Transcoding For Consoles Or Tablets

Transcoding For Consoles Or TabletsIs your device of choice picky about the video file it will play? Here’s our guide to getting around it’s restrictions…If you’ve ever tried to watch video on your games console or tablet, you’re probably familiar with the number of ways things can go wrong. Video without audio. Audio without video. Common video types almost entirely unsupported. No matter how smart these devices become, there’s still an element of chance in trying to play media files that your PC wouldn’t blink twice at.Unfortunately (or possibly annoyingly), the way these systems work means that if they don’t recognise the media the first time, there’s not a lot you can do. Unlike your PC, you can’t install a new codec or try opening the content a different application. Your best alternative is to head back to your PC and see if you can do anything there. Luckily, you normally can – you just need to know how.

Transcoding is the process of converting a file directly from one compressed format into another format, skipping the task of converting it back into a raw uncompressed state first. You can use it to convert files permanently, or to create a temporary stream – which can then be sent to devices that don’t support the original format.The benefits of transcoding (streaming or permanent) are that it saves file space – uncompressed media data is especially large and takes up a lot of memory and storage. The down side is that it uses a lot of CPU time to convert files directly from one format to another, and if you’re streaming a file over the network it may use a lot of bandwidth too.There are many reasons why you might want to transcode a file into another format – perhaps you want to make its filesize smaller by using a different type of compression, or fix an incorrectly sized resolution – but in the context of games consoles and tablets, converting the format of the media allows the target device to play the file without any difficulty. That’s what we’re going to look at next: the various ways you can transcode your files so a games console can view them.If your network and PC are fast enough, the easiest way to transcode media onto a console is to stream if from your PC. Most consoles (as well as many tablets and smart TVs) support DLNA streams natively (with the Wii and PS4 being notable exceptions) so to create one all you need to do is install and run a DNLA server.The benefits of DLNA servers are numerous. You don’t have to move your library off your PC, so you can stream it direct to your console without having to buy extra hardware or use up valuable onboard storage. It’s also easier to administer the content, since consoles might force you to use their own, controller-based interface to do things like delete files, change filenames or reorganise folders.DLNA servers essentially give your console access to the entire range of codecs that your PC has. If you can play a file in a media player, a DLNA server should be able to convert it into a console-compatible stream. This is especially useful for open-source file containers like OGG and MKV, which often aren’t supported by big-brand devices, which prefer to push users towards their own preferred formats.The only real downside to using DLNA to stream media to your console is that media servers are only much use when your PC is switched on. To get around this, you could use a router or NAS unit with built-in DLNA capabilities, though these are harder to administer than standard server software running on your laptop or desktop would be. So what DLNA servers might you use?Plex is one of the most common media servers around, born out of the original Xbox Media Centre project. It’s actually dualpurpose, with DLNA functionality alongside its own protocols, which make it incredibly versatile and powerful. It’s easy to set up and packed with high-end features such as mobile streaming and native apps on many platforms, which makes it perfect for anyone with a tablet or console they want to share media to: supported devices include the Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3 and 4, Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV.Although there’s little to dislike about Plex and a lot that makes it worth trying out, it’s worth noting that it’s possibly a little complex for first-time users. There are a lot of options and that makes it tough to grapple with if you’re not sure what they do. The desktop server software is free, but mobile apps cost $5 each and you may also have to pay in order to use the native apps on consoles.You may not be aware of this, but Windows Media Player – the default way to play movies and audio in Windows – actually incorporates a DLNA server already. The problem is that it’s a very simple one. Click the ‘stream’ option, select ‘Turn On Media Streaming’ and follow the instructions. You can choose the type of files you want it to share, and you’ll be given a password that allows access to your homegroup. You’ll have to set up a media library too so you have media to share!The benefits of using Windows Media Player are primarily costrelated: it’s completely free on all Windows PCs, so there’s no need to spend money – but the software itself isn’t great, and you might spend a lot of time trying to get it to communicate with your devices. One good thing is that it can easily stream media to other Windows Media Player devices in the homegroup at the click of a button using the ‘play to’ option. Features-wise, it’s in a much lower league than Plex, but it’s still fine for simple use but less inviting otherwise.Although most tablets and consoles support DLNA servers, there are notable exceptions: namely the Wii, Wii U and Playstation 4. Although the Playstation 3 does support DLNA servers, this feature was removed from the Playstation 4 – a design decision that, If you were being cynical, you might say was because Sony wants to ensure that you only view media you’ve bought using it services. That would be pure speculation, though, as there’s never been an official statement as to why it was taken away, and early hopes that it would be patched in further down the line seem to have proven fruitless.Nonetheless, there are ways to stream media to your PS4. Plex is the obvious way. Although the server supports DLNA access, the existence of a native client app for the PS4 means you don’t have to use DLNA to access your media library. However, one thing you do have to do is buy a Plex Pass (plex.tv/subscription/about) for £4 a month, which allows you access to the app and its capabilities. The Plex site claims that this is an ‘early access’ deal and that eventually the app will be free for non-subscribers too, but it launched in December 2014 and no announcement has been made on the timeframe. Buying a Plex Pass also gets you a large range of additional features and access to the (non-mandatory) PS3 software.Once the