten a neck crick from holding your head sideways? Since the beginning, vertical portrait videos (tall and skinny) have been unwanted and unsupported, living in the shadow of the horizontal landscape videos (short and wide). Portrait videos were usually shoehorned into a widescreen frame, resulting in ugly black bars on the left and right. (Using free video editors, like Windows Movie Maker or Mac OS X iMovie, to rotate videos will result in such travesties.)

Thankfully, things have gotten better. Recent smartphones will embed the rotation information into the video file. Some video players, like VLC and QuickTime Player, will act on that rotation data to show the video correctly on computers. (Unfortunately, Windows Media Player does not make use of the video rotation data.) In addition, VLC allows manual adjustment of the playback video orientation (menu “Tools->Effects and Filters->Video Effects->Geometry->Transform->Rotate by 90 degrees”), but does not permanently change the video file’s rotation data. QuickTime Pro has a rotate video function which does not really rotate the video, but does adjust the video file’s rotation data permanently instead.

I read that some online services, such as YouTube and Google Plus, do support video rotation on imported videos, but have not tried them myself yet. (Supposedly, the new Google Photos does not support video rotation yet, but should eventually. In the meantime, the workaround is to rotate the video using the Google Plus interface.)

If you must rotate a video file (perhaps because you wish to use Windows Media Player), you will want to use a commercial video editor. To rotate a video without introducing black bars requires a program that can rotate the video, change the resolution (to avoid black bars), and re-encode with minimal video quality loss. All three functions are usually only found in commercial video editing software such as Adobe Premiere.

Instructions on how to rotate a video file using Sony Vegas Pro 10 and Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 on Windows 7 follow. I am only a beginner with both programs, so there may be better ways to do what I am attempting to do below.

Sony Vegas Pro 10

Though Sony Vegas is less powerful than Adobe Premiere, I find it much simpler to use. Here’s how to rotate a video using Sony Vegas Pro 10:

  1. rotate_video_sony_vegas_1Launch Sony Vegas Pro.
  2. Go to menu “File->Import->Media…”, browse to the video file, select it, and click Open.
  3. Surprisingly, Sony Vegas Pro supports the rotation data and displays the video correctly. Because we want to actually rotate the video, we need to tell Sony Vegas Pro not to use the rotation data. To do so:
    1. Right-click on the top-left thumbnail image of the imported video file and select Properties.
    2. Under the Media tab, in the “Stream properties” section at bottom, select “Video 1” in the “Stream” drop-down list .
    3. Change the Rotation field from “90 degrees clockwise” to “0 degrees (original)”. Click OK and the video file thumbnail will rotate to the true orientation.
  4. Double-click on the video file thumbnail to populate the timeline panel at the bottom.
  5. In the timeline panel, right-click on the video track thumbnail image and select the “Video Event Pan/Crop…” item.
    rotate_video_sony_vegas_2

  6. In the Event Pan/Crop dialog:
    1. Disable the “Lock Aspect Ratio” option by clicking on that icon if it is depressed (third icon from the bottom on the left toolbar).
    2. Under Position, switch the values for the Width and Height fields.
    3. Under Rotation, change the Angle field from “0.0” to “-90.0”. (Not sure why but I had to use -90 instead of 90.)
    4. Close the dialog by clicking on the tiny top-right “x” icon.
  7. Go to menu “File->Render As…” to open the “Render As” dialog. In that dialog, do the following:
    1. The “Save as type” and dependent Template fieldsrotate_video_sony_vegas_3 determine the quality of the rendered video, specifically the resolution. Because our rotated video will have a height of 1920, one “Save as type” option that allows such a height is “Video for Windows (*.avi)”. (Other options will allow different maximum widths and heights.)
    2. Select “HD 1080-24p YUV” in the Template field, which is the closest match to our imported video.
    3. Click on the “Custom…” button to configure a portrait resolution (ex: 1080×1920).
    4. In the “Custom Settings” dialog, inside the Video tab, select “(Custom frame size)” in the “Frame size” field, and switch the Width and Height values. Click OK to close the dialog.
    5. Back in the “Render As” dialog, make sure “Render loop region only” is not checked because we want the whole video to be exported. (The “Render loop region only” box will be disabled if no selection is done on the video track.)
    6. Click on the Save button.

