While much of the world has embraced streaming, there are still many who have physical media. Perhaps they prefer the idea of owning the copy themselves and not having it pulled away due to a rights dispute, or perhaps they prefer the higher, consistent quality that physical media provides. Whatever the reason, you have physical media, but that’s just one copy. It might not be a bad idea to make a digital backup copy for yourself. Let’s walk you through the process of ripping a DVD. If you haven’t already, check out my guide to ripping a Blu-ray.
Before you begin (legally and ethically):
You should be aware of some caveats in this, mostly in the legality and ethics departments, so let’s get some things out of the way.
First know that I can only speak from the American perspective, so you should check your national and local rules regarding such practices. Also, I am not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice.
With all that said, under the current guidelines you are allowed to rip media and make digital backups so long as you keep the physical copies of the media (you can’t just rip them and them sell them off), the physical copies are legally yours (so no borrowing your friends movies and then giving them back), the copies can only be used by your household and not distributed, and you cannot break encryption to do this. This is where the sticking point is, especially for Blu-rays that have various forms of encryption. DVD’s vary depending on whose making them, but some companies like Viacom do include some measures on their copies of media, who other ones (especially for home movies) don’t have these in place.
However, this is an exception for accessibility purposes, though these tend to get re-laid out every few years by the Librarian of Congress. Generally speaking though encryption can be broken if it gets in the way of accessibility purposes. As an example, this could allow a blind user to rip a copy to run it through a tool to add better descriptions or get around having to navigate clunky controls of bad disc menus.
With all that said, it is the personal opinion of this author that there is no ethical issues with ripping physical media to make digital copies so long as you maintain the first three tenets (you keep the physical copies, those physical copies are yours, and you’re keeping those copies for your household’s use) to the best of your ability.
With that said, let’s talk about tools and software.
The Tools You’ll Need
First, you’re going to need something to read the discs. Unless you have a rather older Mac that still has a disc tray, you won’t be able to read DVDs, and Macs have never officially supported Blu-rays anyway. So most likely you’re going to need to get a DVD/Blu-ray reader. I personally use the LG WP50NB40 Ultra Slim Portable. It will read and write DVDs and Blu-rays, though if you only are using DVDs you can find a cheaper model than this.
Next, let’s talk software. You’ll need 2 free apps to you’re ripping a DVD. You’ll need to download Handbrake and VLC. Handbrake is a program that will convert video files into different formats, but doesn’t have the ability to read DVDs out of the box. That’s where VLC comes in. VLC has the codecs for reading DVDs, and Handbrake can borrow those to do its work. The good news is one you install and run VLC at least once, you won’t have to use it again, though it is a solid video player.
Ripping a DVD
Fortunately for ripping DVD’s, you’ll only need HandBrake and VLC. Make sure you have opened up VLC before doing this though.
1: Connect your DVD Reader to the Mac and insert the DVD into it. Since DVD capabilities are still native to Mac OS, you might have QuickTime, DVD Player, or some other video player app open and start playing the video. If this happens, just close out of the app.
2: Open HandBrake. It’ll ask you to select the video. Navigate to the DVD disk, and then hit “Open”. You don’t need to select any other folders within the DVD.
3: Handbrake will scan through the DVD to locate all the videos and their chapters. When it is done, you’ll be able to select the options you want for encoding the video and audio. I’ll try to keep it simple and focus on the options you’ll most likely want or need.
A note if you’re ripping a DVD with multiple videos, such as with a TV show: The different episodes may be listed as “Title”, and you will need to manually select each one to rip them. You can rip these either individually or by adding them to a queue, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
4: First, in the top right corner of the HandBrake window should be a button that says “Show Presets”. This will give you any number of generic to specific options for ripping your video to be as compatible and best viewable on things like Amazon Fire tablets, Apple TV’s, iPads, PlayStations, Rokus, etc. If you know what device you’re going to be using it with, then you’ll probably want to select that preset. In my case, I typically go with the Apple TV options since I tend to be a primarily Apple house. That said, I’ve not had problems using it with my Roku or PlayStation, particularly when using my Plex Server.
Do pay attention to the resolution. If you’re ripping only a 1080 video, you’ll probably be best keeping it at 1080p and not upscaling it to 4K. Or if you have a 1080p video you want to downscale to 720p for compatibility or size purposes, you’ll want to set that here.
5: Back on the main screen, under the “Summary” tab, there are a few options here, but the one I will highlight is “Passthru Common Metadata” and “Web Optimized”. The first only appears on certain presets and formats, such as the Apple TV one. I’d leave this one on as it preserves some extra metadata that players can use for identifying the video later or for searching and organizing purposes. The Web Optimized one is for helping you stream the video across the network, which is useful if you’re using a media server.
6: Next is the “Video” tab. If you’ve already set your preset, then most of this is good. However, you may want to check the “Framerate” section, as most of the presets set this to either 30 or 60 fps. This is fine for a lot of things, but a lot of movies and TV shows play at 24-25 frames per second. So if the frame rate is set too high then you may notice characters moving a little too smoothly, quickly, or just things looking weird (what has been dubbed the “soap opera effect”. Fortunately the dropdown has presets for many of the most common presets, including marking NTSC film and TV (North America) and PAL video (Europe and Asia). However, the easiest thing I’ve found, if you don’t want to get into the weeds on that, is to select “Same as Source” from the top of the dropdown list.
7: Next is the “Audio” tab, which is where you’ll set the audio track. If you’re wanting to choose an alternate audio track, such as audio descriptions or a different language, this is where you’ll select it.
8: Lastly is the “Subtitles” tab which, as you might expect, lets you add the subtitles track or burn it into the video if you’d prefer.
9: There are numerous other options, but those are, I would argue, the most relevant ones for most people. Once you’re ready, give it a name and location to be saved to at the bottom of the screen.
10: If this is the only video you’ll be ripping, then you can hit “Start” in the top toolbar of the screen. If, however, you have multiple items to rip, then after making your adjustments, you’ll want to hit “Add to Queue” in the top toolbar. Then hit the dropdown next to “Title” to select the next video, and repeat the process (though typically the settings you made in the previous one carry over to the next video”. MAKE SURE to give each file a different name, otherwise Handbrake will just keep overwriting the video it just created. Once you have added all the videos to the queue that you want to rip and convert, then hit the Start button, and the videos will rip in the order you arranged them in the queue. Now just sit back and wait for it to finish