Archive for July, 2005

 Why Movies Suck

So it’s been almost five years since I last ranted about this topic. But recent developments have forced me to reevaluate my own attitude towards the entire movie-going experience.

It’s no secret that I go to a lot of movies. But I used to enjoy them a lot more than I do now, and it took reading my friend John’s recent essay, as well as the imminent birth of my first child in a month or two, to realize that I probably don’t enjoy going to the movies enough anymore to justify continuing the practice.

If I could sit down with an executive from one of the big studios in Hollywood and have a conversation, what would I say? Five years ago I probably would have berated him for his industry’s lack of creativity — sequel after sequel, CG-laden eye-candy with no semblance of a plot — the Hollywood well was running pretty dry.

But today, I would have just one question for him. I would look him directly in the eye and tell him to convince me why I should continue paying $6-$8 per ticket (yeah, I know I’m lucky to live in the midwest, ticket prices are even more insane elsewhere) plus gas to get to the theater, foregoing concessions that have long since surpassed any reasonable pricing scheme, and tolerating boisterous and rude audience members (which I have never actually done anyway), all the while resisting the urge to get up and go to the bathroom so I did not miss any of the movie, and ignoring my own home theater (which may not be world class, but certainly isn’t anything to sneeze at either). Yes, I would look him in the eye and ask him why I should continue to endure all of that?

Any studio executives reading this care to take up my challenge?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

 Wedding Crashers

Thoroughly enjoyable. I haven’t laughed that hard at a movie in a long time. Few movies are this laugh-out-loud hilarious. I’ll have to see it again to catch all of the lines drowned out by the audience’s laughter. For once, they didn’t give away every punchline in the trailer, I guess because this was a genuinely funny movie with plenty of laughs to spare. Vince Vaughn is a comedic genius, and has good chemistry with Owen Wilson. The comedy is tad bit raunchy in places, but doesn’t disappoint, and don’t visit IMDB and spoil the surprise cameo in this movie — you’ll be glad you didn’t.

 Dark Water

The scariest scenes of this already not-that-scary movie were ruined for me since I had seen half of them during Jennifer Connelly’s media blitz (Letterman, Conan, The View, Regis & Kelly) last week. But apart from that, the enormous holes in the story were the biggest disappointment. Half of the characters in this film were introduced and developed for no apparent reason because they had no bearing on the outcome of the story. There were clearly parts to this story that were missing — must I wait for the DVD’s alternate endings for this movie to make any sense?

 How To Burn TiVo Shows to DVD

As a public service, I’m providing these instructions to anyone who might need them. Since February of this year, I’ve been using the TiVoToGo capability to transfer shows from my TiVo unit to my PC and then archiving these shows to DVD. It took me several weeks of trial and error, while scouring the ‘net for instructions, before I reached a point where I could do this reliably. To save others the pain I’ve gone through, I decided to compile this step-by-step list. I may not be the first to do so (in fact, I’m sure I’m not), but I hope this will help those who are perhaps just getting started.

First, a short disclaimer. I offer no warranties. This combination of free software works for me, it may not be the greatest, nor the latest, software combo that works, but I am reluctant to invest any more of my time in tweaking and refining a process that reliably works for me.

Also, I am assuming that you already have TiVoToGo configured and are able to transfer .TiVo files to your PC. If you are unsure about how to do this, well, that’s what Google is for, right? But I’ll get you started. So, without further ado, download the software you will need:

  1. GraphEdit
  2. Filters
  3. TyTools

There is no fancy install, just download each of these zip files and unzip them into their own folders. There is a text file in the filters.zip that explains how to install the filters on your system.

