This post might be of even less interest to my usual readers than normal. I’m simply putting it here so those who might be interested in it can come across it while googling around. My extra apologies to my wife, who’s already had to listen to me explain this stuff a hundred times over the weekend (you can skip this one, Honey).

I have a cheap DVD player (a Phillips DVP3140/37) that happens to have the wonderful ability to play DivX videos. Our last DVD player could play DivX files as well, but after many failed attempts to convert my 140gb of MST3K episodes in to a format that the DVD player could handle, I wasn’t sure how important DivX playback would be for us with a new player. But we still might download the occasional missed TV show episode (BitTorrent is the poor man’s TiVo…wait, that’s the VCR; well, BitTorrent is the TiVo for cheap folks who don’t program their VCR’s and want better picture quality in a wide aspect ratio) so the DivX capability was worth an extra 5 bucks.

So I still have those 140gb of MST3K episodes, and I still want to be able to watch them on my TV in my living room instead of while sitting at the computer. At the time I couldn’t see how I’d run a cable from the computer in one room to the TV in the living room (although now I see I could drill holes in the floor and run it though the basement; tempting for future applications), and wireless video transmitters are a little on the expensive side (and not guaranteed to get good reception). So I decided to revisit my problem of re-encoding the videos in a format that the DVD player can handle.

It may seem to many readers that the easiest solution would simply be to make a regular DVD out of the video files. I thought about this too, but it takes a LONG time to encode a single video DVD, and even then you can’t get very much on one. This might be worth it for a few of my favorite episodes of MST3K, but this wasn’t going to work for watching the entire series (all 11 seasons) in order.

I had tried using free, open source encoding tools before. AVI ReComp could make some of the files work on a DivX DVD player, but even then it didn’t fix the color bleeding that was all too common. AutoGK fixed the color problems on those it could handle itself, but many of the older episodes would re-code for hours and hours and hours and eventually bomb out with a strange error message. Going straight to VirtualDub didn’t prove any better either. I’m willing to bet that somebody more familiar with these programs could troubleshoot these errors and get some of these programs working, but that somebody is not me.

So now that it had been quite a while since I lats tried to convert these files, I tried looking at it from a different angle. What non-DVD video format was my player designed for? DivX. What is DivX? A well documented, commercially supported media format that happens to be designed with profiles for keeping files compatible with certified hardware. So if my DVD player is certified to play the files encoded with the DivX home theater profile, why not just do that? I went to the official DivX website, downloaded their official DivX Converter for turning files in to DivX files, and was shocked and amazed to see that it worked, without any errors or problems, on the first, ugly, old, non-DivX file I threw at it. No configuration, no settings to tweak; it just worked. I mean, look at this screen show below. I don’t know how much simpler an interface could get while still working perfectly.

It even looks strikingly similar to it’s Windows icon.

How many interfaces are so simple that they can be accurately pictured in their icon? The only ones that I’ve seen before were too stupid to let you get anything done. But not DivX Converter.

Here, all this time I had been using open software and open formats when a proprietary solution nailed it without the least bit of fuss. I still love free, open-source software; but sometimes you need to go with the folks getting paid to make their software work for you.

(There actually is a free, open-source DivX encoder that’s (barely) sponsored by DivX and even has a DivX employee running the project. However, Dr. Divx has bugs and stability issues, and therefore has a ways to go before it’s ready for prime time. I tried using it, and it crashed without any error message or explanation when I tried queuing up more than one file for conversion.)