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5

Adobe Premiere is very powerful and thus, not simple to use. Definitely, it is overkill for just rotating a video file. But if you ever need to rotate a video, here’s how to do it in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5:

  1. Launch Adobe Premiere Pro, choose a “New Project” and click Ok to accept the defaults. When the “New Sequence” dialog appears, click Cancel to skip creating it.
  2. Right-click inside the top-left Project panel and select “Import…” (or go to menu “File->Import…”). Browse to your video file, select it, and click Open.
    • Note: If you are opening a QuickTime .mov file and Adobe Premiere displays a “no audio or video streams” error message, rename the .mov file to .mpg file and try again.
  3. When you select the imported video file in the Project panel, the mini-preview on top of the panel will show information concerning the video. Take note of the resolution (ex: 1920×1080), frame rate (ex: 29.97 fps), and audio sample rate (ex: 44100 Hz).
  4. Right-click inside the Project panel and select “New Item->Sequence…” (or go to menu “File->New->Sequence…”) to create a sequence. In the “New Sequence” dialog, do the following:
    1. rotate_video_adobe_premiere_1Open the Settings tab.
    2. Swap the horizontal and vertical field values for the “Frame Size” (ex: 1080×1920).
    3. Select a matching Timebase (ex: 29.97 fps) and Audio “Sample Rate” (44100 Hz).
    4. Under the “Video Previews” section, select “Microsoft AVI” for the “Preview File Format”. We want to select the highest-quality codec that we can. Unfortunately, the high-quality “V210 10-bit YUV” and “Uncompressed UYVY 422 8bit” codecs support a maximum resolution of 607×1080. For 1080×1920, I recommend using the “Intel IYUV codec”. (The “Microsoft RLE” and “Microsoft Video 1” codecs will degrade the video quality noticeably.)
    5. Click the Reset button and the Width and Height fields will be updated to match the “Frame Size” (ex: 1080×1920) or as close to it as possible (depending on the codec selected).
    6. Click OK to create the sequence.
  5. The sequence will appear as a tab in the Timeline panel at the bottom-middle. To populate it, drag the imported video from the Project panel to the very beginning of the “Video 1” track in the timeline. The Preview panel at the top-right will show the sequence video frame with the video data and top/bottom black bars. (We will get rid of those black bars in the steps below.)
  6. Select all the video data in the Timeline panel. This action will populate the “Effect Controls” tab in the top-middle “Source, Effect Controls, Audio Mixer, Metadata” panel.
  7. In the Effect Controls pane, expand the Motion selection under “Video Effects”. Input a value of 90 in the Rotation field to rotate clockwise (or -90 to rotate counter-clockwise). The Preview panel will show the rotated video which fits the sequence frame perfectly without any black bars.
  8. rotate_video_adobe_premiere_2With the sequence selected in the Project panel, go to menu “File->Export->Media…”. Check the “Match Sequence Settings” box. Click on the Output tab to double-check that the exported video will not contain black bars.
  9. Click on the Export button. By default, the exported .avi video file will be created in the documents directory at “C:\Users\your_username\Documents\Adobe\Premiere Pro\5.5”.

Tip: If you want to easily create a sequence that matches the video file exactly, just drag the imported video file to the “New Item” icon on the Project panel’s bottom toolbar. (The “New Item” icon is immediately to the left of the Clear/trash icon.) This action will create a sequence that matches the imported video as close as possible and populate the sequence’s timeline with the video data automatically.

