Converting your DVDs to Digital Files

Legal disclaimer: Although the following information could be viewed as encouragement for the purpose of distribution of copy-protected video assets to family, friends, colleagues and strangers, that is certainly not the intent, nor does Allgaier Consulting condone or endorse such illegal activities. More information here.

I haven't owned a DVD player for almost 8 years now, and I've never owned a Blu-Ray player. It's one of the best decisions I've made when it comes to managing home (multimedia) entertainment.

With DVDs, they get scratched, lost, colored on (we have young children) and otherwise rendered inoperable. Each time that happens, its $20 down the drain, and you're headed to Walmart to pick up a replacement. Not only that, but with physical media, you can only watch that movie in one location at one time, not to mention it's time-consuming to continually swap out discs. It can be fairly inconvenient all around.

The solution: convert your DVD library to digital files using Handbrake (free). Handbrake is available for Mac, Windows and Linux. Although it's fairly simple to use (especially with the recently-released version 0.9.9), there are a few tricks I've learned over the years that I will impart here to help you keep all your hair in tact. Let's dive right in.

Note: before you can use Handbrake, you will need to download and install VideoLAN's free VLC video player. Handbrake uses video technology that it doesn't contain natively, so it relies on VLC player for this. Don't worry, both Handbrake and VLC player are safe for your computer (I've been using them both for years).  Mac users will also need to download and install "libdvdcss.pkg".

First thing you will want to do after you've inserted a DVD is to launch Handbrake. Immediately, it will prompt you for a source location. Point it to your DVD, and click "Open". It will take Handbrake a few seconds to read in the DVD's contents. Once that's done, you will then want to change the Video Codec from the default "H.264" to "MPEG-4 (FFmpeg)". Ordinarily, I really like the H.264 video codec, but it tends to be a little buggy with Handbrake and can result in unusable files in excess of 15 GB (yikes!). By comparison, normal file sizes tend to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.0 - 2.5 GB.

After you have selected the correct video codec, you will want to change the video quality from the default 50% to 100%. To do this, simply drag the quality slider all the way to the right. 

Next, we need to change the picture settings. Click on "Picture Settings" at the top of the window. On the resulting HUD (Heads-Up Display), change the "Anamorphic" setting from the default "Loose" to "None". This will ensure that you have the proper aspect ratio when you're done ripping the file.

When you're done there, close the HUD. This will take you back to the main window. From there, click "Start", and Handbrake will begin to rip your DVD. The length of this process can take up to 90 minutes, depending on your system resources and the length of the movie. When you're done, you will be left with a .m4v file on your Desktop (unless you designate it to be saved elsewhere).

Below is a video walking you through the process, step-by-step. 

By the way, if you haven't seen "Antitrust" (the movie I am ripping in the video above), you should. It's a great tech movie. 

Now that you've converted your physical DVD to a digital file, it's time to use it. Drag the new file into your iTunes library. From here, you can sync it with your own iPad, iPhone, etc. Alternatively, you can share your library with the rest of your network, and access that same file from anywhere on your network. For example, you can watch that movie on your iPad while in another room, or on an Apple TV. In either scenario, you will need to make sure that Home Sharing is enabled on your devices.

What does my home entertainment system look like?
I have 3 TVs (each with its own Apple TV connected) and a variety of iOS devices. I have all my movies, TV shows and music stored in my iTunes library on a Mac mini. That Mac mini acts as a "server", allowing the rest of my devices (iOS devices and Apple TVs) to connect to it. I can even watch the same movie on different devices, at different points in the movie... all at the same time. It's so simple, my 4-year-old knows how to navigate the system, find the movie he wants to play, and plays it. 

Posted on May 21, 2013 and filed under How To, Mac.