app is installed, you need to use it to generate a PIN using the server software (on your PC) and then use that to pair it with the client software on your Playstation 4. Once this has been done, you can access the media library on your Plex server as if it was a standard DNLA server. If you own a Wii or Wii U console, you can also use Plex to stream media by making use of the built-in web server it (and other DLNA servers) contain. You can also use this method on any other device with a browser, and notably it’s a good way to access videos on your PS4 without having to pay money for a Plex Pass.To access the server, you need to know the local IP address of the PC running the DLNA server (It’ll probably look like 192.168.xxx.xxx) and the port your server runs on (for Plex it’s port 32400) and the path to the web server (for Plex it’s just ‘/web’). Once you have these bits of information, stitch them together into a single URL – it should look something like http://192.168.1.2:32400/web – and you’ll be able to access your library directly over the network.If that fails, Plex users can also log into their Plex.tv account and try streaming over the web, though it’s worth noting that if you do this from inside your own home it’ll be wildly inefficient – you’ll be both uploading and downloading on the same connection, which will create a bandwidth bottleneck (meaning a low-quality video stream) and count towards your ISP’s monthly data cap (if you have one).While the majority of devices can play most common video formats, there’s one which is quite commonly omitted from the capabilities of most consoles, and doesn’t even have native support on tablets: MKV, the Matroska media container. Notably, both the PS4 and Xbox One do support MKV files, though both of their predecessors don’t, while iOS and Android tablets don’t support the file container natively, meaning you have to download special video playing apps in order to view the files and can’t keep them in your normal photostream or library.You can live with this inconvenience, or find a temporary workaround, but the best way to make MKV files compatible with your existing hardware is simple, if not quick: you can manually transcode them into another format. A permanent video transcode can take a long time and isn’t necessarily worth doing if you’re only intending to watch something once, but if you have a video that you want to retain for archival purposes then it’s definitely worth doing. It’s also useful in that it ensures a high-quality, consistent video stream if you’re watching it remotely, because videos which are transcoded on the fly often drop quality or stutter if the media server is unable to keep up the conversion at full speed.There are many ways to convert MKV files, and you can convert them into any type you like – but the simplest way to do it is to use VLC media player to convert them into MP4 files, which are about as universally supported as file-types get.To make the conversion, download VLC player from VideoLAN’s home page (videolan.org) and install it. The software is free, but be careful not to associate it with all video files if you want to retain your existing player as your main one (though VLC makes a good, universal alternative). Once the software is installed, click on the ‘media’ menu in the top left. Here you’ll find the ‘convert/save’ option, which will prompt you to select a file.When you’ve chosen the file you want to convert, click the arrow next to the ‘Convert/Save’ button in the bottom right and choose ‘convert’. This opens the conversion dialog. Unless you want a specific alternative file format, leave the settings as they are [Video – H.264 + MP3 (MP4)] and create a destination file at the bottom, then hit ‘start’. The video will convert, showing the progress in the main window’s bar.On an average computer this conversion process will probably take between 25-50% of the video’s length to complete, but it could be significantly faster or slower depending on the contents of the video and what else you do with your computer at the same time. For best results, as always, leave the system alone and let it devote its full resources to the video conversion.This technique will render a file that should, all things being well, play on any tablet or console you wish to use. Clearly it’s not as immediate a solution as streaming from a media server, but if you’re looking for a guaranteed useable file then it certainly ticks that box. You should now have all the tools you need to ensure that you can play videos of any type on your console, tablet or other mobile device.Don’t worry if it takes a bit of trial and error, though – over time we’ve learned that video conversion is rarely a straightforward process – and if MP4 doesn’t work you might want to try an alternative format instead. You can check the boxout for some explanations of what each different file type means and why you might want to use them.Media containers are a virtual ‘box’, into which you place audio and video streams so they become a single file. Each has their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, though.While Microsoft’s format supports most video types, using AVI with H.264 video can be problematic for technical reasons that you’ll have to trust us on (investigate B-Frames, if you care). Audio support is good for all formats except Vorbis, as its non-standard implementation can cause problems with Vorbis decoders. Menus, Chapters and Subtitles are not supported. Despite its age, it’s simplicity makes it easily the most supported container, and AVI containers are recognised by virtually every device going.The Matroska media container is an open standard capable of containing virtually any video, audio and subtitle streams. That – considering commercial developers’ preference for push they have at least some financial or strategic interest in – explains its poor support, of course. It’s not recommended for creating files intended to be viewed on portable devices, consoles and smart devices for that very reason.MPEG’s container supports video streams in MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and H.264, audio in AAC and MP3 (as well as several less well-known formats) and is compatible with most modern devices, although older hardware players will struggle to squeeze anything out of it. There is limited support for chapters and subtitles, but menus are fully implemented.Two extensions, one container – Ogg is used for audio-only streams and OGM for audio/video combinations. When used for audio, Ogg has native support for various open file formats, including its own Vorbis audio. The Video For Windows interface allows Ogg containers to support almost any format on a Windows PC, but other devices may struggle to achieve the same results. There is no menu support, but there are full chapter and title capabilities.

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