Mr Lazy

August 14, 2009

Converting DV files to play on the WD TV

Filed under: WD TV — Mr Lazy @ 12:46
Tags: , , , , ,

One of the reasons I bought a WD TV was to play the AVCHD video files produced by my Canon HF100 HD camcorder.  But I also wanted to play the DV files that I’d captured from my previous camcorder, a MiniDV unit.  The WD TV cannot decode the DV format, so it has to be converted (transcoded) to another format.

Anyone with a MiniDV camcorder who has captured video to a computer will know that the resultant files can be pretty big – approx. 12GB for one hour.  Like most consumer camcorders (regardless of format), my old MiniDV camcorder was capable of producing perfectly acceptable video in good light, but struggled when the light was poor.  Seeing as I wanted to keep the original DV files, I didn’t want the newly created files to take up too much disk space.  But as a great deal of the footage was of the early years of my children, I wanted the picture quality to be almost as good as the original, particularly in low light scenes.

I’ve seen many posts in forums along the lines of “what’s the best program/codec to use for converting DV?” – the answer is that there is no “best”.  It depends on what your priorities are: picture quality, audio quality, file size, easy of use, speed of conversion, control over settings, special features etc.  The only way to find out what works best for you is to try several different programs and several different codecs.

I experimented with several freeware conversion tools and a few different video and audio formats.  First I tried the software that came with the WD TV – Arcsoft MediaConverter 2.5.  It seems to convert everything to H.264 (not a problem) but I didn’t like the way it forced me to use an AVI container and MP3 audio.  It was also horribly slow.  In theory MPEG2 should be the ideal codec to use for converting DV to.  I found that SUPER was very fast at transcoding to MPEG2, was fairly easy to use with very helpful pop-up tooltips and produced reasonable picture quality.  Shame about the cramped, non-Windows-like GUI.  I also tried WinFF.  Both SUPER and WinFF are front-end GUIs for the ffmpeg command line tool, so it was not surprising that the picture quality from both was indistinguishable.  WinFF has a much simpler GUI and is great if you just want to leave all settings to the default, but I preferred SUPER because I felt it gave me more control.  SUPER was, I think, the only tool I tried that allowed me to retain the audio in PCM format, but for this purpose the video quality is more important than the audio quality.

In the end I settled on using Handbrake, using the H.264 codec and AAC for audio.  The video produced had less grain (noise) than the MPEG2, though perhaps at the expense of a little sharpness.  I chose to use MP4 as the container format as a) with MKV the video would pause on the first frame for about a second wheres the MP4 would start playing straight away and b) MP4 allows cover art to be embedded and displayed on the WD TV.  I experimented with three different bitrates: 1500kbps (Handbrake’s default), 3000 and 5600.  The difference in video quality between the three was minimal, which just goes to show the efficiency of the H.264 codec.  I chose 3000kbps as it was a good compromise between file size (1.32GB per hour) and picture quality.  A 1500kbps bitrate meant that there was some pixelation (ie. “blockiness”) especially on facial shots and in poorly lit scenes.  A bitrate of 5600 gave only a slight improvement over 3000 – not enough to make the sacrifice of disk space.  After reading the website, I used the Decomb filter to deinterlace as opposed to the Deinterlace filter.  I discovered that I had to turn off “CABAC Entropy Encoding” otherwise the WD TV would not play back the video.  For anyone else attempting such a conversion project, let me know if you want to see screenshots of my settings. UPDATE 25Aug09: screenshots added as requested.

UPDATE 27Aug09: I produced thumbnails for the MP4 files by using Windows Movie Maker to select an appropriate frame to use as the thumbnail, then using the “Tools -> Take Picture from Preview…” feature to produce a JPEG.  I then used Irfanview to batch resize the JPEGs down to 268 x 200 (preserving the aspect ratio).  Finally I used Mp3tag to add the “cover art” to the MP4 file.

Screen1    Screen2

Screen3    Screen4

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21 Comments »

  1. Yes please, let’s see a screen shot. I’m doing the same job myself and there’s a few options I’m not sure on.

    Comment by andrew — August 25, 2009 @ 13:14

  2. Thanks mate.
    I’ll give this another whirl: first effort not too good, but I’ll double check settings now.

    Comment by andrew — August 25, 2009 @ 18:08

  3. Yeah, much better.
    For some reason handbrake won’t let me create a profile, probably because I restricted it on install with kaspersky. But I can just change the basic setting to match.
    Nice one.

    Comment by andrew — August 26, 2009 @ 09:46

  4. Glad you’re happy with it. Yesterday I compared some footage I had previously converted to MPEG2 with WinFF (ffmpeg codec) and it was awful (very blocky). I must admit the one thing I don’t like about Handbrake is the way it handles presets – it’s unintuitive.

    Comment by Mr Lazy — August 26, 2009 @ 09:50

  5. Thanks for this. Just copied all my DV videos in original quality and was going to convert them to mpg. But seems you found a better format that plays on the WDTV also. Great info!

