When HandBrake won't rip your DVDs

Reader Steven Pollock seeks a digital copy of a movie he recently purchased. He writes:

I read Macworld’s story about how to rip DVDs with HandBrake and I’m having a problem. I’d like to rip a DVD that I recently purchased so that I can view it on my iPad. But when HandBrake starts scanning it, it crashes. I’ve tried it multiple times and I’m not having any luck. Is there a trick to it?

There is. But before we get into it, run your eyes over the boilerplate text that we include with these kinds of articles:

[Editor’s note: The MPAA and most media companies argue that you can’t legally copy or convert commercial DVDs for any reason. We (and others) think that, if you own a DVD, you should be able to override its copy protection to make a backup copy or to convert its content for viewing on other devices. Currently, the law isn’t entirely clear one way or the other. So our advice is: If you don’t own it, don’t do it. If you do own it, think before you rip.]

I’ll add this little bit to the boilerplate: Many of us now own Blu-ray players and many Blu-ray discs come with digital copies of the movies contained on those discs for exactly this purpose. With a clean conscience you get the copy that you believe is yours to own. Problem is, some of these digital copies expire after awhile. If you don’t act before the expiration date to get yours, you’re out of luck and must use other means, such as ripping the DVD copy that’s often included in the Blu-ray package. And, of course, there are lots of DVDs and Blu-ray discs sold that don’t offer digital copies.

With that out of the way, onward. As you might imagine, those responsible for making and selling movies packaged on DVD and Blu-ray are not happy that some loathsome individuals enjoy their content without paying for it. (I’m looking at you, Netflix rip-it-and-keep-it-forever subscribers.) And so they devote some resources to undermining tools such as HandBrake by developing new copy protection schemes. It sounds to me like you’ve encountered one such scheme that causes HandBrake to blow up when it scans discs for their main titles.

One way around this is to tell HandBrake exactly which title you’d like it to rip rather than having it scan the entire disc (which is its default behavior) and crash in the process. But that disc contains loads of titles, so how are you supposed to learn which is the correct one?

Easy enough. Launch DVD Player (found in the Applications folder), play it, walk your way through the junk that appears before the movie, and finally play the main feature. From DVD Player's Go menu choose Title and look for the checked title number. This title represents the main feature. (Yes, this is the same technique I described in HandBrake and the 99 Title DVD Mystery.) Keep this title number in mind and launch HandBrake,

Choose a specific title in HandBrake for a more reliable rip

In HandBrake choose File > Open Source (Title Specific). In the sheet that appears, navigate to the DVD, select its VIDEO_TS folder, and click Open. In the sheet that replaces it, enter the title number in the appropriate field. (Where it says Scan Title Number X for nameofmovie.) Click the Open Title button and HandBrake will select that title. Now choose the preset you wish to use (Apple TV 2, for example), and click HandBrake’s Start button. HandBrake will set about ripping the disc’s correct title (without crashing).

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