The exported video files may be significantly larger in size than the original video files. In most cases, re-encoding video will result in loss of quality or increase in file size. I think the best thing to do is to leave the original video file untouched and use a video player that is aware of the embedded rotation data. If the rotation data is wrong or missing, it might make more sense to use a program, like Sony Vegas Pro, to modify or add it without re-encoding the video.

Some info above derived from:

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Import Movies and TV Shows to Your Apple iPad

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Have you ever imported movies and TV show episodes into your Apple iPad and have them show up as generic videos, not movies or TV shows? Worse, these videos show up without a preview image, just a totally black square? And are the episodes nicely grouped under the TV show’s name? Finally, when you play a movie, can you skip to later chapters?

ipad-indiajonesWell, I have had all of the above problems until I discovered Subler. Subler is available only for Mac OS X. It is used to add meta-info to the movie or TV episode files so they will show up in iTunes and iPad correctly as movies or TV shows. In addition, Subler supports adding chapters, subtitles, and secondary audio tracks (like for other languages). Below are my notes on how I used Subler.

Before anything else, you will need to convert your movie or TV episode into the iPad supported format (usually an MPEG4 file ending in .m4v or .mp4 extension). There are several resources on the Internet about how to do the conversion. Here is a nice tutorial using the free Handbrake tool to convert a movie DVD. If you use this tutorial, before importing the movie into iTunes, make sure to run Subler on it to add a preview image and chapters.

Apple iPad Supported Formats

A quick google search identifies that the iPad supports the following video formats:

  • H.264 video (up to 720p 1280×720, 30 frames per second) with AAC audio (main profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo) in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats.
  • MPEG-4 video (up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second) and AAC audio (simple profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo) in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats.
  • Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) video (up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second) and PCM audio (ulaw, stereo) in .avi file format.

For simplicity, I always encode movies and TV episodes using the first format: “H.264/MPEG-4 AVC” video and “MPEG-4 AAC” audio.

Using Subler for Movies

I use Subler to add a preview image and chapters to a movie file. Subler will also add meta-info to indicate that the file is a movie type so that iTunes and iPad will recognize it accordingly. Here are the steps:

  1. Launch Subler. Subler won’t open a default project window so the only change you will see is that the top menu title changes to Subler.
  2. (Do this once) Go to menu Subler->Preferences and check the “Create Preview Images” for Chapters. This will cause Subler to generate chapter preview images when you save. Without this option, chapters will show up as black squares on the iPad. (QuickTime player and iTunes will generate the chapter previews on the fly if they don’t exist, but the iPad won’t.)
  3. Go to File->Open to find your mp4 or m4v iPad supported movie file. The project window will appear.
  4. In the project window, you will see a line for the “Video Track” for video and “Sound Track” (or sometimes “Stereo” track) for audio. Optionally, you may see a second audio track, a “Subtitle Track”, or a “Chapter Track”. Tracks with a check are enabled by default.
  5. If you don’t select any of the track line items (just click on any blank area in the project window), you should see the following appear at the bottom: Metadata, Artwork, and Other Settings.
  6. Go to menu “File->Import->Search metadata online” to find the movie description and artwork (preview image).
    • The Movie search tab will be selected by default.
    • Input the Movie Title, click the Search button, select the movie, and click the Add button.
    • Select a picture and click the “Set as artwork” button. Note that I could not find a way in Subler to change the artwork once it has been selected!
    • The Metadata and Artwork content at the bottom will be populated.
  7. Go to menu “Edit->Insert a Chapter Every X minutes” to add the chapters. I recommend selecting the “5 minutes” interval. (See below for how to add your own custom chapters at specific times.)
    • A “Chapter Track” will appear.
    • Make sure to check the chapter track to enable it.
  8. Commit your changes by going to menu File->Save. Subler will generate the chapter preview images and store them in a new “Video Track” with format “Photo – JPEG”. Leave this new video track unchecked.

