DVD ripping FAQ

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[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.]

As often as we write about taking the DVDs you own and converting them to a format you can enjoy on all your media players, people continue to have questions. Here are answers to some of those questions.

Q. I have a movie on a commercial DVD that I’d like to play on my iPod. How do I convert it?

A. There are a handful of tools available for doing this. HandBrake is one. MacTheRipper is another. And RipIt is a third. HandBrake and MacTheRipper are free. RipIt costs $19.

Q. What are the difference between the three programs?

A. HandBrake is the most configurable of the bunch. It includes a variety of presets, allowing you to rip your disc for specific devices and destinations—Apple TV, iPhone/iPod touch, QuickTime, and iPod High- and Low-Resolution, for example. HandBrake will automatically detect the main feature of the disc and offer to extract just that main feature. You can also ask it to rip other bits from the disc—previews, for example. You can choose the output file format, which can be MPEG-4, MKV, AVI, or OGM format (for Mac users, MPEG-4 is the way to go as it's compatible with the Mac and iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV).

The version of MacTheRipper commonly found on the Web is old and not compatible with some newer copy-protection schemes. You can get an updated version of MacTheRipper by joining the RipDifferent forums and purchasing a copy of MacTheRipper 3.x. It too can rip the main feature or any other portion of the disc you like. It produces a folder that contains an Audio_TS and Video_TS folder. Apple’s DVD player will play the contents of a Video_TS folder. Just choose Open DVD Media from DVD Player’s File menu, navigate to the Video_TS folder, and click Choose to play the folder’s contents. You can then take that Video_TS folder and use HandBrake or an application such as Roxio's $100 Toast Titanium to convert it to a movie playable on your devices.

RipIt is the least configurable of the lot but it rips just about everything you throw at it. Insert a disc and it rips everything on it to a .dvdmovie file. Right-click on that file and you find a Video_TS folder within. Again, you can play that with DVD Player or convert it with HandBrake or Toast Titanium. You can read more about RipIt in Dan Frakes' Mac Gems review.

Q. I’ve downloaded the latest version of HandBrake and it won’t rip commercial DVDs.

A. In order for the current version of HandBrake to extract movies from commercial DVDs (those that are copy protected) you need to install the free VLC (VideoLan Client). VLC installs the components that work around DVDs' copy protection technology. If HandBrake sees that these components are present on your Mac, it will be able to get past the disc’s copy protection.

Q. When I rip my DVD and burn a back-up copy to another DVD, will the region coding remain?

A. Let’s start by defining what region codes are. Commercial DVDs are protected not only against duplication, but they have region codes embedded on them—codes that many DVD players look for that indicate in which countries the DVD can be played. The U.S. and Canada make up Region 1. Your Mac allows you to change regions up to five times—so play a Region 1 DVD, then Region 2, back to Region 1, over to Region 3, and back a last time to Region 1. On the fifth region change, the Mac’s media hardware locks to that last region.

Some people like playing discs written for other regions because those discs can’t be had in their native country. But playing those discs means you may lock your player to an unwanted region. For this reason, people who play discs from a lot of regions will often purchase players that ignore region codes. Regrettably, your Mac isn’t capable of doing this.

For this reason, it’s helpful to remove region coding. And when you rip a commercial DVD with a tool such as HandBrake, MacTheRipper, or RipIt, you do exactly that. Copies you make will be region free.

There’s a fly in this ointment, however. The media drives inside today’s Macs will not rip discs from one region when the drive is set for another region. The solution is to either play a bit of the original disc to switch regions or, better yet, use an external DVD burner for discs from other regions. These external drives don’t have this “not my region” restriction when ripping discs.

Q. I have Toast Titanium, can I use it to rip my DVDs?

A. Toast and its sibling, the $50 Popcorn 3, can’t remove the copy-protection from a DVD. However, they’re wonderful tools for extracting video from unprotected DVDs and converting video to other formats. Like Toast, the €39.99 (around $51) DVD2One can be used to take unencrypted dual- or single-layer DVDs or Video_TS folders and burn them to single-layer DVDs.

Q. I’ve seen posts in Web site forums extolling the virtues of programs not listed here. Why not use them?

A. When companies have to stoop to spamming forums with instructions for ripping DVDs or converting files with Tool X, Y, or Z, it tells you something about the quality of that company and its products. The three programs we’ve listed will do the job.

Q. I downloaded HandBrake, ripped a DVD, and it created an m4v file. I’d like to edit this movie with iMovie but iMovie won’t import it. What do I do?

A. All you have to do is change the .m4v file extension to .mov. Do that, choose File -> Import -> Movies in iMovie ’08 or ’09 and the movie will be imported into your iMovie project. With iMovie HD you can just drag the .mov file into the bin or timeline.

Q. Where can I find instructions for ripping DVDs?

A. Macworld senior editor, Jonathan Seff’s Convert Video For Any Device is a terrific guide for doing this.

Q. In the article you referred to, Mr. Seff mentions VisualHub for converting video. I followed the link and found that the program is no longer available. What now?

A. You’re correct, VisualHub has gone to the great bit-bucket in the sky. But as I point out in this article, part of it remains in the form of two open source projects—FilmRedux and PunyVid. Note that both FilmRedux and PunyVid are very much alpha releases—some parts remain inedible.

In the meantime, there are other applications for converting video. Roxio’s Toast Titanium, Popcorn, and $40 Crunch can convert video. Squared 5’s free MPEG Streamclip is another option.

If you’ve already converted a movie to an MPEG-4 or .mov file, there’s a good chance you can convert it with iTunes for playback on an iPod or Apple TV. Just add the movie to your iTunes library, select it, and choose Advanced -> Create iPod or iPhone Version or Create Apple TV Version.

Q. Whoa, whoa, whoa, isn’t this illegal?

A. The motion picture companies and supporters of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) would like you to believe so. But this hasn’t been tested in the courts. There’s precedent under Fair Use for making backup copies of the media you own. So, it’s a gray area. If you’re concerned about potentially violating the law, don’t do it. What is far dicier, from legal and moral standpoints, is ripping the media you own and distributing it.

Q. Okay, so maybe it’s legal, maybe it isn’t. Aren’t kids who have no respect for the law the only ones who will do this?

A. Apparently you are childless, or, at least, you haven’t had a five-year-old in the house for many years. It’s an indisputable truth that where there are five-year-olds, there is jam, and that jam will find its way from the five-year-old’s fingers to every DVD you own. Unless you enjoy purchasing multiple copies of Finding Nemo and Mary Poppins, you’ll understand why perfectly respectable parents seek ways to back up their DVDs.

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