Ripping Blu-Ray videos is not as straightforward as doing so with DVD videos. For starters, there’s no free solution that I’m aware of. And worse, it takes a very long time to rip Blu-Ray content, especially full-length movies. But the results can of course be spectacular.
As I noted in How to Rip DVD Videos, I don’t really buy a lot of disc-based content, and these days most of what I do buy simply isn’t available in some digital content. For 1080p HD Blu-Ray movies, that means blockbusters. So while the “Indiana Jones,” “James Bond,” and “Lord of the Rings” movies are all available in high-quality HD formats via iTunes and other services, the “Star Wars” movies are not. And as with DVD video, I focus my attention on converting the handful of Blu-Ray movies I do have to some more easily-accessed digital format.
Because Blu-Ray videos are HD quality and because the resulting files can be humongous, you’re going to need to spend some time testing output so you can find a good balance between quality and size. You can actually rip Blu-Ray videos directly into H.264 format using the Handbrake utility I recommended in How to Rip DVD Videos, but this has a few drawbacks.
First, for the movies I’ve tested, I haven’t seen a way to get soft captions working; you have to either “burn in” captions or ignore them. Second, there are few profiles dedicated to HD formats built-into Handbrake, so while you can easily go full-sized (1080p) there’s no 720p preset. And third, Handbrake takes forever to rip a Blu-Ray: “Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith” took over two hours from start to finish.
That said, the resulting H.264 file was both huge (6 GB) and fantastic looking.
But the biggest issue with using Handbrake to rip DVDs is that it’s not free: That free libdvdcss decryption solution I mentioned in the previous article only works for DVDs, not Blu-Rays, so you’ll need something like SlySoft AnyDVD HD too. And that decryption tool will cost you $70 to $135, depending on how you choose to buy it.
Most of the recommendations I’ve seen involving using a tool called MakeMKV to rip a Blu-Ray into a high-quality MKV file and then using Handbrake to convert that file into a more accessible H.264 file that will work on your devices. This works, of course, and you have the option to make a few versions of each movie (or TV show), including SD versions that can save disk space on portable devices.
MakeMKV is faster than Handbrake, doesn’t require a separate decrypter, and the resulting files are gorgeous. They even support soft-captioning.
But this approach also has a few downsides. MakeMKV isn’t free, though you can use it for free for a limited time, after which you have to pay $50. (Update: Apparently, it is basically free during what is a perpetual beta.) And while MakeMKV is a lot faster than Handbrake, it’s still very slow—that same Star Wars film took about an hour and 20 minutes to rip, by way of comparison—and then you have to convert it to H.264 which eats up any remaining time saved (and then some: this process can also take hours). And the resulting MKV file is so big it makes H.264 look like a mid-1990s postage stamp AVI by comparison: That Stars Wars movie is 39.1 GB big in MKV format. (Granted, you don’t need to keep it, but I suspect many movie buffs will want to.)
Long story short, how you proceed will depend on your needs and wants.
If you’ve got a home theater PC or home server and are more concerned with quality than file size, MakeMKV is probably the way to go, and you may wish to simply keep those files in their original size and quality. Many PC-based applications, like the VLC Player media player I use and recommend, have no issues playing MKV files.
If the goal is to create high-quality video that won’t eat up all of the available space on your portable device(s), Handbrake will be the better option—or perhaps that mix of Handbrake and MakeMKV—since the H.264 files it creates are much smaller and much more compatible, both ideal traits for use on mobile devices. You can start with the High Profile preset and perhaps scale the output down to a 720p file using the Picture tab.
But again, the big issue here is going to be experimentation. In Handbrake, for example, you can easily rip individual movie chapters to test the quality and file size before going all-in with a full movie. But even once you do settle on a preferred method for ripping Blu-Rays, you’re going to need some time. These things just don’t go down quickly.
If you have a better solution—actually, a faster solution would be even better—let me know.
UPDATE: Be sure to read How to Rip Blu-Ray Videos: Part 2 – Remux MKV to MP4 as well.