Using Subler for TV Episodes

Adding meta-info to TV episodes is very similar to the above. The difference to keep in mind is that episodes have seasons and are numbered. iTunes and iPad will use the seasons and episode numbers meta-info to group TV episodes together (usually episodes together under a season). If you end the TV episode file names with the season and episode number like “S02E15” (Season 2, Episode 15), Subler will automatically pre-populate the search form. Here are the steps:

  1. Open the TV episode file using menu “File->Open”.
  2. Go to menu “”File->Import->Search metadata online”.
  3. If you have named your file with the season and episode number, Subler will select the TV Episode search tab and fill in the TV Show, Season #, and Episode # fields. If this didn’t happen, manually make the selection and inputs.
  4. Select the TV episode and artwork like above. (The first option for artwork is usually a screenshot from the episode. I recommend you select this so that each episode will have a unique preview image.)
  5. Verify the info in the Metadata tab content at the bottom. Make sure that the TV Season, TV Episode #, and Track # (aka episode number) is correct. The “Track #” will consist of the episode number and the total number of episodes in the season; for example, “5/21” meaning episode number 5 out of 21 episodes. Usually the Metadata will not have the total number of episodes; when you save without specifying it, the Track # will default to zero for total number of episodes. (I don’t think missing the total number of episodes will affect iTunes or iPad, but I have not tried it.)
  6. I don’t believe that the “TV Episode ID” is used by iTunes or iPad; however, it doesn’t hurt to make sure it is correctly filled-in. Basically, it is the season followed by the episode number; for example, “203” meaning season 2 and episode 3.
  7. I believe you can add chapters to TV episodes if you wish to. I don’t think it hurts and I’m not sure if iTunes or iPad will make use of chapters for TV episodes.

Use Subler to Increase Sound Volume

Subler has other functions which allow you to scale the video resolution or increase/decrease the sound volume. To double the sound volume:

  1. Select the “Sound Track” in Subler.
  2. In the Sound Settings that appear below, drag the Volume marker to the maximum “+6 db” setting. (From a quick google seach, “+6 db” effectively equals to double the sound volume.)

If you need to increase the sound volume further, you may wish to use a tool like AACGain.

Finally, import your movies and TV episodes to iTunes and/or iPad. They will show up under the correct Movies or TV Shows section, instead of the generic Videos section. Good luck!

Adding Custom Chapters to Subler

Adding custom chapters to Subler involves creating a raw text file, inputting the chapter times and names into it, and then dragging it into Subler. Subler will automatically recognize it as a Chapter Track.

The Subler documentation indicates that there are two formats for the chapter text files; I chose the more compact mp4v2 format. Here’s an example:

00:00:00:000 Opening
00:00:53:000 Robot Monkey Hullabaloo
00:13:56:000 Curious George, Spy Monkey
00:27:00:000 Curious George Rides a Bike
00:40:03:000 Curious George vs. the Turbo Python 3000
00:53:06:000 Monkey Fever
01:06:10:000 The Lucky Cap
01:19:14:000 Candy Counter
01:32:17:000 Gutter Monkey

Some comments about the above:

  • The file should contain a space between the time and the name, not a tab character.
  • The file extension should be “.txt”.
  • The first chapter must be at zero time. (If you don’t have a zero time chapter, then the rest of the chapters won’t be placed at the specified times.)
  • If you use TextEdit on Mac OS X, be sure to set plain text format by going to menu “Format–>Make Plain Text”. When saving, select the default “Unicode (UTF-8)” plain text encoding.

Before dragging the chapter file to Subler, make sure that Subler does not have any existing Chapter Track entry (you can delete the Chapter Track if it already exists). After dragging the chapter file to Subler, enabling it by checking the Chapter Track, and saving, you should see the following:

To verify the generated chapter images, open the movie file in QuickTime Player and select the “Show Chapters”. You should then see the following:

If there are any mistakes, just open the movie with Subler, delete the Chapter Track and “Photo – Jpeg” Video Track (which contains the generated chapter images), and start over with a corrected chapter text file.

