The DVD Spec is Surprisingly Flexible

Way back in June, I finished ripping the last of the DVDs that we own.  This sounds like amazing progress, but the truth is that ripping is only the first step in getting them ready for our media server so they can be played back on our AppleTV or copied to a portable device for road trips, etc.  After ripping, I have a VIDEO_TS folder and that needs to be converted, using Handbrake, to h.264 video in a nice m4v container, and then I need to properly tag that so it will import into iTunes properly etc.

This isn’t too bad usually.  Movies, for the most part, are fire and forget.  I will occasionally get tripped up by a movie that has one or two subtitled scenes, because I’ll have overlooked the part where I need to burn those subtitles into the picture.  As an aside, you don’t properly appreciate how many languages Magneto speaks in “X-Men: First Class” until you watch it without subtitles.

Anime is… well, it can be a bit of a nightmare, because you run into lots of cases where there are multiple subtitle tracks and track 1 only has song and sign titles so you need to make sure that you’re burning the subtitles from track 2 into the picture.

Usually it’s not too bad, though.  I load up the VIDEO_TS folder in VLC, select the appropriate language tracks from the DVD menu, start an episode and see what track it has selected.  Oftentimes, sitting through the DVD menus and their ever-so-clever transitions and unskippable FBI warnings serves as a reminder of exactly WHY I’m doing this, because some of these DVDs are just painful.

Then there’s Funimation.  I have a special hate for Funimation DVDs, which I’ve mentioned enough times that my wife just kind of rolls her eyes and finds somewhere else to be when I start going on about it.

I’ve ranted about Fruits Basket before, where the subtitle tracks are labeled according to the spoken language of the track and not the displayed language of the subtitles, so when I encoded the Japanese audio track and the English subtitles, I got the Japanese audio and subtitles of the English dialog.  I didn’t notice this when I was spot-checking the subtitles, of course, because they’re generally close.  It’s only when you start watching the series and get to, oh, the opening scene of the second episode where Tohru is in full panic mode about her new animal companions that you realize that what she’s saying in Japanese doesn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to the subtitles and then you curse a bit and re-encode the entire series.

Then I got to Fullmetal Alchemist, and suddenly I had a new level of Funimation-induced rage AND a respect for the flexibility of the DVD spec.

The first four discs of Fullmetal Alchemist have three subtitle tracks.  The subtitles for the Japanese dialog are on track 2.  It also has subtitles for the English dub, and those are usually on the third subtitle track.  This isn’t so bad.

Discs five through thirteen, on the other hand, have two subtitle tracks.  Track 2 looks to be the signs and songs track, and track 1 is… well, track 1 turns out to be interesting.

When I burned the subtitles from track 1, I got subtitles for the English dub.

When you watch the disc in a DVD player with the language set to Japanese, it shows that it is still playing subtitle track 1 and yet it is showing subtitles for the Japanese dialogue.

So apparently a single subtitle track in the DVD spec can be used to hold subtitles for multiple languages depending on the audio language selected, and this is probably what makes VLC explode and what was confusing the version of Handbrake I had been using to do my encodes.

Thankfully, Handbrake 0.10 appears to be smart enough to handle this.  I’m in the process of encoding discs 5 through 13 for the third time and hopefully I’ll get what I want THIS time.

It occurs to me that I’d probably save a ton of time by just downloading these series off the internet, but I’m picky about how I want my encodes set up and I already own the DVDs anyway.  I do try not to think about how much 13 discs of FMA cost, purchased 1 at a time as they were coming out, because that way lies madness.

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