Sunday, November 26, 2006

Free Movies

Lots of free stuff in this post. Free software, free movies, free DVDs. Well almost. You have to supply the DVDs.

The software used in these steps will work for both Windows and Linux users, since most of it is cross-platform. Except where it isn't. But I'll let you know.

First we want to get a movie that we can burn to a DVD. A great source of free, public domain movies is Public Domain Torrents. You will need a bittorrent client to download the movies. For Windows I use uTorrent, in Linux I've started using KTorrent which has a lot of great features. For this example I've chosen to download Night of the Living Dead. It will take a few hours, perhaps overnight or longer, to download a movie depending on your connection speed and the size of the movie.

Once the movie is downloaded we have to convert it to an MPEG2 format that is readable by DVD players. We're going to use Avidemux. In Linux it's probably available in your package manager (it's in the Ubuntu repositories), and there is a Windows version.

Open the movie, select Auto -> DVD, hit Save, and relax for a couple of hours while it converts the movie.

Now the DVD has to be authored, which means we have to add menus and have the file system set up so a DVD player can read the disc.

I had a lot of trouble deciding between different applications for authoring a DVD because there are so many good ones. I decided to focus on DVDStyler because it's easy to use, can create good looking menus, and is cross-platform, so it can work on both Windows and Linux. Oh yeah, and it's free. [Edit: The wxsvg library is now required for Linux users. You can download it from the DVDStyler website.]

Installation is easy. Windows users just download and run the Win32 binary on the download page. Linux users may have it in their package manager. It's not in the Ubuntu repositories, so I downloaded the Debian package and installed it.

For Ubuntu Linux users: Dapper users shouldn't need to change anything, but because I'm running Edgy Eft I did have to change an option in the settings because it kept throwing me an error about "jpegtopnm" [Update: These settings shouldn't have to be changed under Feisty Fawn]. To fix this you have to go to Configuration -> Settings, and in the Core tab change the first line to:

jpegtopnm "$FILE_IN" | ppmtoy4m -n 1 -I t -L $FRAME_RATE -S 420mpeg2 | mpeg2enc -f 8 -b $BITRATE -o "$FILE_OUT" $VIDEO_NORM

Don't worry, it's not as scary as it looks. Just copy and paste it in, you don't have to know what it means.

There are some excellent manuals and a forum to help you get started, but I'll go over the basics.

First thing we are going to do is choose a background for the menu. It comes with a bunch of backgrounds, but you can import your own if you like. Click the Backgrounds tab on the left and select the one you want.

Now select the Directories button on the left and navigate to the directory you saved the converted movie to. Only valid MPEG2 files will be available to select. Select your movie.

Now let's click the Buttons tab. Drag the "button1" image to the right, right click it, and select Properties. Since there is only one video on this disc the only thing we have to change is the button label, and the font if you wish.

Now you can select File -> Burn DVD from the main menu. Select Burn if you want to burn a disc right away, or you can Just Generate the file system or Create ISO Image if you want to burn the DVD with another program such as K3B.

After a few minutes you should be able to watch your shiny new DVD movie.

There are some other great resources for making video DVDs. The Internet Archive is another great source for public domain movies. Files are downloaded directly from their servers, so you don't need a bittorrent client, but sometimes can be slow. The video quality of the movies is also less, but there are a lot of them.

For authoring DVDs there is also DeVeDe which converts and authors the DVD, eliminating the need for a program like Avidemux. It is simple to use and can automatically divide a movie into chapters. It doesn't create menus though, and is only for Linux.

Tovid is another Linux only program that also converts movies and authors DVDs and allows you to create simple menus. I've had occasional weird issues with the sound not syncing. I can correct this by fast forwarding through part of the movie. It may be an issue with my DVD player. Well worth a try.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

New DVD Burner

I was debating on what software to ramble on about for my next post. I'd like to do something that's cross-platform and useful for many people. Firefox is the obvious choice, which is why I'm not going to do it. I may do something on image manipulation.

All that is academic though, because I'm not going to talk about free software my next post. After years of being limited to 700 MB cds and watching video on VCDs I finally got a DVD burner. I'm still experimenting with the best combination of transcoding and authoring software and want to get some screenshots of a video being prepared, so it won't be for another day or two. Or three.

Of course the software I'm using is all free, so I guess I will be talking about free software. I wish it was possible to write about free hardware. Actually, I knew a guy who could get free hardware, but he's doing time right now.

For the record the DVD burner is an LG GSA-H10N 16x Super Multi DVD/CD Rewriter, an inexpensive drive that reads and writes DVD +/- R/RW discs as well as DVD RAM discs. It installed just like any other optical drive, and Ubuntu found it and was able to use it without any hiccups.

I haven't installed or used the Windows software that came with it, but I'll give it a try and let you know how that worked as well.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Free Stuff

I like free stuff. If a task can be completed without dishing out money for an expensive piece of software, I'm all for it. Why spend money on bytes that could be better spent on more important things, like beer?

There is a lot of software available for free. Just like anything else, a lot of it is crap. A lot of free software actually comes with strings attached, like your personal information, ads, or important features that can only be used if you send the author money.

There are some real gems available if you know where to look. Software that is professional quality with no strings attached. Real alternatives to commercial applications.

I will be showcasing some of my favourite free applications, letting you know what I like and don't like about them, and where to get them. Hope you enjoy.

One of the most important apps for any user is the office suite. The most popular suite is, of course, Microsoft Office. It's an excellent application, with lots of wizards and templates to make tasks easier, and more features than any one person could ever need. It also costs a few hundred dollars, and they keep changing their file format every few releases just to remind everyone they have to upgrade to the newest version or risk not being able to read others' documents.

Another excellent office suite is OpenOffice. It is also has lots of wizards and templates, and more features than any one person could ever need. It is available for free, however. And while it has it's own file format, it can also read and save Microsoft Office documents, which means you will still be able to share documents with people who are broke because they've spent all their money on Microsoft Office. It's also multiplatform: it will run on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and FreeBSD.

OpenOffice comes with a word processor called Write, a spread sheet called Calc to replace Excel, presentation software (you know, like Powerpoint) called Impress, and a database application they call Base that replaces Access. There is also a drawing program called Draw.

The wordprocessor does what you would expect a word processor to do: process words. You can also do some neat things, like save your document in Adobe's .pdf format or in Aportisdoc format so you can transfer the file to your Palm device. It has lots of wizards to help with some of the more complex tasks, like mail merge.

The presentation software (called Impress) comes with templates, backgrounds, etc. and starts out with a wizard to help you create your slideshow. It can export your presentation as a Flash file, if you wish, allowing you to post it on the web. It does not come with as much artwork and backgrounds as PowerPoint, but you can download more from the web.

I use the spreadsheet only occasionally, for very basic tasks, but it's served my needs. I've been able to import Microsoft Excel files with no problems, but I understand that some people have had issues with complex Excel files with scripts.

I've never had need for the database, so I won't comment on it.

There are lots of extra templates and artwork available here and at the OpenOffice Extras website as well.

Don't let the fact that it's free fool you. OpenOffice is feature-rich enough for almost any personal or small business use. By not buying Microsoft Office this piece of software will free up money to buy enough beer to keep you drunk at work for a week.