For more info and advanced tips, see the following web forums and websites:

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Transfer a Cassette Tape to an Audio CD

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cassettetapeI was asked for help to transfer a cassette tape to an audio CD. I found a great webpage, How to transfer a tape to a CD using Audacity, which provided most of the info. (Audacity is a free audio editing program.) The basic idea is to record from cassette tape to the computer and use the computer to burn an audio CD. Below are the steps I took:

Set the audio recording level and use Audacity to record from the cassette tape to the computer:

  1. Install Audacity. Because I am using Windows 7 64bit, I installed the recommended latest 1.3.13 Beta version.
  2. Connect the line-out jack on your cassette tape player (or headphone jack if there isn’t a line-out jack) to your computer’s line-in jack (or mic jack if there isn’t a line-in jack). (I will refer to line-in below; just substitute mic for line-in if you are using the mic input.)
    • Start playing the cassette tape.
    • You should hear the music from your computer speakers. If not, open up the computer speaker volume control (little speaker icon on the dock) and make sure that the line-in input is not muted.
  3. Adjust the audio input levels so that you don’t over-drive the speakers, basically play a sound louder than the maximum speaker volume. You can adjust the input levels using two controls: the volume on your cassette player and the line-in volume level control on the computer. There isn’t a single correct way of doing this; below are my recommended steps.
    • Set the line-in volume level on the computer to 50%. On Windows 7, right-click on the speaker icon in the dock, select Recording Devices, select “Line In”, click on Properties button, and adjust the drag bar to midway.
    • While watching the line-in volume level meter (in the same Recording Device “Line In” Properties dialog, you should see a volume meter that changes with the sound), adjust the cassette tape player volume so that the line-in volume level meter comes close to, but never reaches max.
    • If you feel the cassette tape player volume is too low (a perfect setting is one quarter up to one half), then adjust the line-in volume level down and the cassette player volume up. Or if you feel the cassette player volume is too high, then adjust the line-in volume level up and the cassette player volume down.
    • You don’t need to be perfect at this point because we will do an additional adjustment below.
  4. Double-check your sound levels by running Audacity, making sure that Stereo is selected in the Input Channels dropdown (in the middle of the bottom toolbar), and clicking on the Record button. Audacity will create a stereo track (with two bar graphs) to show the sound waveforms as they are recorded.
    • Look at the top-right of the Audacity window to see Audacity’s volume level meters for L (left) and R (right). You should see the levels changing as the sound plays. The “0” marker on the far right represents the maximum level.
    • Adjust the line-in volume level and cassette tape player’s volume so that the sound level comes close but never reaches the “0” marker.
    • It is better to be conservative and err on the side of not reaching the “0” marker, than exceeding it. (Exceeding it will saturated the recorded waveform, which is not a good thing.)
  5. Stop the Audacity recording and stop the cassette tape player. Rewind the tape to the beginning.
    • At this point, check to see whether your cassette tape is mono or stereo. If you look at Audacity and see two soundwave graphs (for left and right speakers) in the Audio Track, then it is stereo. If you see only one soundwave graph (the other is a blank grey box), then it is mono.
    • If it is mono, then select Mono in the Input Channels’ drop-down list which is in the middle of the bottom toolbar located above the Audio Track. The next time you record, a single mono Audio Track will be created (instead of a stereo track).
    • Delete the Audio Track by clicking on the X icon on the top-left of the Audio Track pane.
  6. We are ready to record from the cassette tape to the computer. Start playing the cassette tape. As soon as you can, hit Record in Audacity.
  7. Wait for the tape to finish playing and stop recording in Audacity. (Regular cassette tapes usually have 45 minutes recording on each side.) If your cassette tape player doesn’t automatically play side B after side A, then you can repeat these steps with side B separately.
  8. At this point, you can save the audacity project. The output will be a *.aud project file and a directory containing the recorded audio in WAV file format.

