Dec 292017
 

I’m not one for fan films. I’ve been on the Internet in one form or another since 300 baud modems were a thing. (Remember when the BBS and Quantum Link were a thing? My geek credentials are solid.) I’ve seen a lot of truly horrible fan films. I’ve also been a Star Trek fan since I was in diapers; so I’ve seen a lot of truly horrible Star Trek fan films.

The quality of Star Trek fan films in the past few years has been incredible, however. Not only has the technology improved, but people who were a part of the actual series have been getting in on the deal. Dozens of actors and crew from all of the Star Trek franchises have been getting involved thanks to their shared love of the series. (Of course, this was before CBS became self-righteous jerks about what qualifies as a “fan film”, but that’s a topic for another time.)

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One of my favorites, Star Trek Continues, has recently made all of its episodes available for download  in ISO format through bittorrent. (They tried to make the disc images available on their web site, but they underestimated their popularity. Their server did not appreciate that at all.)

Soon afterward, questions started to arise on their Facebook page about what to do with those images. They understandably said that they can’t do technical support; but as someone who works with ISOs, video editing, disc authoring, and video rendering regularly, I end up taking for granted that my knowledge on the subject is common, which it definitely is not.

So here’s a bit of a primer for anyone who needs help with disc ISOs in general, not just for Star Trek Continues. Fortunately, most of the packages I mention are available for multiple operating systems, not just Windows.

Mounting an ISO image

Windows 10 by default can mount an ISO image as a new drive by simply double-clicking on the ISO file. Microsoft also has a Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel available for older versions of Windows. I prefer a bit more control so I’ve been using SlySoft’s Virtual CloneDrive for many years. Whichever version you use is entirely up to you.

To mount the ISO through Windows, go into Windows Explorer to wherever the ISO was downloaded. With Windows built-in tools, right click on the ISO file then click Mount. With Virtual CloneDrive, right-click on the ISO file then click Mount (Virtual CloneDrive drive_letter). Once you mount the ISO, it will appear as a new Windows drive.

Although Linux versions might differ in how to mount an ISO image, the general method is as follows.

  • Create the directory where the ISO will be mounted, such as below:
    • mkdir /mnt/Star_Trek_Continues (or sudo mkdir /mnt/Star_Trek_Continues)
  • Mount the ISO file to the directory you just created
    • sudo mount -o loop -t udf pathtobluray.iso /mnt/Star_Trek_Continues

Packages specifically for handling ISO images can be added, too. libcdio-utils seems to be a popular one. As is always the case with UNIX and its variants, there are lots of ways to do the same thing. But if you use Linux, you’re obviously not afraid of using a search engine to find out information.

Mac? I have no idea. I refuse to own (or at least purchase) Apple hardware. I love building my own PCs; and I can build a  high-end Windows or Linux box for half the price of a comparable Apple system. If someone ever wants to give me older Apple hardware to play with, I’m game; but I won’t actively buy one myself.

Once the ISO is mounted, you need to either play the disc image as you would a regular disc or you need to convert the video files into separate video files that you can play.

Playing The Disc Image

To play the disc image, I highly recommend installing and using VLC Media Player as your main video and audio playback tool. It’s free, open-source, and available for every modern OS.

Once VLC is installed:

  • Start VLC
  • Click Media
  • Click either Open Folder… or Open Disc…
  • Navigate to wherever the ISO is mounted
  • Click Select Folder

That should do it! I will admit that VLC handles DVDs well, but it seems to have problems with Blu-rays.

Converting The Disc To Video Files

This part is more convoluted, but it could make things easier in the long run and it allows you to take the video files with you.

Anyone who does video conversions will tell you that the only package you should use for converting discs to video files is Handbrake, bar none. It’s free, open-source, easy to use, and will crush your CPU to convert files as quickly as possible. It’s glorious!

With the ISO mounted, start Handbrake. It should automatically recognize that a disc is available and show it in the Source Selection list. Click on that and it will scan the ISO to find any content. This is the same regardless of whether you mount the DVD or the Blu-ray.

I’m not going to go into the gritty details about Handbrake or its options because there are a lot of settings to it. Follow these general settings and you should be fine.

By default, Handbrake will choose the first video file it sees that it assumes is a main feature. You can see this in the Title list in the upper left. I prefer to use MKV files instead of MP4. MKV is still an MP4 file but it retains some functions that MP4 files don’t keep like chapters. You can rename the file or change the destination directory to whatever you want in the File field.

As for the actual settings, look at each of the screen shots below to see how I set each tab. (The screen shots are for DVD. I’ll explain the Blu-ray differences afterward.) You can obviously play with these settings to get different results; however, altering them could decrease compatibility with various players. The settings that I have listed below should yield a file that is compatible on just about any player, including Roku and Apple TV.

 

For Blu-ray, you need to change the following items:

  • Picture tab: Resolution height to either 720p or 1080p (make sure that “Keep aspect ratio” is checked before you change that value)
  • Filters tab: Turn Deinterlace off.
  • Video tab: Set quality to 18 or 20.

Once those are all set up, click Start Encode and wait. Handbrake will send your CPU to 100% utilization. That’s normal. You’ll be able to see how long it thinks it will take in the status bar at the bottom of the window.

To speed things up, you can always change the Encoder Preset (in the Video tab) to a faster setting, but you will get a lower quality file. Set this to whatever setting you can tolerate. The slower it’s set to, the better the resulting file will look.

Once the file is done, click on the Title drop box in the upper left, select the next video, check the settings again, start the encoding, lather, rinse, and repeat until the files are all done. (Note that the actual episodes will be at least 40 minutes long. The rest are menus or extras.)

Once the episodes are rendered, load them up in VLC or whatever you use for video playback and enjoy!

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