Posted: 12 February 2009, 22:56
Updated: 3 April 2010, 23:41

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DVD Ripping

Audrey and I have a diverse movie collection. From Strange Brew (mine) to Roman Holiday (hers), Metropolis (mine) to Groundhog Day (hers). A few years ago I started converting our DVD collection from its physical medium to an electronic format that I could use in multiple environments.

Although the software I used has changed over the years, the process remains the same: copy the MPEG-2 stream from the DVD, remove the copy protection, convert to a newer encoding scheme.

  1. Rip the DVD to a hard drive (copy MPEG-2 stream from DVD, remove copy protection)
    I use AnyDVDto take a DVD and convert it to an ISO free of any copy protection. While there are some DeCSS tools out there (e.g. DVD43) that will remove the copy protection on the fly (i.e. transparently), I have found it easier to manage the work flow if I keep the two steps separate. This way, I can rip discs (usually at a faster rate) and queue them up to be re-encoded. AnyDVD isn't free, but its simplicity and the fact that it has yet to be unable to rip a disc have made it worth the money (it also works perfectly on Vista/Windows 7 and 64 bit variants). It is also worth noting that this step is loss-less, converting to an ISO and removing CSS does not change the original video or audio streams.

  2. Convert to H.264
    Handbrake is an open source, multiplatform media transcoder. It takes various media formats in, and converts them to H.264 (a modern, highly efficient video codec that results in files that can be up to four times as small as the original MPEG-2). Handbrake supports a work queue and has many configuration options and tweaks should you want to twiddle with everything.

    Step one is to select the ISO generated from AnyDVD (Handbrake used to have its own DVD ripping and DeCSS built in but it has been removed in recent builds). Handbrake will scan the ISO and try to determining which title is the main movie. If are unsure which title to select, you can use VLC to open the ISO, and manually choose a title to validate your choice. If you are trying to skimp in disk space or are interested in playing the movie on a low end device (e.g. old iPod, original Xbox), leave the 'Normal' preset on the right selected, otherwise select 'High Profile'. Enter a file name and directory for the new MP4 file.

    Step two, click on 'Start' or 'Add to Queue' if you plan on adding multiple work items. Sit back and wait. Transcoding can be a very slow process. On Windows Handbrake runs its core process with a priority of 'Below Normal' so you should be able to use your machine for other tasks with out any interference.

There are many other setting in Handbrake that you can tweak.

Under the 'Video' tab, 'Constant Quality' is selected (assuming 'High Profile'). This means that Handbrake will try to main the same quality level by varying the bit rate used. This work great most of the time, but with a grainy film it can sometimes bump up the bit rate so much that the output file is larger than the input file. Playing with this number or selecting a constant bit rate is necessary in these cases.

TV shows which are interlaced can also cause problems. Handbrake automatically tries to detect interlacing and deal with it, but if it doesn't look right, changing the 'Video Filters' options can sometimes help.

When trying to find the ideal settings for a problem movie or TV show, change the chapter range under 'Source' to just include a single chapter. Then the encoding time is only a few minutes.

If you are ripping a lot of TV shows then I recommend using a perl script called to help out. If TV shows are named properly, them media programs like Plex and Boxee can automatically pull down series information and other good info. Ripping TV shows probably deserves its own article. See the link at the bottom for more information.

My general workflow looks like this: Use AnyDVD to rip four or five DVDs in the morning while I am checking email, making coffee, etc., then add them to Handbrake's queue and let it encode until the next morning. Rinse, repeat.

I've ripped 270 movies and 835 TV episodes using 769 GB of space over the past two years. My current quad core desktop can manage an encoding speed (assuming H.264/MPEG-4 AVC) of about 1x (meaning one hour of video takes one hour to re-encode). Therefore, since one hour of video is about one gigabyte, my 769 GB of media consumed 32 quad CPU days during the transcoding process.

Our DVD collection is now condensed down from multiple book shelves to two DVD binders which I keep in a closet. I can access the media anywhere on our local network and can copy as many as I want onto a laptop to take with me on travel.

By Jonathan Last updated: 3 April 2010, 23:41

© irondojo · 2010 · Jonathan Camp