    Comment by Red Indian — September 16, 2009 @ 15:07

  6. Thanks for the detailed and very usefull info – saved me loads of time.
    One questions though – the new mp4 files are not supporting fast forward/rewind on the WD TV – or am I missing something?

    Comment by Meister — December 26, 2009 @ 10:45

  7. I’m working on a similar project of archiving family DV videos, striving to maintain quality as close to the original DV as possible. For now, I’ve settled on high bitrate MPEG-2 with 256 Kbps AC3 audio. Didn’t you find that deinterlacing the DV to 30 fps H.264 encoding leads to motion that is blurrier and less fluid? You can deinterlace to 60p, but that would probably lose much of the size savings over just storing interlaced MPEG-2. Considering that modern MPEG-2 playback equipment (including the WD TV?) can do motion-adaptive deinterlacing on-the-fly in hardware, it seems like MPEG-2 might still be the way to go for legacy interlaced material.

    Comment by Mark Fontana — December 27, 2009 @ 17:13

  8. @Meister – I haven’t had any problems with ffwd/rwd, sorry.

    Comment by Mr Lazy — December 28, 2009 @ 21:05

  9. @ Mark Fontana – I’m in PAL land so for me it’s 25 frames per second. I didn’t notice any motion that was blurrier or less fluid. I chose H.264 over MPEG2 because it was better picture quality at smaller file sizes.

    Comment by Mr Lazy — January 4, 2010 @ 12:15

  10. I just finished transferring all DV tapes to a hard drive and about to convert them for the WDTV.
    This saves me lot of time. Thanks so much!!!

    Comment by ThaiDude — February 23, 2010 @ 16:18

  11. Glad it helped!

    Comment by Mr Lazy — February 23, 2010 @ 16:28

  12. Just wanted to see if you’ve changed anything about the conversion process since you first started this. I just got my WD TV yesterday and it plays my .m2ts files great, but not my avis from my older Sony DV camcorder.

    Are there any rumors that WD will ever support the DV format? I don’t want to start converting my files only to find out they are working on an update.

    Comment by Chris — March 3, 2010 @ 16:19

  13. The WD TV will never be able to support DV in its current hardware form, because the codes are hardware-based rather than software-based.

    Comment by Mr Lazy — March 3, 2010 @ 16:28

  14. That sucks big time.

    Comment by Chris — March 3, 2010 @ 16:36

  15. I don’t know if you’ve tried this method but for my DV video conversions I used Windows Movie Maker with a pre-made profile specifically for DV files from the papajohn guy’s website. Basically it converted the DV into WMV but keeping the quality and the size was reduced to roughly 2GB/hour and the bitrate was about 8000kbps. The process was super simple. Is there maybe an extra benefit of doing it your method that I’m missing out on?

    Comment by Sean — June 22, 2010 @ 22:19

  16. Not really. It’s just that H.264 is generally considered a much more efficient codec than WMV (certainly at comparable bitrates). I seem to remember trying WMM and WMV early on and not being too impressed with the resultant image quality. As ever, YMMV.

    Comment by Mr Lazy — June 23, 2010 @ 09:13

  17. thanks a lot ! It was very helpfull :)

    Comment by bjorn — August 16, 2010 @ 16:10

  18. Just in case you’re still monitoring this blog, I wanted to see if anything changed in your workflow from 5 years ago. I’m finally getting around to this with my old SD (Digital8 and MiniDV) DV AVI footage. Let me know if you have any additional advice to offer.

    Comment by Chris — December 15, 2014 @ 19:09

  19. Hi Chris

    It’s been many years since I’ve done this, but the only thing I would probably do differently today would be to use VidCoder, which is a front-end to Handbrake and more user-friendly, and maybe experiment with the Constant Quality setting (which I use when I rip DVDs).

    Comment by Mr Lazy — December 16, 2014 @ 14:15

  20. Thanks, I will give VidCode a try.

    Comment by Chris — December 16, 2014 @ 16:01

  21. VidCoder worked nicely! After playing around with several settings I ended up realizing that the “High Profile” preset (default values) resolved all of my issues that I had when I used Handbrake manually. I no longer had jumpy video when any movement was present in the footage. I converted seven DV AVI files and they all look great on my Samsung HDTV (not bad considering the source was SD). Now as far as simple video editing goes….. I’m looking for some recommendations if you have any? A couple years back I was using Pinnacle (14 I believe was the latest I had) to chop up the AVIs dumped directly from the Sony D8 tapes. After chopping up a whole tape’s worth of footage and creating individual project files for each filming date I then just simply cut out the boring scenes (razor tool) and added a “page turn” transition between the remaining “interesting” scenes. After that I would slap on a fade-in and fade-out to the start and end of each project. Once that was done I would render it as an AVI file (which are the files I am using as inputs to VidCoder today). The problem is that I never got to finish the editing of all of my footage and I really don’t feel like re-installing Pinnacle 14 on my new PC. Can you offer any suggestions for a simpler tool than Pinnacle that will mimic the workflow I described? Thanks again.

    Comment by Chris — December 17, 2014 @ 19:41


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