While the world has clearly moved on to HD video, many of us still have massive DVD collections and would like to make this content available digitally so that it can be enjoyed on mobile devices and streamed to screens around the home via Plex or similar solutions. So here’s how I rip DVD movies and TV shows using free software.
In addition to a DVD drive attached to your PC (obviously), you need two pieces of software: A utility that can recognize the videos found on a DVD and “rip” (copy) them into popular video formats like H.264/MP4, and a decryption utility that can remove the copy protection found on commercial DVD discs, a “fair use” practice that I feel is legal (in the US) for personal use cases.
Note: In the event this isn’t patently obvious, I am not advocating that anyone steal content, let alone distribute or share it. And I do not do so personally: I’ve purchased all of the DVDs I’ve ripped, and they’re still here at home stored in the basement next to my CD collection, in boxes.
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I use and recommend Handbrake for ripping DVDs. The software is free, easy to use, and infinitely configurable if you want to over-think it.
Years ago I paid for a software utility called SlySoft AnyDVD to handle the copy protection removal, or decryption. And while I do still use the HD version of this software, it’s gotten a bit too expensive to recommend to anyone without a huge DVD collection: You will pay about $46 for one year of updates or up to $78 for a lifetime. (The HD version that also decrypts Blu-Ray is even more expensive at about $70 to $135).
Fortunately, there is a free decryption solution called libdvdcss. You can download the latest version of this standalone DLL file from the VideoLAN web site; just copy it into the Handbrake directory (C:\Program Files\Handbrake by default) and you should be good to go. I’ve tried this solution with a few recent DVDs and it’s worked well.
My own need for DVD ripping has gone down a lot over the years. For starters, DVDs provide standard definition video (720 x 480 or less for US discs) that doesn’t hold up well against the HD streaming quality at services like iTunes, Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. So these days, my DVD purchases are similar to my music CD purchases, rare events and related to content that I simply cannot get elsewhere.
For example: my two most recent DVD purchases were the latest season of Rick Steves’ Europe (the 2015 – 2016 season), which is not available in Blu-Ray for some reason, and the UK version of Downton Abbey Season 5, which I bought as a Christmas present for my wife; she loves the show and we power-watch it before it airs in the US (which it is doing right now, on PBS). One of the nice things about that decryption technology is that it also removes the region encoding that would normally make watching an international DVD disc hard or impossible. If I could have purchased these shows in HD electronically, I would have.
But I bought the DVD versions. And I ripped them to H.264/MP4 with Handbrake.
Your needs may vary, but I find that the stock “Universal” preset works well for DVD movies and TV shows. This will provide a reasonably-sized, reasonable quality version of the video(s) in a form that works and looks great on all modern devices, including Windows PCs and tablets and Windows Phones. And they stream nicely from my home server to the Roku or Amazon Fire TV using Plex too.
Ripping a DVD movie is straightforward: You select Source and then the disc, and after Handbrake has analyzed the disc, you can examine the videos in the Title drop-down. Generally speaking, the movie you want is the longest of the available videos.
If you want captions/subtitles, use the Subtitles tab to examine what’s available. Possibilities range from nothing (increasingly uncommon) to hard-coded “VobSub”-type subtitles and “soft captions” which can be enabled and disabled on the fly by most common video players these days. This may require a bit of experimentation.
If you’re just ripping the one video, click Start and Handbrake will do its thing.
TV shows are a bit more complicated. Each disc typically has multiple shows, so you will need to select each in the Titles drop-down in turn, make whatever configuration changes (like captions/subtitles) and then click Add to Queue to add that show to the ripping queue. And then repeat for each episode. (The Downton Abbey DVDs complicated matters further: In addition to three hour-long episodes per disc, there is a first title video that is all three episodes in one file. So I skip that one.)
When you’re ready to rip, you should display the Queue window and then click Start from there. Each video on the disc will rip in turn.
I don’t usually mess around with the file names until after ripping is done, and then I copy or move the file(s) to my home server or perhaps to a device. I use logical enough names—”Downton Abbey 0501″ for an episode of that show, for example, or the name of the movie—so the content is easily identifiable later.
And then there’s Blu-Ray discs. Those are a bit more complicated than DVDs for a variety of reasons, so I’ll look at that in a future article.