Today’s entry continues the discussion of Windows XP Media Center Edition and details how to play ripped DVDs on Media Center eXtender devices. An MCX device allows you to view content from a computer running Media Center on another TV. The thought is that you can get to all of your photos, TV (recorded as well as live), and videos remotely using the same 10’ interface you have on the main MCE machine. Historically, the one weakness of the technology is that you can’t get to ripped DVDs this way. In fact, you can’t even play a DVD physically in the main MCE machine on an extender. People with plenty of disk space on the main MCE box often deal with this limitation by converting their movies to .wmv format, but I wanted a way to preserve all the “DVDness” of the movie without having to have a second copy of it. Today’s entry provides a poor man’s technique for doing that that I've been using successfully for a year or so.
(Disclaimer: I’m not encouraging anyone to break any laws. I’m just telling you how to play DVDs you have a legal right to play on an MCX device.)
This high points of the technique are that it doesn’t require you to convert DVDs to some other format, and it doesn't prevent you from using a DVD manager (e.g., DVD Jukebox, My Movies, etc.) on your main MCE box and its ability to play DVDs, display their menus, etc. Here’s how you do it:
That’s it. From that point on, you should be able to drill into your MCX host folder on the MCX device and play the movie. And you will still be able to view the very same copy of the movie on your main MCE box using your DVD manager and MCE’s native support for DVD navigation.
Why this works
This works because MCXs know how to play MPEG files, and a DVD .vob is really an MPEG in disguise. An MCX can play a .vob renamed (or hardlinked) as an .mpg in the same way that it can play other video such as .wmv files. The MCX treats the ripped DVD as a regular video file rather than a DVD, but at least the movie portion can be viewed. Creating a hardlink with a different file extension to the .vob allows you to reap the benefits of renaming or copying the file without actually having to do so.
Why do this?
If you’ve already ripped to ISO, obviously, you will need to mount the ISO and re-rip to a single .vob. From that point on, just use the new VIDEO_TS/AUDIO_TS folders rather than ISOs with your DVD manager app.
Also, you need a separate folder for the hardlinks rather than keeping them in the movie’s VIDEO_TS folder (or its parent) because the MCX will basically hang when it sees the VIDEO_TS folder and your video files. It evidently gets partially into the DVD navigator code of the main MCE box, but stops just shy of doing anything useful. Because of this, I decided to put the symlinks in their own folder to keep from confusing it.