I have a friend who recently got the one/two combo of a Mac Mini and AppleTV. (Hi, Micha!) Starting with digital files from the iTunes store is all well and good, but he also has a nice collection of DVDs that he’d like to slurp into the Mac for easy access. There aren’t too many great how-to guides out there that aren’t trying to sell you software, so I thought I would write some short instructions.
First, insert the DVD. I picked Hackers because it came up in conversation and because it’s one of the movies I own that I haven’t yet ripped.
Launch HandBrake. If you do not already have it, it is free and Open Source software that you can download for Windows, Mac, and Linux at http://handbrake.fr/.
Wait. Keep waiting. Go fix yourself some tea. HandBrake must scan the disc and search for all possible titles. Sometimes this take a minute, sometimes it takes five. It depends on how complex the DVD menu tree is.
Use the Title dropdown (in the upper left) to pick a title that looks right. By default, the title with the longest duration is selected. For most DVDs, this is correct. You will typically have one Title that is over an hour (i.e. the film itself) and several titles that are all under a minute (menus, previews, studio logos, and so on). If you find multiple Titles that are all over an hour, you will need to do a little more sleuthing with the DVD Player app to pick the correct one. Alternately, if your DVD is a TV show and contains multiple episodes of similar length, you will need to figure out which Title corresponds to which episode. Both of these are covered below.
Assuming only one really long Title is present, verify that it is selected. Now pick the AppleTV 3 preset. This preset produces a very high quality output file suitable for playing back on an HDTV. The tradeoff with this preset is that the resulting file size is not as small as some of the other presets. This means you won’t get quite as many movies or TV shows stuffed into an iPhone or iPad, but they will still play just fine. On my setup, I used the little gear icon in the lower-right to make AppleTV 3 the default preset.
Hit the green “Start” button in the toolbar and wait. And wait. And wait. This will take some time. After a minute or two, you will finally see an ETA along the lower edge of the window. Depending on the speed of your computer, it may take the duration of the movie to rip it to a file.
Eventually, you will have an m4v video file. This will have a name similar to the DVD’s name, which may bear little resemblance to the movie’s actual name. Feel free to rename it. In fact, if you follow the upcoming optional step, you will absolutely want to rename it.
I typically run my files through iFlicks to download and attach all of the fancy metadata that shows up in iTunes such as actors, description, genre, and cover art. It also tags it as either a movie or TV show so that it appears in the right place in the AppleTV menus. It does this by querying IMDB or TheTVDB. Note that iFlicks is not a free application. There is a free trial, but you will have to purchase it if you want to use it long term.
There you go!
The Complication: Picking the Correct Title
Sometimes it is unclear which title is the one you need to rip. This is true if the movie menuing system does some weird stuff such as regular versus extended-cut, has some weird copy protection (or, rather, menu-based obfuscation), or if you have several pieces of content of equal length (such as three or four TV shows).
Load up Apple’s DVD player app. Let it go through the startup menus. Hit play and let the movie launch. Once the actual movie has started — that is, the movie after legal disclaimers and studio logos, and there are characters on screen talking — hit the “Go” pulldown menu, move your mouse over to Title, and make note of the title number. The following screenshot basically shows it if you pretend the checkboard is the movie playing. Apple does this to prevent taking screenshots of DVDs.