I’ve long searched for a way to easily rip my DVD’s to hard drive. The challenge has always been to find a decent balance between format, file size, compatibility and image quality. From AutoGK to DVD Decrypter, I’ve tried them all and finally think I’ve found the magic combination. In fact, I know I have, judging from the 586 episodes of tv-shows that I’ve ripped to drive and that play beautifully on my Xbox 360 and HDTV.
DVD43 is like a free version of AnyDVD. Sure, it’s no longer being updated so you might have some issues with more recent forms of copy protection. It also doesn’t support HD (not that I know of anyway) but hey, it’s free so how can you hate it? DVD43 is essential in breaking through the layer of copy protection present on most commercial DVD’s (although you’d be surprised how many actually don’t have any form of copy protection at all).
Once you’ve got DVD43, you’ll need Handbrake, a free program originally coded for the Mac that has recently recieved a very decent Windows GUI. Handbrake does the actual ripping and it’s here where you’ll do most of the tinkering with settings. I’ve presented below my favorite presets. These were reached after a good two days of testing with a variety of DVD’s. A good tip when testing out your settings is to only rip a small chapter of the tv-show or movie. This saves a lot of time and allows you to quickly swap between different presets.
In general I rip to a MP4 file. This plays great on my Xbox 360, in iTunes, VLC, Media Player Classic, etc. I’d advise turning on Large File Size only when ripping movies. I don’t own a 5G iPod and don’t want to post it on the web, so I’ll just leave those unchecked
I generally like to set the resolution manually: 768*576 for 4:3 shows and 1024*576 for 16:9 shows. If you’d rather let Handbrake handle resolution and aspect ratio, just set this option to Strict.
I always pick H.264. I believe it is the jack of all trades of current video formats. I also like to set the bitrate manually. For tv-shows I default to 2000 kbps. Movies vary based on the original bitrate at which the movie was encoded. A quick Google Search will be sufficient in finding that out. Once again, if you don’t want to do this yourself, just set the quality slider to anything around 70% and you’ll be fine. The higher the bitrate, the bigger the file size and the longer the encoding. I always enable 2-pass encoding and turn off turbo first pass. I let Handbrake take it’s time and let it fully analyse the DVD before encoding it. If you want to have faster encodings, I’d turn on the turbo option but keep 2-pass encoding. I personally do notice a difference in quality between just one and two passes.
All other options I leave untouched. Audio defaults to AAC 160kbps Dolby Pro Logic II. You can usually set audio tracks to auto unless you want a specific track to be embedded in the ripped file. I also generally don’t rip with subtitles but if you want, you can. Be warned however that the subtitles will be permanently embedded in the file. Once the DVD is ripped I import it into iTunes, and use that to edit things like episode name, number, season, etc. The final result is a file that looks great on an HDTV especially with HDMI upscaling helping along.
I know ripping DVD’s is still a bit of a legal gray zone, but as long as you don’t post it to torrent sites, you should be fine. Also, even with fast multicore computers, ripping will always take a while. Be patient, once the media has been freed from it’s optical prison, you’ll be more than happy.