Posted 9 August 2018 by Brendan Kidwell

Organizing and Collecting Media Files

This page contains notes for a presentation I [will give / gave] at the New York Amateur Computer Club on 9 August 2018. A video recording of my presentation will probably be posted here by 25 August 2018.

The short URL for this article is go.glump.net/media-collection .

In this article I will introduce lots of tools and resources you need to collect, organize, consume, and backup media files on your home computer. We will be dealing with books, audio, and video recordings.

The scope of activities covered in this article will be limited to things you can do on a home desktop computer with enough built-in storage, using only GUI (graphical user interface) programs. Except for backup purposes, I won't be using online services to store media, and I won't consider the use of a home file server, or a living room TV. The reader is welcome to explore those topics on their own.

I will mention a few apps that work on phones and tablets. For some activites, I don't have a recommendation for a tool that supports MacOS. I don't have a Mac and it's been years since i've used one, sorry.

The tools I mention here are either free and open source software, or they are at least completely free to download and use. The only exception is a non-free remote backup service I endorse near the end.

A Note about DRM

DRM is the catch-all name for a number of different technologies that are sold to distributors as a means to prevent copyright license violations (“theft”). DRM standas for “Digital Rights Management” or "Digital Restriction Management", depending on who you ask. In effect what DRM does is deter those who possess copies of media from copying and transforming the media, even for personal use.

(I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that) generally it is permissible under the law to copy and any media in your posession, for personal use. Giving copies to someone else, when the item is marked “Copyright, all rights reserved” is a license violation, and may be punishbable under the law. Activities that come under the heading of “fair use” such as making personal backups and converting to another format for personal use are not forbidden by the law.

DVD and Blu-ray videos, and many items you buy as “digital copies” from online stores, are usually DRM-encumbered. It is probably illegal, where you are, to talk about how to break DRM, and to actually break the DRM.

Most people people who understand these issues have no problem “breaking the law” to attain any goal that would be covered under “fair use”. I don't condone or encourage copyright license violations, such as downloading Hollywood films via BitTorrent sites.

Sources of Ebooks

EBooks @ Adelaide Public-domain and licensed-for-sharing ebooks, nicely formatted
Project Gutenberg Large archive of public domain books
Project Gutenberg Australia Might have some public domain books that are still under copyright restrictions in USA
Project Gutenberg Canada Might have some public domain books that are still under copyright restrictions in USA
Amazon Paid ebook downloads from Amazon are generally DRM-encumbered. If you look around, you might find a free “DeDRM” plugin for Calibre ebook collection tool, which can solve that problem.
TOR.COM Sells science-fiction, fantasy, and horror ebooks, all with no DRM

Ebook Converter, Organizer, and Viewer: Calibre

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Home page Calibre
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

Calibre is a tool for collecting, converting, browsing, and reading ebooks. It will sync with almost any handheld reading device and can be configured to automatically convert books to formats supported by your synced device.

Ebook Viewer: ReadEra

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Home page ReadEra on Google Play Store
Available for Android

ReadEra is the best ebook reader on Android for Epub format, which is the most common format for ebooks.

Ebook Viewer: Perfect Viewer

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Home page Perfect Viewer on Google Play Store
Available for Android

Perfect Viewer is the best Android viewer for comic books and PDF files. For PDF files, you must also install the PDF plugin.

Sources of Audio Books and Music

Jamendo Free-to-share music
Audio CDs
Amazon, Itunes, Google Play, etc. Make sure you know how to remove the DRM from your downloads before you buy, or else you're not going to have a good time.
gPodder.net Large catalog of free-to-download podcast audio series. Podcasts are almost always distributed DRM-free.

Audio Converter: Fre:ac

Home page Fre:ac
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

Fre:ac can copy music from Audio CDs (also called “CD ripping”), and it can convert from and to a number of supported audio formats.

If you have an Android phone with a small memory and you want to store lots of audiobooks or podcasts on it, I highly recommend using Fre:ac to convert your audiobooks to 24kbps mono (1 channel) Opus format. Use AIMP to play them.

Audio Tagging Tool: EasyTAG

Home page EasyTAG
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

Use EasyTAG to edit the tags in your audio files. It supports editing individual files and also tagging and renaming whole groups of files at once.

If you collect many audio recordings with separate files inside the recording for chapters and songs, you'll definitely want to make sure all of your collection is tagged in a consistent way, to make it easier to find things later in a library player like Clementine (see below).

Audio Podcast Downloader: gPodder

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Home page gPodder
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

I mentioned the gPodder.net podcast catalog earlier in this article. They also make this podcast downloader and player. gPodder lets you search and subscribe to podcasts from the gPodder.net catalog, or add a URL you know for any other podcast that's not listed in the catalog. gPodder can automatically download new episodes, or you can manually trigger downloads of specific episodes as you browse available episodes.

Audio Library Player: Clementine

Home page Clementine
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

Clementine will scan your whole library of audio files, then let you browse or search and add items to a playlist, which you can then run.

Audio Player: AIMP

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Home page AIMP
Available for Windows; Android

AIMP will play MP3, Ogg Vorbis, Opus, and other formats. It supports multiple playlists, with each playlist remembering the exact playback position where you last stopped it.

I mention AIMP specifically in this list because it's the best way to play Opus files on an Android device. Sound recordings aren't often distributed in Opus format, but Opus is a great format for cramming lots of audiobooks, interviews, and talk shows into a small space.

