Transcoding optical media in Linux

Obstacle Course


MakeMKV [5] is also designed for transcoding Blu-ray discs and comprises two components: one proprietary and the other open source. The program has been under continuous development for years and can be downloaded as a beta version from the project page [11].

As a commercial product, MakeMKV requires a license key. However, the Linux version has been in beta for some time and is free of charge. The free license key is valid for 30 days and can be renewed by downloading a new key [12].

The proprietary part of the software embeds the keys it uses to decipher commercial Blu-ray discs. Because the application can convert video DVDs, it also integrates a CSS module.

MakeMKV offers fewer target formats compared with HandBrake: It supports the free Matroska container format, but not MP4. You cannot convert the original codecs with MakeMKV.

Bumpy Ride

Installing MakeMKV can be a harrowing experience. Although packages are available in the software repositories of some less popular (e.g., Slackware and PCLinuxOS) as well as popular (e.g., openSUSE and CentOS) distributions, if you are running Debian or Ubuntu, you have to compile the programs from the source. To this end, the manufacturer offers two tar.gz archives, which you install according to their instructions:

sudo apt-get install build-essential pkg-config libc6-dev libssl-dev libexpat1-dev libavcodec-dev libgl1-mesa-dev libqt4-dev zlib1g-device

Next, install the free MakeMKV archive with the usual:

./configure && make && sudo make install

In the last step, you need to change to the archive directory before adding the proprietary archive to the system with:

make && sudo make install

During the installation, the routine creates an entry in the Multimedia menu that lets you call MakeMKV with a single click. On first launch, you need to enter a registration key. The Help | Register menu pops up a small dialog box in which you can type the key. Keys are from the project's website and can be easily copied and pasted into the input field. After restarting the program, the software is ready for use (Figure 6).

Figure 6: The MakeMKV program window is straightforward.

Because MakeMKV already has the necessary requirements for reading copy-protected Blu-ray discs in its sources and integrates an AACS, as well as Blu-ray+ technology, you first have to confirm in an end-user license agreement (EULA) that you will not use the software illegally. It identifies the active optical drives in the system at startup and displays them in the main window. If the computer has several drives, you need to select the correct one.

MakeMKV facilitates the selection by displaying the drive models with plaint text names, avoiding the need to guess your way through the generic block device designations. After clicking File | Open disc and selecting the correct drive in the menu, the software opens the Blu-ray disc and displays the content. On the left side of the window it checks all the detected tracks for transcoding but skips tracks shorter than 120 seconds.

In the lower part of the program window, MakeMKV displays a logfile that updates continuously. The target path and an information area appear on the right side of the window. The path for the transcoded MKV file can be modified. Click on one of the plus signs (+ ) beside a track on the left-hand side of the program window to open the track in question and inspect its content.

By default, MakeMKV selects all parts for transcoding. You can now use the titles to exclude unwanted content by unchecking the boxes (Figure 7). You might want to do this not only for subtitle tracks you do not need, but also for unwanted audio tracks, for example.

Figure 7: In MakeMKV, you can manually exclude individual content from transcoding.

Once you have made your choice, press the Save selected titles button at the upper-right under the Make MKV icon. If the target path is still missing, the software asks whether it should create it; then, it changes to the main window. In the information area, it displays only the relevant data for transcoding (Figure 8), which includes the current space requirement.

Figure 8: Monitoring the transcoding in the message area.

You can track the progress of MakeMKV centrally with the two horizontal progress bars. MakeMKV transcodes the selected titles to create a single MKV container file. At the bottom of the window, you can view the history and information in the logfile.

Even with MakeMKV, transcoding Blu-ray discs takes longer than an hour per medium, but unlike HandBrake, system load is not significant, even on older hardware. MakeMKV is far better suited for laptops than HandBrake because of the lower power draw. MakeMKV does not support Nvidia's Nvenc acceleration technologies or the older CUDA, or AMD's equivalent acceleration app.

To cancel transcoding, press the red Stop icon to the right of the progress bar and confirm the prompt.

Things to Tweak

In most cases, MakeMKV runs with the default settings without problem, but if you are processing a damaged source medium that requires increased use of error correction, you can modify various software configurations accessible under View Preferences or by clicking the wrench icon. To enable more than five read attempts with bad media, increase the value for Read retry count in the IO tab. You can also modify other values, such as the target path in the Video settings.

MakeMKV can also extract the subtitle files from the source data to edit later. If you specify a path to the Closed captions extractor files in the Advanced tab, MakeMKV stores subtitles separately as subrip subtitle (SRT) files. To use this option, you first need to enable Expert mode in the General tab. Additionally, you will probably want to install the CCExtractor package [13]. For some distributions, it is available from the repositories; for others, it has to be installed manually.

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