By Jonathan Seff, Macworld Feb 2, 2011 4:30 pm
[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.]
Looking to liberate the movies in your DVD collection from the confines of their plastic-and-metal prison so you can enjoy them on your iPhone, iPod, iPad, and Apple TV? Well look no further--all you need is some free software and to follow a few steps.
Step One: Install the software
In order to rip a DVD with HandBrake, you'll need to download the free software. If you have a Mac with a Core 2 Duo or later processor, make sure to get the 64-bit version of the software. It will speed up your ripping times over the 32-bit version of HandBrake. (Note that the latest version of HandBrake, 0.9.5, is Intel-only. If you still have a PowerPC-based Mac, you can still download version 0.9.4.)
And because HandBrake no longer includes the libraries needed to decrypt commercial DVDs (you should only rip DVDs that you've purchased), you'll also need to install the equally free VLC media player. To get the 64-bit benefits from HandBrake, you'll need to have a 64-bit version of VLC as well. The standard download is a Universal Binary and contains both 32- and 64-bit code for Intel Macs--if you want to save some disk space, you can download the specific VLC package for your situation.
Step Two: Insert a DVD and pick what to rip
Now insert your DVD into your Mac's DVD drive and launch HandBrake. By default, the app will launch a dialog box and have you select the DVD mounted on your Mac--choose it and click Open. HandBrake will then scan the DVD for the titles it contains, which can a few minutes. Once the scan is complete, click on the box next to Title and from the pop-up menu that appears, choose the longest title.
If you encounter a DVD with 99 titles of almost the same length, you've run into a copy-protection scheme meant to thwart ripping. In that case, launch Apple's DVD Player application, navigate to the main feature, choose Go -> Title from the menu bar, and find the title with a check mark next to it. Choose that title in HandBrake and continue.
If there are several items you want to convert--all the episodes on a TV show DVD, for example--you can select one, give it a unique name in the File area, click the Add To Queue button, and then repeat the process for each item until they've all been added to the encoding queue (you'll want to adjust your encoding settings prior to adding the items to the queue, however, which I'll discuss in the next step).
[Note that DVD ripping is a constant cat-and-mouse game, with content providers regularly updating their copy-protection schemes to prevent copying, and HandBrake/VLC trying to provide access to the latest discs. Which is a long way of saying that HandBrake may not work with every DVD. If all else fails, you may need to spend money on a different DVD-ripping application for better results.]
Step Three: Choose a preset
Now that you've selected the title to rip, you'll need to choose your encoding settings based on the device(s) on which you plan to view the content. Although you can tweak every aspect of encoding, HandBrake includes handy presets that make it much easier.
If the Presets Drawer isn't already open, click on the Toggle Presets button at the top of the HandBrake window (or press command-T). In the drawer, you'll see three sets of presets: Apple, Regular, and Legacy. In most cases, you can just focus your attention on the Apple section. There you'll find Universal, iPod, iPhone & iPod Touch, iPhone 4, iPad, AppleTV, and AppleTV 2.
If you want to watch your movie on the latest iPhone, for example, choose iPhone 4 for the best quality settings that will work on that device. The same goes for other devices, based on their playback restrictions. The Universal preset is helpful if you want a file that will work on all current Apple devices.
If you're ripping TV show episodes, you'll have to pick your settings for each file before adding it to the queue. To speed up the process, you can set a preset as your default. Highlight the preset you want, then at the bottom of the Preset Drawer, click the gear icon and choose Make Default from the drop-down menu.
Step Four: Tweak your settings
Once you've picked your preset, there are a few settings you might want to pay extra attention to, depending on your specific needs.
Deinterlacing Many TV shows you'll find on DVD are interlaced--that is, shot as a series of half frames of even lines and odd lines, which can lead to jagged video when viewed on your computer or portable device. To overcome this, HandBrake can deinterlace while it rips to make things smooth. To find out if your DVD has interlaced video, click the Preview Window button in HandBrake and scroll through the still images for signs of interlacind jagginess. If that doesn't tell you enough, choose a time from the Duration (Sec) pop-up menu you see when your cursor is floating over the Preview window, and then click Live Preview. HandBrake will encode a short section of your video with the current settings and then play it back so you can examine the video more closely. If you see signs of interlacing, click the Settings button (in the same window) and it will open up a new window called Picture Settings. Click the Filters tab, and made sure the slider between Decomb and Deinterlace is to the right. In the drop-down menu next to Deinterlace, choose Fast and then redo the preview to see if that makes a difference. If not, you can try Slow or Slower to see how much work is needed.
Audio Altering or removing audio tracks is a great way to reduce the size of your finished file. Click on the Audio tab, and look at the audio tracks your preset has selected to include. There may be language tracks you don't need, or if your Apple TV isn't connected to a surround sound audio system, you may want to remove a 5.1 channel audio track or downmix it to stereo, for example.
Subtitles If your movie is in a foreign language, or you have a hearing impairment and need to read the closed captions when you watch, HandBrake's Subtitles tab is the place to look. There you can find whatever subtitle or captioning data comes on your DVD and decide which ones you want to include in your ripped file. Typically, subtitles must be "burned into" your file, meaning you can't turn them on or off, whereas closed captioning data is added as a separate text track that you can choose while watching in QuickTime, for example. You can also add an external .srt text file for the movie if you have it (one you downloaded, say).
When you're all set, click the Start button and go take a nice walk--depending on the length of the files and the speed of your computer, it can take a while to transcode the video.
Step Five: Tag your movie with metadata
While this last step is very much optional, adding cover art, cast, summaries, and the like will make your movies or TV shows look and act a lot more like those purchased from the iTunes Store.
There are several applications that can look up metadata online and add it to your files. Rodney Kerstetter's free MetaX is designed specifically for that purpose (and HandBrake even has an option to send completed rips to MetaX directly), but Chris Marrin's free Video Monkey and Jendrik Bertram $25iFlicks are video-encoding applications that can also be used just to add metadata. Whichever software use, once you're done just add the movie to your iTunes library and it'll then ready to transfer (or stream) to your devices.