Sources of Videos

Your own store-bought DVDs and Blu-rays These are almost all DRM-encumbered, but we have tools to copy them.
YouTube YouTube is a treasure-trove of free entertainment and educational videos. We have a tool that can save videos for offline viewing.

Video Converter: HandBrake

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Home page HandBrake
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

Handbrake is the easiest-to-use tool for converting DVD Video, Blu-ray Video, and most video file formats into the format you choose to use for your collection.

The output format that works best for me is: Official → Matroska → H.264 MKV 480p30. (“480p30” means 480 rows of pixels in the picture and 30 frame per second – the picture format a DVD Video.) Make sure you look at the Subtitles tab and include any subtitle tracks you want in your converted file.

Matroska (MKV) is the best “container” format for video files because it supports chapters, multiple audio streams, and multiple caption tracks all in one file.

H.264 is the video compression technology that largely replaced MPEG-2, which is the compression used on DVDs. H.264 consumes less space and requires more processing power than MPEG2. Almost any device you own can play H.264 files at 480p resolution with no trouble.

H.265 video compression is an upgrade from H.264. It consumes even less space than H.264 and requires more processing power than H.264. Because many devices made in the last 10 years don't perform well enough for H.265 480p video, I recommend you don't use this format.

HandBrake can rip DVDs and Blu-rays directly from original, DRMed discs, in Windows. Follow this guide to setup HandBrake for that.

In Linux it's best to use a separate tool to copy a DVD or Blu-ray to your hard drive first. See below.

Video Disc Ripping and Burning Tool for Linux: K3b

Home page K3b
Available for Linux

K3b is a general optical disc creator and extractor tool for Linux. You can use it to copy DVD Video and Blu-Ray video discs and strip the DRM, before using HandBrake to convert the video to another, more compressed format.

MKV Video Tag Editor: MKVToolNix

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Home page MKVToolNix
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

MKVToolNix will let you edit the Title or other metadata of MKV files you've created with HandBrake.

Video Cutting and Recoding Tool: Avidemux

Home page Avidemux
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

Avidemux can losslessly cut and combine video files – that is, it makes the edits without re-encoding all the data so you don't suffer a generation loss. This is great for trimming the beginning and end off recordings of live events without degrading the quality.

Avidemux can also apply various filters if you do re-encode the video.

Web Video Downloader: YouTube-dl-gui

Home page YouTube-dl-gui
Available for Linux; Windows

YouTube-dl-gui downloads video files from YouTube, and dozens of other video sharing sites. Use this to save an offline copy of any free video programs on the Internet.

Media Player for Your TV: Kodi

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Home page Kodi
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS; Android; IOS

Kodi is an all-in-one full-screen media player designed for living room TVs. If you've got a computer with a remote control plugged into your entertainment center, you'll probably want to use Kodi for all your music and video playback. Kodi can play media from Internet services as well as from file collections stored locally on your TV's computer or shared from other computers in your local network.

Audio/Video Player: VLC

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Home page VLC
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS; Android; IOS

VLC is an advanced audio and video player that can play almost ANY format, and even successfully plays some damaged files that other players won't open.

Be sure to go into Tools → Preferences and, select Show All Settings then set Interface → Main interfaces → Qt → Continue playback to Always. Then VLC will always remember where you stopped in every file.

Audio/Video Player: SMPlayer

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Home page SMPlayer
Available for Linux; Windows

I like to use SMPlayer for podcasts and other long files. It has a simpler interface than VLC, and it always remembers the playback position in every file, by default.

Photo Management Tool: digiKam

Home page digiKam
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

digiKam is probably the most popular free and open source tool for managing your personal photo collection. You can use it to tag and edit photos. It has advanced features like support for “RAW” camera files.

Backup Tool: Grsync

Home page Grsync
Available for Linux; Windows; MacOS

Grsync is a wrapper around the popular rsync command line tool. Grsync's and rsync's job is essentially “make the destination be the same as the source”. You can use it to backup your media file collections to an external hard drive. After the initial run, it will only copy what's changed to the destination, and it will skip all the files that haven't changed.

Use two external hard drives in rotation, as your backup devices. Then, if you destroy the backup while you have it plugged into your computer, you still have the other backup on the second device.

Use three external hard drives in rotation. Every month, swap one of the two you have on-site with one you keep at your Mom's house. Then if you house burns down, you still have your home movies. :^)

Online Backup Service: Carbonite

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Home page Carbonite
Available for Windows; MacOS

Carbonite is the only non-free resource I mention in this article, because it's not just software – it's a service. Carbonite is a set-it-and-forget it service with a client you install on your Windows or MacOS computer. After you mark the collections to be backed up, Carbonite uploads, and then continuously keeps everything on the remote copy up-to-date whever you edit files in your collections.

Carbonite's service plans start at $6/month for unlimited backup size for one computer. Additional computers cost more.

If you're thinking about using Carbonite to backup video files, be aware of how much data you'll be transmitting from your home to Carbonite over the Internet when you get started, how much you'll likely be uploading every month, and how much you'll have to download if you lose your computer. Can your Internet connection handle that load? Do you have a data transfer quota? Look into these details before you sign up for Carbonite or any other remote backup service.

Always remember, when you're looking for software or an Internet service to provide a specific function, you should start with AlternativeTo.net. they provide short summaries for thousands of applications and services across many different platforms. All entries are clearly labelled as being free and open source software or not, and will include a warning if users have noticed the software doing anything naughty.

Here are three web sites with lots of great advice for manipulating audio and video files:

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