Mrs. VT recently got me a new AVR with HDMI inputs which fundementally altered the way I was storing non-TV sourced HD content. These are the tools that I use, and some rational behind them. All told there's only about 5-10 min of real work per file (there is some waiting), but in the end the experience on the other end is excellent. All I miss are the menus, and I don't miss them much :)
Eac3to: If you're not comfortable with command line applications, this may not be the right tool for you (although there seems to be a GUI too), but it's easy to use and does all the necessary conversion and demuxing.
Suprip: OK I lied, eac3to will demux subtitles (SUP) but it won't convert them to SRT. You don't really want to completely automate the process because it's OCR. This is the only really tediuos task, it's boring but just takes about five minutes. If you use SageTV on the PC install SubtitleRender to get the subs, MPC-HC and the HD200 should work without doing anything extra.
MKV: I've gone back and forth on what container I want to use to store the digtial content once it's liberated from a physical container. Right now I think MKV is the right choice mostly because it is the only one to provide lossless audio, chapters and subtitle support outside of PDVD or TMT. While there is a MKV splitter included in MPC-HC, I've had some trouble using it outside of their application, so like the rest of the world I use Haali (but I wish they would either OSS the wrapper or respond to their listserv). Mux with mkvmerge, an excellent application included in mkvtoolnix.
FLAC: If you have a multi channel HDMI connection to your AVR FLAC is the way to go (even if you don't, it may still be*). Unless you drop serious cash on a sound card that only works with PDVD or a different card that only works with TMT you can't bitstream the lossless audio to your AVR (I'll happyily admit to being a HTPC fanboi, but even I see the folly in a sound card that costs as much as a standalone player). IMO lossless audio is lossless audio, bitstreaming snobs may take issue with the approach but my take is that FLAC provides lossless audio now; if another solution comes along that can match the experience while making the pretty lights on the AVR go on I can always remux the mkv. Eac3to handles lossless encoding - madFlac to decode.
MPC-HC Video Decoder: This is the only 3rd party decoder that I'm aware of that does HWA VC-1 decoding (for non-Nvidia cards). When I stopped using M2TS, the HWA VC-1 decoder (ArcSoft) stopped working (won't connect to Haali) so I was using the WMVideo DMO. The PQ is fine, but since it doesn't support HWA I developed some noise issues on my main HTPC (125 watt 9950 X4) whlie watching longer movies. This decoder also does HWA h264, but while it will connect to pretty much anything that presents AVC1 or H264 it really only works with the Haali Splitter (or the MPC Spiltter) so if you have non-mkv h264 content you will need to dial back the codec support. To make that easy, I've included some reg files that set it up correctly. Note the filter also does DIVX and XVID, I don't have any content in this format so I don't know how good of a job it does but the reg files left it as a working format.
AC3: For completeness I also mux in a secondary AC-3 audio stream for my HD200; while it can decode FLAC the device struggles with it some times. Since it's only connected to a TV with two speakers there's no reason to make it work hard, so I just choose the AC3 stream when I watch something there. If you opt to do this as well, make sure that FLAC is the first and default audio track (when muxing with mkvmerge) because most PC players (MC and SageTV) don't currently support audio stream switching (the HD200 does).
Reclock: Completely optional, but it has some very interesting features.
- WASAPI: essentially a way to make sure that the bit that is decoded is the bit that your AVR gets
- * Realtime AC3 encoding: if you have a HDMIless AVR that doesn't support your multi-channel format (FLAC, WMAPro, AAC, DTS) - let the PC do the decoding and Reclock can encode it to AC3 for SPDIF
- Elminate null channels: Vista sends blank data in all the channels that don't have data when you output PCM to your AVR. With this enabled, if your audio source has 5.1 channels of data 5.1 channels of data are passed to the AVR instead of 7.1 where two channels don't have volume.
- Automatic refresh rate switching: my tv doesn't support 24p so I can't say how well this works
Reclock does have some drawbacks, with the biggest being that you shouldn't bitstream anything (even formats your AVR supports). But I think that's a reasonable trade-off for what it does.