Ripping DVDs

In 2010 the U.S. Government Library of Congress Copyright Office announced policy changes that let owners of electronic devices break security protections within the device to allow non-authorized code and programs to be run on the operating system.  What does that mean? It means you can load non supported software on your game system or cell phone but it also means  you can copy your own CDs & DVDs to play on your computer, iPod, iPad or any other device you might want to put them on. Legally. Today I'm going to focus on how to encode your DVDs to play on your iPod or iPad. In the tech community it's called "ripping" a DVD.

There are a lot of different software tools that you can use to rip a DVD but some of the best ones are free. For Mac, some of my favorite tools are RipIt, MacTheRipper , and Handbrake.  Handbrake & MacTheRipper are free and RipIt is a paid for application. My default  for ripping a DVD is Handbrake. 

Handbrake is a great application with a lot of options. It's easy to use but can be intimidating if you are a first time user. To create a file in the right format with the right combination of quality and file size takes a bit of practice and experimentation. You may want the best quality possible so it looks gorgeous on your 42" TV. You might want a small file size to fit on your iPod or iPhone. Whatever your requirements, Handbrake can do it. Just be aware that quality, file size & the time it takes to encode it are all related. If you want high quality file it will take longer to rip and your file size will be bigger. If you want a small file the rip time will be shorter but your quality may suffer.  All that and you have to consider what file type you want as well. 

Not everyone uses the same computer operating system. Not only that but there are companies out there pushing to get you to use their proprietary standards because it makes them money. Adobe has Flash, Microsoft has Silverlight and Windows Media Files (WMV) and Apple has Quicktime. Everyone has a stake in the game. Since we are all about Apple on this site I'm going to talk about one of the better codecs out there, H.264 .MP4 &.M4V files. It sounds like some military program but these file types offer a great compression (small file size) but with high quality picture. It does take a little longer to encode but it's worth it. Best of all it's the default file type for all things Apple (iPod, iPhone, AppleTV & Mac).

DVD Ripping

1) download the Handbrake application making sure to get the 64-bit Intel version if you are running the latest Mac OS:

2) To rip DVDs you will also need an application called VLC. It will allow you to read the encrypted DVD:

Install both Handbrake and VLC and make sure that the VLC is in your application folder in order for Handbrake to find it. Don't squirrel it away somewhere else or things might not work.

3)  Once you've loaded the applications start up Handbrake. It should look like this:

4)  Click the source button in the upper left corner and select the DVR disk icon. As an extra bonus you can also select a single file to convert as well. This would allow you to convert from one format to another in case someone emails you a file that you can't play on your Mac.

5) Now you're ready to start setting up the variables for encoding your DVD. If you don't see the Presets list to the right of your screen click the "Toggle Presets" button.

6) There should be a list of standard conversions that you can choose from. My list in the fist screen shot above has the standard list as well as some extras settings I saved for different qualities and formats that I want to use over and over again.  If you find you are using a single setting repeatedly you just click the "+" at the bottom of the list and save it. 

In the Presets list there are a lot of different settings you can choose from. For playing on an iPod touch, iPhone, iPad or Mac click the "Universal" preset under Apple. It doesn't give you the best picture but as the name implies the file that you create should play on all Apple devices.

7) Next make sure that "MP4 File" is set in the Output Settings and H.264 is set in the Video Codec:

There are a lot of subtle changes you can make to your output file. To give a good quality output file I use the  "Average bitrate (kbps)" setting.  This allows you to change the bitrate of the encoding process to your liking. Basically the higher the bitrate the better the picture quality. You don't want to go crazy with it, just find a value that gives you a picture quality you want. Just be aware that the higher the value the longer it will take to encode the video. Depending you the Mac you have (older is slower) it can take a while. 

I've found that a value of 1200 - 1500 works very well for portable devices. You can push that way up to 2500 or larger if you want but for a DVD the max you want is 2500. That's about as good as it gets and the higher value just costs you time. The picture isn't any better.

Clicking "2-pass encoding" and "Turbo first pass" will also help picture quality. But that means that the encoding will take longer time. As the name suggests it makes 2 passes over the video and optimizes the quality for the bitrate you have chosen.

8) Now all you do is make sure that the "Destination" is set. Click "Browse" and select the folder you want the video to be written to and make sure you have a unique name for your movie file. Hit the start button at the top and you should start processing.

Depending on the length of your movie, how complex the video is (lots of action, is it dark or light) and the other variables I talked about above in step 7, you just sit and wait for it to finish. It may be as much as an hour  or more so be patient.  Once it's done, take the output file and drag it into iTunes so you can sync it to your iPod, or other Apple device.. 

There are a lot of options you can change in Handbrake. These include some subtle tweaks you can make  to get rid of the interlacing, changing the sound quality, adding subtitles and other fun variables. I plan on revisiting this topic later and covering some of those in a separate blog post.

If you want to learn more you can always read the Handbrake Manual .

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