Use Audacity to clean the recording, mark the individual songs, and export each song as a WAV file:

  1. When recording from a cassette tape, there will be a hissing background noise which we want to get rid of. Also, we want to normalize the sound level.
    • Use Audacity to normalize the sound level by select the whole audio track (menu Edit->Select->All) and applying Normalize (menu Effect->Normalized). Accept the defaults in the Normalize dialog (“Remove any DC offset” and “Normalized maximum amplitude to: -0.0 db” selections are checked). The webpage I referenced above suggests normalizing to “-0.3 db” but that instruction doesn’t apply to the latest Audacity version which accepts “-0.0 db” as the maximum.
    • Use Audacity to remove the background hissing noise.
      1. Select a portion of the audio track which represents silence; either the space at the beginning, end, or between the songs. Then get a noise profile (menu Effect->Noise Removal… and click on the “Get Noise Profile” button” in Step 1) so Audacity will know what to remove from the whole track.
      2. Select the whole audio track (menu Edit->Select->All) and apply the Noise Removal (menu Effect->Noise Removal). In the Noise Removal dialog, take the defaults in Step 2 (Noise reduction dB should be 24 which is middle of the range, etc.) and hit OK. This operation may take a minute or two.
  2. Mark the breaks between songs so Audacity will recognize when a song begins and ends. (This will allow us to create an audio CD with multiple song tracks, allow skip forward/reverse, instead of an audio CD with one huge song track.) This is a manually instensive and time consuming task.
    • To make it easy to view the breaks between songs, set the zoom to normal (View->Zoom Normal) and maximize the Audacity window.
    • Starting from the beginning of the audio track, move the scrollbar at the bottom to the right by clicking on the right arrow (to move the viewable audio track by small increments) or by clicking on the empty space to the left of the right arrow (to view the audio track viewable chunk by viewable chunk).
    • Look for song breaks which occur when the soundwave graphs go to zero (you will see a single line). Click in the middle of the song break section and tag it as a new song track (menu Tracks->Add Label at Selection). You can name the label if you wish to.
    • You can double-check that it is actually a song break by clicking before the break and hitting play to listen to the end of the current song, the silent break, and the start of the next song.
    • Once you have looked at the whole audio track and are confident that you have identify the song breaks, export each song as a separate WAV file by going to menu “File->Export Multiple…”. Input an export location directory, make sure “Labels” is selected”, click on “Include audio before first label” if you didn’t put a tag before the first song, and click on the Export button.
    • Answer Yes if you are prompted to create the export location directory. You will be prompted to add more info for each song to be exported, just hit OK each time.
    • Once done, if you go to the export location directory, you should see a WAV file for each song.

At this point, use a CD burning software, such as Nero Burning ROM, to burn the individual song WAV files to an audio CD. An audio CD is 80 min long so if you are lucky, you might be able to fit the whole cassette (both sides A and B) onto one audio CD.

Good luck and have fun!

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Convert an OGM (or MKV) file to a Movie DVD

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dvddiscConverting OGM to DVD

  1. Run OGMDemuxer on the .ogm file.
    • This will generate an .avi file and one or more .ogg audio files.
  2. Use SubRip to convert to .srt file if the subtitles come as a .idx and .sub file which contains more than one language.
    • Select VOB, open IFO file, select the .idx file, select English.
  3. Run Xilisoft Video to Audio Converter.
    • Convert all .ogg audio files to .ac3 audio files.
  4. Run TMPGEnc to convert the .avi to .m2v.
    • Select size of the resulting video say 2000MB if we want to put two to each DVD.
    • Not sure about chapters… may want to generate a VOB for the chapter info.
  5. Run DVDLab Pro to combine everything into a DVD.
    • You can manually add the chapters (every 5 min) like so:

      Chapter 1 = 00:00:00:00
      Chapter 2 = 00:05:00:00
      Chapter 3 = 00:10:00:00
      Chapter 4 = 00:15:00:00
      Chapter 5 = 00:20:00:00
      Chapter 6 = 00:25:00:00
      Chapter 7 = 00:30:00:00
      Chapter 8 = 00:35:00:00
      Chapter 9 = 00:40:00:00
      Chapter 10 = 00:45:00:00

  6. If we get a DVD image larger than 4.7GB (such as when using DVDLab Pro to combine two DVDs), use CloneDVD to resize it.

