Watching Matroska Videos on Android

Two of my interests collided recently.  The first was to put our collection of DVDS onto a network server so that we could watch them from any device.  This is due in part to the increasing failure of our dedicated DVD/VCR to play traditional DVDs.  We have not entered the Blu-Ray world yet.  The second was to be able to watch DVDs on my Android tablet.  Because of its relatively small storage space, I wanted to have videos in compressed formats.

Fortuitously, Lifehacker did a “Hive Five” on DVD ripping software, selecting Handbrake.  I have used Handbrake happily on Ubuntu before, a year or two ago, when I had an abortive attempt to move DVDs to the network.  It reminded me of some of the tools that I could use, as well highlighting some I hadn’t.

First, I downloaded the MakeMKV tool on Windows 7.  This will convert your DVD into Matroska or mkv format videos. This worked like a charm and is probably the easiest conversion tool I’ve used.  It posed two challenges, though.  One was that the output videos were nearly 10 GB each.  My tablet had about 25 GB free so I was limited to what I could move over.  Second, Android’s default video player didn’t support mkv video files.

I came across other Android users who were using Moboplayer, which will play Matroska/mkv videos.  I’ve also since learned that the VLC for Android player, in beta, will do so as well.  I installed Moboplayer and it had no problem opening and playing the videos.  Now I had a conversion method and a way to play the videos on Android.

But the file size was still an issue.  This is where the Lifehacker list helped me, and especially comments about the products.  I downloaded Handbrake again and also downloaded DVD Shrink, an old-by-Internet-standards tool that had very positive comments.  I have linked directly to the downloadable, because it’s frustrating how many purposefully confusing pages you have to navigate through to get to it.  If you download it, it will try to install TWO different toolbars and reset your search settings in your browser TWICE, so take your time during the installation.

It works as reported, though.  It will convert a DVD into two folder, AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS.  If you specify the DVD’s region information, it will also remove copy protection.  It is very fast and I have tried it on 3 disks so far with perfect results.  It is a backup tool, so it’s whole function is to create the type of copies I want to place on my network.

Then I pointed Handbrake at the AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS folders that DVD Shrink had created.  From the SOURCE menu, click Folder, and select the parent folder for those two folders.  For example, I had DVD Shrink save its output into C:\Video.  It created C:\Video\Audio_TS and C:\Video\Video_TS.  Now I point Handbrake at C:\Video.  It finds the video and audio output from DVD Shrink and is ready to convert it to a single video file.  You can create either mp4 or mkv format files.  I stuck with mkv.

One feature I like about DVD Shrink is that you can choose to exclude certain options.  For example, I live in Canada so many of my CDs come with both French and English audio.  But I can leave the French audio off when I create my file, since I’m not going to use it.  A tip on Handbrake for Windows: if you minimize it, it doesn’t act like a typical Windows program.  Go to your Status bar, near the date/time, and look for the icon with the pineapple.  Right-click on it and choose restore to show the Handbrake window again.

The end result is that a DVD ripped using DVD Shrink and Handbrake results in a file between 600 MB and 1 GB, rather than 10 GB.  I re-ran the videos I had already created using MakeMKV so I had a direct comparison point.  I have not yet played all of them through – and will do so before I move much further through my collection – to see what the compression has actually done to the video quality, but I expect it will be more than suitable for tablet or other portable device replay on our network.