Ripping foreign films with subtitles

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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.]

An interested party who would prefer to remain anonymous is curious about ripping DVDs. The Unknown One writes:

I am a college film teacher and occassionally I find it necessary to show sequences of subtitled foreign films to my class (yes, this is legal). However, I can not get subtitles to appear on my iPad. I have tried selecting each of the different subtitle options including “forced” in HandBrake but the titles never appear. Is there a setting that I’m missing?

You’re so close. This is possible, but you’ve chosen the wrong option. Here’s the secret.

In HandBrake, select the chapter you want to rip from the Chapters pop-up menus—Chapters 2 through 2 to rip the second chapter, for example. Click on the Audio tab and from the first Track pop-up menu, select the language you want to use if there’s more than one—for instance, Chinese if that’s the language originally used. Then click the Subtitles tab, choose the English language track from the Track pop-up menu, and enable the Burned In option. Select the iPad preset and click on the Start button to rip the chapter to a file compatible with the iPad.

In the resulting file you’ll find the subtitles you want. Note, that they’re burned into the movie clip and so you can’t switch them off. They’re stuck like glue.

For those not ripping foreign films but rather domestic fare, you may have another option that looks better on the iPad. For those movies that support closed-captioning, move to HandBrake’s Subtitles tab and choose Closed Captions from the Track pop-up menu and enable the Default option. Rip your movie and transfer it to the iPad.

On the iPad, open Settings and select Video. Ensure that the Closed Captioning option is switched on. Launch the Videos app on the iPad, start the movie playing, tap on the Closed Caption icon in the play controls area, and choose English from the menu that appears. On the iPad you’ll see crisp captions in the black bars below the movie rather than the somewhat pixelated subtitles that overlay a movie when you choose the Burned In option.

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