Ripping DVDs and making websites mobile

After all these years DVD ripping is, it seems, still a topic of mystery and experimentation. I've tried ripping DVDs many times with varying degrees of success, and today a friend on my favorite email list just raised the topic again: "What do people on this list use to rip a DVD to their hard drive so they can, for example, watch it on a laptop or a tablet? This was something I'd assumed would come up in a Google search, but I had a surprisingly hard time finding a solution."

He continued: "The easiest way that I found for watching a DVD on a Windows laptop, was to download DVD Decrypter from http://www.dvddecrypter.org.uk/ and use it to copy the DVD files directly to a folder on the hard drive. Then browse to that folder (about 4.2 GB for a 100-minute movie) and open the VIDEO_TS\VIDEO_TS.IFO file in Windows Media Player. Then you can browse the DVD menu like a normal DVD, and play the movie. Unfortunately the resulting folder is huge, and doesn't create the movie in a standard movie file format that would be easily portable."

FAQ: DVD ripping

This is exactly the problem I've found and I've yet to find a simple generic solution.

My friend is, ideally, looking for something free. He did some searching and found a lot of recommendations for Handbrake. "I installed the latest version, followed all the default instructions, and it ripped the 1:40 movie on my DVD to a 2.2 GB mp4 file. However, opening that file in Windows Media Player just displayed a lot of staticky screens and jerky motion (through which you could barely discern the scenes from the movie, so it did rip the right movie, but it didn't work)."

That was similar to the results I got with Handbrake.

"Finally, I did find a two-step process to rip the movie to an mp4 file that was small enough to be actually playable: First, rip the movie to a folder using DVD Decrypter as described above, then tell Handbrake to rip from that folder and generate the output as an mp4 file. This generated a 500M file which was easily playable on the laptop and the xoom. (I still don't know why it produced such a smaller file compared to when I used Handbrake to rip the DVD directly, since I used the same defaults in both cases.) However, this was a two-step process where each step required about an hour whereas if I could just rip the DVD directly with Handbrake, that would take only one hour, if I could get it to generate an output file that was usable."

He did consider going over to the dark side: "I suppose one answer would be to just download a torrent guilt-free if I already have the DVD in my possession."

An amusing aside was that after my friend bought a laptop he took it into Best Buy asking about a problem he had with playing DVDs: "The Geek Squad techies looked at each other and then sheepishly admitted none of them had ever watched a legally purchased DVD movie on a laptop."

Another friend on the same list recommended, in the not-free category, Anvsoft AnyDVD ($39.95), Nero Video 11 ($79.99) and Xilisoft Blu-ray Creator ($49.95). "Between these three tools [I can rip] any size, any content (even Blu-ray protected), [and from] any media (no matter how crappy). The one exception is that no matter how hard I try to convert files to put onto the SD card for the Wii, it won't play."

Yep, ripping DVDs is, after all these years, still a pain in the butt. If you have a solution that is free, or at least cheap, simple and reliable, the world is waiting to hear it. Send your suggestion to me by email (gearhead@gibbs.com) or post a comment below.

On another note, everything, as I'm sure you've noticed is "mobile" these days and I've just found a new service that aims to convert websites into mobile sites automatically. The service, bMobilized, claims you can "Mobilize Your Site In Seconds" and, to a limited extent, it is right ... except that if there's any structural complexity or fancy-schmancy JavaScript driving the layout the service struggles.

COLUMN: Embracing mobile site visitors: Early detection is best

I tried it on a site I put together for my friends at the Fire Service Training Institute. The site is the Community Emergency Responses Team and, on the pages where JavaScript-driven tables are used to show the training schedules -- for example, on the Santa Barbara County site -- bMobilized struggled, occasionally barfed, didn't completely understand the structure of the pages, and didn't really have the tools to allow me to select which page areas needed to go where on the mobile site.

bMobilized includes plug-ins that can be added to the mobile site that support a contact bar (click-to-call, click-to-email, click-to-SMS and map widgets), a social media bar, maps, site search, ad integration, audio and video embedding, contact forms, image viewer and gallery, RSS feeds, promotion widget, e-comm integration, analytics, QR codes ... it's a pretty impressive collection of site additions and enhancements.

Once you have created a bMobilized version of your website, you merely add a block of JavaScript to your homepage. The JavaScript code performs the detection of mobile clients and redirects them to the mobile version.

All of that notwithstanding, the service is in beta and a little rough around the edges (it kept generating my favorite error message: "unknown error"), but it's a great idea for translating sites into a mobile version. That said, the reality is that for anything but the simplest of sites, the translation to mobile will never take "seconds."

Small-business pricing starts at a ridiculously low $5 per month while "Professional" level, which adds a $199 setup fee where bMobilized sets up everything for you, costs a whopping $9 per month.

As bMobilized stands, the service gets a Gearhead rating of 3 out of 5 ... and addressing the issues of it getting a better understanding of source site layout and better editing of the mobile version could bump that way up. Definitely worth checking out and keeping an eye on.

Gibbs keeps his eyes on a lot of things in Ventura, Calif. Let him know what you see at gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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