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DVD to Nokia 9500/9300

Getting DVD content (that you own, I hasten to add, I'm not advocating anything illegal here) onto your new Nokia 9500 (or 9300) Communicator isn't trivial. But, having spent countless hours playing with all the options, I hereby present my own humble guide to doing it as well as it can be done.

Intro and expectations

First and foremost, it should be recognised that the Nokia 9500 hasn't got the speediest processor in the world, at 150MHz, plus it hasn't got the right-shaped screen for watching traditional video images. Which means that there are going to have to be some compromises made. By default, Nokia provides a licensed version of RealPlayer for handling video playback, although, as on other platforms, RealPlayer's performance is less than stellar and the moment you give it anything demanding to play (such as video with a picture size of greater than the default 176 by 144 pixels, 'QCIF'), the frame rate drops alarmingly and you get stutters in the audio.

So, as we can't change the ROM-based video playback software, we'll have to go third-party. The only two contenders at the moment are SmartMovie and Makayama Mobile Media Maker (Nokia), both based on the open-source XviD codec (like DivX, but free), which come as both a 9500-hosted player and a smart PC-based encoder. Although all the underlying encoding/decoding is all based on open-source code, SmartMovie and Mobile Media Tool are pay-for-tools, but this can be forgiven because the developers have gone to some lengths to optimise things for the 9500, even down to a mock-Communicator drawn on their converter desktop.

DVD to 9500

And so to the focus of this article, getting DVD video content onto your Nokia 9500. As you'll have seen if you've played with any of the 'all-in-one' solutions marketed for other handheld platforms, there are essentially two stages involved:

  1. Ripping the DVD and demultiplexing its VOB files to something more standard (usually MPEG-1 or some codec flavour of AVI)
  2. Converting this intermediate file to something optimised for a specific handheld, with limited screen size and processor power.

DVD conversions, the SmartMovie way

SmartMovie's best feature is being able to zoom in and crop a typical 4:3 aspect video picture to something close to 16:9, meaning a wider, closer and clearer picture then you'd get with a standard QCIF-size video.

Importantly, its playback performance pushes the 9500's processor to its limit, with between 8 and 12 frames per second at a picture size of 320 by 200 pixels, with good quality mono sound. Don't expect stereo, by the way, for your own private cinema, as this pushes the processor just a little too far and you'll get crackles and stutters.

Ripping

There are several suitable freeware ripping tools, but I strongly recommend the open-source DVDx, shown below. This is very slick and takes any DVD and produces an AVI or MPEG-1/2 video file on your hard disk. Of course, if you're simply trying to get an existing video file onto your 9500, just skip this step completely and go straight to the SmartMovie encoding stage.

The freeware DVDx in action

I recommend ripping to VideoCD resolution (352 by 288), giving SmartMovie's cropping tool enough to work with, without worrying about filling up your hard disk with the ripped clip. Rip to an 'AVI' file, with any convenient codec (the Cinepak one is common and works well - there's no point in getting too fancy, as it's only an intermediate file!). You can leave 'Zoom' alone, at 'Full', because you're going to do the zooming/cropping in SmartMovie's desktop. Set 'Volume don't exceed' to 'Infinite' if you want to keep your movie/DVD footage all together in one single file. Note that DVD-ripping takes a while, typically many hours. So leave it overnight!

Optimising for the handheld

SmartMovie's desktop converter, shown below, is very slick and fast at recoding your video files to XviD-encoded AVI file at handheld picture size and bit rate.

SmartMovie's converter in action

For best results, go for the 'Medium' crop mode. Don't be tempted by going for 'Full' or even for going into 'Preferences' and switching the converter into the correct 640 by 200 device mode. If the picture size is any wider than the aforementioned 320 by 200 pixels, the frame rate will drop sufficiently to be a big distraction. Leave the device screen size set to '400 by 200' and stick to 'Medium' cropping. As explained earlier, force 'mono' sound, as the 9500 can't cope with displaying video and decoding stereo at the same time. You can leave the code set to 'XviD', obviously and take the default video bitrate of 112kbps, at which rate you'll get about a minute of high quality video per Megabyte of file size.

Proof of the pudding

Copy the resulting file (or files, if you set DVDx to split your DVD into several sequentially-named files) into a folder on your Nokia 9500 and install and start up the SmartMovie player. Note that the interface is horribly non-standard (and I won't go into trying to explain it here), but playback itself is what counts and if you stuck to my recommendations above you should find you have some very watchable footage.

Typical 320 by 200 picture size in SmartMovie, at around 8 to 10fps

Makayama Mobile Media Maker (Nokia)

The reliability of this tool has been gradually increasing and, as I write this, in June 2005, a major rewrite of the PC converter promises a quantum leap in convenience and quality.

As it is, Makayama's XviD player on the Nokia 9500 has a frame performance at least twice that of SmartMovie's, so it's well worth keeping an eye on Mobile Media Maker during the summer.


(C) 2004, 2005 Steve Litchfield

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