There are two ways to do video conversion from your DVD to a file for viewing on your PDA: direct from the DVD, or by ripping the DVD first and then converting the ripped file. I have found that the best bet is to rip the DVD first. This has two advantages: it saves wear and tear on your DVD drive, and it allows you to reconvert your video if you find it necessary.
I have also found it a good idea to choose a few representative minutes of your DVD and rip and convert those. This takes a bit of extra time, but it can save you (literally) hours of trouble by allowing you to tweak your conversion settings with a short 100-300 MB file, instead of the 3.5-5 GB file of a full film. For my Zodiac, I have my settings down pretty well, so these days I usually don’t have to convert a clip for testing purposes, but for the Universal, I’m still at the clip conversion/testing stage.
For ripping DVDs, I use a free utility called Divx Converter. DVD Shrink lets you edit what you are ripping, so that you clip out the credits if you like, or choose your 3-5 minutes of test clip. The interface is a little wonky and takes a few tries to get used to, but after you’ve done it a few times it’s really pretty simple. Other folks like to use DVD Decrypt, but I personally don’t like it. I find the interface too clunky, and you can’t do any editing, which is a deal-breaker for me. Both DVD Decrypt and DVD Shrink get around the various copy protection software that are built into most DVDs. The only DVD that I have been unable to rip so far using Shrink is “Sin City;” I have no idea why.
In DVD Shrink, choose “Re-author,” then in the right-hand pane double-click the film name. You will then get a list of the items on the DVD. Drag the appropriate item from the right-hand pane to the left and drop it there. Next, click the “Compressions Setting” tab, and deselect everything except the audio track you want; this will save you a lot of space. Then just click the “Backup” button, wait 30-60 minutes (depending on how fast your CD drive is), and you will have your film ripped.
For conversion, there are a lot of tools available out there these days, some of them simple, drag’n'drop, one button solutions (VirtualDubMod), some massively complex, heavily configurable applications (Dr. DivX). I have tested upwards of a dozen applications (Converter, VirtualDub, Pocket DVD Wizard, Pocket DVD Studio, Dr. DivX, Dr. DivX 2.0, DVD Catalyst, SUPER, VeMoDe, Lathe, PocketDivXEncoder, DVD to Pocket PC, and probably a couple of others that I can’t remember right now) using a bunch of different test files from several different movies and TV shows (“Play It Again, Sam;” “The Incredibles,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” “Serenity,” “Office Space,” “Firefly,” “Alias,” and a few others). My testing has led me to believe that , using the latest DivX codecs, is the best bet for all-around playback.
The key in Dr. DivX is to make sure that you select the proper *screen width*. For the Universal, this would of course be 640; for my Zodiac, it’s 480. This allows you to use the “100%” setting in TCPMP, which cuts down on the amount of on-the-fly conversionhas to do, and thus gives you better playback. Adjust your screen height based on the aspect ratio of the original film. I prefer un-cropped, but it’s up to you, of course.
Other than that, you’re going to have to experiment with Dr. DivX a bit to get settings that work best for you. For my Zodiac, I can convert films at 900kbps video, 80kbps audio, which gives me a nice sharp image, as well as very smooth playback. The Universal doesn’t have a separate GPU, though, so the films need to be converted at a much lower rate–around 500kbps, I’m finding, although I haven’t found an optimum setting as of yet.
For TCPMP playback on the Universal, it’s best to set video size at 100%, and use the Intel Xscale setting. But I’m still playing with it to find the best bet. The less on-the-fly converting the tool has to do, the smoother your playback will be.