GraphEdit

Once you have everything installed, run GraphEdit.exe. You will use this utility to remove the password from the .TiVo files and convert them to plain old .mpg files. Do the following:

  1. Drag .TiVo file into Graphedit
  2. Delete last few filters in the chain except Moonlight-Elecard MPEG2 Demuxer
  3. Add Moonlight M71 Muxer (Ctrl-F -> DirectShow -> double-click Moonlight M71)
  4. Right-click on M71, Filter Properties…
  5. Double-click on Transport Stream and change it to Program Stream
  6. Double-click on Compatibility and change it to DVD
  7. Add Input to Program (in the left pane) by right-clicking and selecting Create Stream
  8. Save your changes and then hit the Refresh button in GraphEdit (the circular arrows). This will make the new input pin visible on the graph.
  9. Join Audio pin to Input1 pin
  10. Add Moonlight DumpPos filter (Ctrl-F -> DirectShow -> double-click Moonlight DumpPos)
  11. Select an output file name (make sure to include an .mpg extension)
  12. Join M71 Out pin to Input pin
  13. Now press Play and wait a few minutes. On my P4 3GHz machine, an hour show typically takes less than five minutes to process. YMMV.

Occasionally, I’ve had GraphEdit hang on me before it finished writing the output file. You will know when this happens because there should be almost constant hard drive activity when you press Play. If it stops for more than a second or two, and the output file ceases to grow, GraphEdit is hung. Just hit the Stop button, delete the output file, and hit Play again.

TyTool

Once you have your shows converted to .mpg files (and assuming the combined sizes of those files is less than the capacity of your DVD — 4.7GB for single-layer media), you are ready create the VOB files and build a DVD. Run TyTool9r18.exe and do the following:

  1. File -> Make Key file
  2. Double-click each of the .mpg files you want to process to add them to the queue, then click the Process button
  3. If you want to edit out commercials, or any other fluff before you burn your DVD, select File -> Edit Key file. This is the most complicated and time-consuming step of the entire process. If you don’t care about the commercials, skip it.
  4. Scan through the video (there is no audio provided, unfortunately) with the < and > buttons. You define a cut with the [ and ] buttons and click Add to add it to the cut list.
  5. When all of your cuts are defined, select File -> Save Cut List and then exit the editor.
  6. File -> Multiplex files (and wait a while)
  7. File -> VOB Mux files (and wait a while)
  8. File -> Create IFO Files/Dirs
  9. Click a menu item in the top-right pane. Set the Menu Item below to a .vob file in the pulldown menu and click the “Set Item” button. The text you type there is the text that will appear in the DVD menu. Repeat this for each menu item you wish to include.
  10. select a file to use as the menu background
  11. Hit the Preview button at any time to see what your DVD menu is going to look like.
  12. When you’re satisfied with your creation, press Make IFO (and wait a while).

When you see the popup window that says “DVD Created,” you will find AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS folders have been created for you. Use your favorite burning software to burn these onto a DVD. If you are looking for a free burner, I had some limited success with CDBurnerXP Pro, but I eventually broke down and went with Nero for better reliability.

If you have any technical problems that you can’t figure out, I can’t guarantee that I will have the time or the inclination to help you debug them, but contact me and I’ll see what I can do.

[Update Nov 20, 2007] I bought a software package called VideoReDo and it’s the best $50 I ever spent. I have been using it for several months now, so I feel confident in recommending it. It eliminates the need for the GraphEdit portion of the process above because it removes the TiVo encryption for you and outputs a straight .mpg file. It also has sound (something TyTool doesn’t offer). Its best feature by far, however, is the Ad Detective that automatically removes commercials from a recording. I still use TyTool for steps 7-12 above, but I’m hooked on VideoReDo. Try it, you’ll like it!

 Nursery Rhymes

The nursery is finally painted! Dixie bought me an airbrush for Father’s Day with which I was able to add some wispy little clouds to the ceiling and the armoire (which of course is our old entertainment center from the living room!). Check out the latest pictures in my Photo Album.

 War of the Worlds

Not having read the original book, nor having heard the radio play from 1938, nor having seen the original film from 1953, I had no preconceived notions regarding what this movie was going to be about. I knew the basic storyline — Mars Attacks (only with fewer cameos) — but I was completely ignorant of the details. But damned if Spielberg didn’t manage to screw this one up bad enough that even *I* noticed! Between the plot holes big enough to drive a truck through (Alien ships buried on Earth for millions of years? Grandma’s house unscathed amid the rubble of what was once Boston?) and the awkward pacing of the film’s finale, one is left to wonder if a veteran director like Spielberg was actually at the helm the entire time, or if he handed it off to an apprentice while he went on vacation.