Converting OGM to DVD using Nero Vision

If TMPGEnc doesn’t work (cannot process the .AVI file), then use Nero Vision. Nero Vision will also detect and generate chapters. Replace step #4 with the following:

  1. Use Nero Vision to detect chapters and convert AVI to DVD image.
    • Use Chapter-X-tractor to pull out the chapter timings from the .IFO file.
    • You can import the VTS_01_1.VOB into DVDLab Pro.
    • DVDLab Pro will generate the corresponding .mpv and .ac3 files.

Converting MKV to DVD

  1. Use MKVExtractGUI on the .mkv file.
    • This will generate an .avi video file, a .srt subtitle file, and one or more .ac3 audio files.
  2. Continue with step #4 above.
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Getting S-Video Output Working

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svideoconnector

  1. Plug the S-Video cable from the computer to the TV. Turn on the TV before turning on the computer.
  2. Minimize all programs (or close them).
  3. Right-click on the background desktop image and select Properties.
  4. Select the Settings tab.
  5. You should see two monitors displayed with numbers 1 and 2. Monitor #2 is the S-Video connection to the TV. If you don’t see two monitors, then do the following:
    • Click on the Advance button.
    • Look for a tab that has a small icon on it and the name of your video card; for example, Geforce 5200. Open that tab.
    • Near the bottom, you will see a checkbox called Force TV detection. Check it.
    • You will get a popup with a Restart Now button.
    • Click on the Restart Now button. The computer will restart. Go back to step #1.
  6. Right-click on the #2 square and select Attached
  7. Make sure that Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor is selected at the bottom.
  8. Then click on Apply.
  9. Click on OK to close the dialog box.
  10. Use Internet Explorer to go to youtube.
  11. Drag the Internet Explorer window to the right past the edge of the monitor. You will see the Internet Explorer window appear on the TV.
  12. Double-click on the youtube movie or resize IE to make the picture bigger on the TV screen.

Steps #4-8 can be seen in this video.

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Convert a Movie DVD to MPEG4 File

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There appears to be a lot of free one stop shop for tools to convert a movie DVD into an MPEG4 file.

The way I did the conversion was the following:

  1. Install Xvid which comes with encoder. (Or DivX Pro, which is not free.)
  2. Install Fhg Radium MP3 codec for encoding the audio stream into 128bps, 44khz mp3 stereo stream.
  3. Smartripper – for ripping the DVD to hard drive in raw format.
  4. Xmpeg – for converting raw format into DivX using the Xvid video encoder and Radium mp3 audio encoder.

You may want to check out the other tools… might be simpler than the method which I used.

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Get Rid of Red-Eye (Using Photoshop)

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redeye

  1. Load the photo into Adobe Photoshop.
  2. Select red eye pupils using Elliptical Marquee Tool. Hold shift to select the second pupil.
    • Useful commands:
      • Ctrl-H to hide selection
      • Ctrl-1 to see red channel
      • Ctrl-2 to see green channel
      • Ctrl-3 to see blue channel
      • Ctrl-~ (tilde) to see normal RGB
  3. Choose menu Select->Feather and input 0.5 pixel. Hit Okay.
  4. Choose menu Image->Adjust->Channel Mixer.
    • Select Red for Output Channel.
    • Set Red to zero in the Source Channels.
    • Set both Green and Blue to +50 in the Source Channels.
    • Hit Okay.
  5. If the eyes still don’t look natural (maybe you have green eye now), you will need to zoom in, pick a nearby color (Eyedropper Tool), and paint the pupils manually (Paint Bucket Tool).
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