Back when I reviewed the Droid X2, I mentioned my discovery of DLNA, a media network streaming protocol available on that device and, it turns out, most other wireless devices as well. But DLNA turns out not to be as universally flexible as I had hoped.
To successfully stream content to a device, the DLNA player on that device must be able to support both the codec (i.e., data compression method) and the "container" (i.e., multimedia packaging). But the fun doesn't stop there. Even a single codec such as H.264 has at least a dozen individual settings that must be in right combinations to play on any particular platform.
I have only the most rudimentary understanding of these settings, and would not attempt to explain them here. But I will review my experience in trying to convert my DVD collection into media streamable to my hodge-podge of wireless devices with the aid of Handbrake.
Handbrake is a free program that converts DVDs (and other media formats) into one of two containers, MP4 and MKV, using one of two codecs, ffmpeg and H.264. H.264 is the more advanced of the two (as far as I know) and the one I've been working with. To ease the way for novice users like myself, Handbrake also has a collection of presets for specific devices, supposedly to support their specific capabilities. But these presets are mainly designed for media stored on the devices' internal memory. They are not necessarily designed for DLNA. DLNA devices often list a certain "level" (e.g., "4.1") that describes (I think) that rate at which media can be streamed to it; however, this does not create a one-to-one mapping with codec settings, and in any case seems unlikely to be the culprit in the limits I will describe.
My goal was to create stream-able media for three devices: an iPad2, a Droid X2, and a Sony 3D Blu-ray player. To do this, I used Handbrake to create five H.264 presets -- Normal, High Profile, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android High -- for each of the two containers. In this example, the file server was a Iomega Home Media Drive.
Sony Blu-ray: All of the mkv files play correctly. None of the mp4 files played. I should note here that the errors came in two flavors: sometimes the file wasn't even visible as being present on the drive. Sometimes the media was visible, but refused to play. I should note here that Sony distinguishes itself by having the ability to play raw TS_Video files (but only sequentially, not as they would play from the disk itself or as VLC or MPC would play them) over DLNA. But MP4 files? Not that I could find.
Droid X2: Ironically, considering that this device introduced me to DLNA, the Droid X2 the weakest of the bunch. Using my test movie and the Droid's default player, mkv files weren't even visible, and of the five mp4 files I created, only two played successfully: iPad and Normal. Now, starting with the iPad presets, I was able to reduce the resolution to a size appropriate to the iPod Touch (and the X2 as well, although the Droid's resolution is technically much higher). This worked, and saved a few hundred MB off the file size from the original iPad preset, but not as much savings as the iPod Touch presets gave me.
iPad: This turned out to be the most flexible. Unlike the X2 and the Sony, the iPad doesn't come with a DLNA player built in. I test five DLNA apps, and had positive results with two: 8Player Lite and MediaPlay. Of these two, 8Player Lite is the most stable, but the Lite version limits the playable files to the first five in any given directory. MediaPlay had no such limits, but had trouble finding the server on a number of occasions and doesn't play AVI files. Both players had the same range: they played all the MKV files and they played the MP4 files with the iPad and Normal presets.
Unless my readers school me in media formats, it appears that I will fail to find a Handbrake format that plays on both the X2 and the Sony. Now, I should mention at this point that the most portable container format appears to be AVI. I have quite a collection of AVI movies, brought back from ISAF, but I have no free way of making them myself. (The only truly free AVI maker I could find was Avidemux, but it doesn't read DVD files, and the AVI files I tried to make with it were ALSO unreadable on a couple of the devices.
I should also mention that my Panasonic p55st50 also has built-in wireless, and also has a DLNA player with a broader list of supported formats. But my Denon receiver strips off the sound from the Blu-ray player and sends it to the speakers; if I wanted sound streamed directly to the television to play on the surround-sound, I would need to run a separate sound cable from the television back to the receiver.
The bottom line is that unless one of my readers can give me some guidance here, I will probably despair of creating DLNA Droid-playable movies.