Trying to Rip DVDs

In this column two weeks ago I mentioned that a friend on a mail list had asked, "What do people 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."

I asked for your solutions and I got a huge amount of feedback.

What we're looking for is something that will rip DVDs and transcode and format the results to fit displays on devices such as iPad, iPods, iPhones, PSPs, Zunes, and Android devices.

If the DVD is encrypted several people recommended using DVDDecrypter (Windows; free) to remove copy protection, but according to Wikipedia "certain uses may be illegal under the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act unless making copies which are covered under the Fair Use doctrine." So, be careful what you rip.

To convert the DVD content to a smaller file a few folks recommended Freemake Video Converter (Windows, free), which can convert unprotected DVDs to AVI, WMV, MP4, MPEG, MKV, FLV, SWF, and 3GP. This app can also convert video to Flash and HTML5 video (Ogg, WebM, H.264), and supported output devices include iPod Classic, iPod Touch, iPod Nano, iPod 5G, iPhone, iPad, Sony PSP, PS2, PS3, BlackBerry, Samsung, Nokia, Xbox, Apple TV, and Android devices.

AVS Video Converter (Windows; $59) got a couple of mentions, as did Slysoft's AnyDVD (Windows; €49) and AnyDVD HD (Windows; €79) which adds "full Blu-ray and HD DVD support."

Wondershare DVD Ripper Platinum (Windows and OS X; $40), which supports a huge range of output devices and video formats, was highly recommended by reader Rachel Wolf.

Videora iPod Converter (Windows and OS X free) got some serious props from reader Tracy Barbour. Videora offers a whole range of device-specific converters (Windows and OS X, all free) covering just about every major playback device you can think of.

One tool that came up a lot was Handbrake but, according to the chap who originally asked the question, "Yeah Handbrake keeps coming up, but it doesn't work when you use it to combine the ripping and mp4 generating step. Handbrake works (sometimes!) if you rip the files first with DVD Decrypter or DVDFab, then use Handbrake to convert from the ripped files on your hard drive to an mp4 file (which ends up at about 500 MB for a 1:40:00 movie). However, when Handbrake (at least for Windows) tries ripping and converting all in one step, it generates a file that is usually corrupt, or too big (4 GB) to play on a normal laptop."

DVDFab (Windows; $45) was highly recommended by a number of readers, but my list friend pointed out that "it's a two-step process to make it rip DVDs, and then having to use Handbrake to convert the ripped files to an mp4."

Reader "Rob" wrote to say he uses Handbrake under Ubuntu which he finds easier and more reliable than on Windows and Mac. He uses a three step process:

1. He first copies the data from the disk to an ISO image using the system command "dd if=/dev/sr0 of=image.iso conv=noerror,sync bs=512k"

2. He then uses DVDFab running under the Wine emulator to convert the ISO to an unencrypted folder

3. Finally, he uses Handbrake to convert the folder contents to the format he needs.

For you non-Linux users, Wikipedia notes "dd is a common Unix program whose primary purpose is the low-level copying and conversion of raw data.

Another tool for Mac was mentioned by reader Brian L. Allen: "Ripit (OS X, free) will create a DVD copy. The idea is then to use Handbrake or something similar to extract a specific title from the copied DVD."

Reader Jonathan suggested: "Just use the Excellent software from WinX - they give away their older software for free at: http://www.winxdvd.com/old_version/oldversion_download.htm ... They support both PC and Mac - sorry, no Linux. They have a video converter so easy even my wife could use it [and it] can create WII compatible video [and] support BluRay ripping. I have zero affiliation with WinX - If I did I'd probably tell you to just buy it [($36)] - I just love how well their products work."

From reader Brian J. Bartlett came the suggestion to use Daemon Tools (Windows; €34.90). Brian said he'd been using this software "for over a decade now and it rips pretty much anything, especially DVD/BD's. You can also use images generated from other programs (e.g. Nero, Clone-DVD) with ease. The primary usage is not [video] DVDs but certain game CDs and DVDs that incorporate copy protection which it can also emulate, even in the free Lite version. Highly recommended."

If you just want to rip to AVI there's bitRipper (Windows, free). Reader Parker Brissette suggested this one and said, "It takes some time to rip the files and when they come off they are large AVI files. I then use Windows live Movie maker to convert them into a smaller size."

FInally, a new ripping tool I've never heard of before: MakeMKV (Windows, OS X, and Linux, free while in beta). Reader Mark O'Brien brought this product to my attention and says "It's about the simplest ripper on the market. Rips your movie to a high quality MKV file for easy encoding, and is free while in beta (which, so far, has been a very long time). If you have another ripper that just rips the disc in its original format, like AnyDVD HD, that should work just as well, but if you don't have a program on hand, MakeMKV will do the job brilliantly."

Reader Peter Fleming also commented "I have been using MakeMKV. I have ripped dozens of movies with excellent results. I have the files stored on our NAS and any device in the house can play them. For the two HDTVs I use a WDTV player, on computers or androids I use a MKV player app. For traveling I copy the movies to local storage."

My list friend tried this program and commented: "Looks like [MakeMKV] does rip the DVD all in one step and to a single file, but it's a 4GB file (instead of the 500 MB you get if you rip it first with DVD Decrypter and then convert to mp4 with Handbrake) and you need a specialized player to play it. For the same time and disk space you could probably just rip it with DVD Decrypter and then copy those files over. Useful to know about though."

As if all those products weren't enough, Wikipedia's entry for "DVD Ripper" includes a list with a few more tools that no one mentioned.

Another useful resource recommended by reader Jesse Tweten is ViDEOHelp.com which discusses tools and provides how-to's to get pretty much any video format converted to any other format. Highly recommended.

As I wrote in the original article "After all these years DVD ripping is, it seems, still a topic of mystery and experimentation." From your feedback, that now seems to be even more true than I thought.

Gibbs is not ripped in Ventura, Calif. Your take to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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