How To Copy DVDs By Josh Blagden | JB - Mac Help | JBlagden

How To Copy DVDs By Josh Blagden

Have you ever had to buy a new copy of a DVD you already have because your original copy became unreadable? Have you ever wanted to bring your entire DVD collection with you? Have you ever wanted to watch a movie that you have on DVD on an iOS device without having to repurchase it on iTunes? Or have you wanted to watch something from a DVD on a non-Apple device?

Copying your DVDs is a great thing to do on your Mac. This is partially because DVDs have the problem of becoming unreadable after they get scratches or fingerprints on them, which is why it’s important to back them up on your computer or even an external hard drive. It’s also a lot easier to access your DVDs after you’ve copied them to your computer. It allows you to take your entire DVD library with you when you travel. I have all of my DVD’s on my external hard drive. It’s a lot easier just to bring a portable external hard drive than to bring hundreds of DVDs. Also, there are times when you would like to watch something on a non-Apple device, for example a friend’s computer or an Android tablet.

Before I procede, I must first address the concern which may have arisen in many readers’ minds: I understand that many people may be concerned about the legality of copying DVDs, largely due to the FBI warnings found on all DVDs. Those FBI warnings are actually referring to piracy. It’s not illegal to copy your own DVDs; it’s only illegal to distribute those copies. Media companies put those FBI warnings on DVDs to scare people from copying their own DVDs so they’ll have to repurchase their entire DVD collection on iTunes or even Blu-ray; they want you to re-purchase your media collection in every new format so they’ll have an endless stream of revenue from repeat purchases of the same content. 

For example, you might have Back to the Future on VHS, then bought it on DVD, then bought it on Blu-Ray, and then if you weren’t aware you could copy it, you’d buy it on iTunes, at which point you’d have bought the same three movies in four different formats. That’s at least $100 in the media company’s pocket, and that’s just one person. Multiply that by a million and that media company has made upwards of $100 million just from selling copies of the movies, three-quarters of which very well could be in newer formats(i.e. DVD, iTunes) which people have purchased to have a copy of the movie in a newer format than, say VHS.

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There are many programs for copying DVDs, but most Mac users use Handbrake, which is a very capable free program. Here's what Handbrake looks like:

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 11.11.29 AM

Handbrake is a bit difficult to get running. It used to be able to crack the copy protection of DVDs on its own, but later required VLC Media Player for that purpose. However, VLC Media Player version 2 redacts that capability which it previously lent to Handbrake. Now, Handbrake requires installation of libdvdcss to be able to crack the copy-protection schemes of DVDs. Here’s the issue: Disney DVDs made in or after 2009 still cannot be copied with the most recent version of libdvdcss; they can only be copied via VLC’s screen recording feature.

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To select the disc, you just click on Source and then it will ask you what you want to copy like this: 

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 11.13.29 AM

After you have clicked on the DVD(under Devices) that you’d like to copy, click on Open(or press Return). From here Handbrake will begin scanning the disc, like this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 11.15.30 AM

After it finishes scanning the disc, you can designate the folder where you like the resulting file and the name you’d like to give it under the Destination heading. After that, you can tweak other settings like the output settings and also the Subtitles and Chapters. 

Subtitles: Even if you don’t think you’ll need subtitles, they’re very useful whenever you can’t understand a word an actor has said or when someone in the room is talking over the T.V.. It’s a lot easier to add the subtitles before you start copying the DVD than to realize that you’d like subtitles, and then have to recopy the movie or T.V.  show episode again.

Here's the subtitle section:

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 11.27.50 AM

Here's the Chapter section, which is very nice because it allows you to add the chapter titles, which makes it seem a bit more like an iTunes movie: 

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 11.29.33 AM

Another thing to look at is the presets and other picture settings. The panel on the left has the presets, including a few that I've made to make it a lot easier to copy DVDs without having to tweak the picture settings every time I copy a DVD. You can make your own presets just as I have by adjusting the picture settings and then clicking on the plus (+) button in the side panel, which is rather useful because Handbrake often crops videos instead of preserving their original resolution and also because many older DVDs are interlaced. Once you find the right settings for a particular type of DVD, make a preset out of those settings allows you to use the same settings without having to remember them, especially because by the time you reuse the, you might not remember them and it also speeds up the process of copying DVDs by not requiring you to alter the settings every time you use Handbrake. 

After you've selected your preset, you can adjust the settings even further, like this: 

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 11.21.06 AM

You can get a preview of how the current settings will make the video look by clicking on Preview. The result will look something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 11.33.17 AM

For this, I selected the Universal Preset. This has a lot of unused pixels, but that's the way the movie was filmed. You could adjust it to fill more of the screen, but if you do that, you'll actually lose some of the picture, much like a full-screen version of a movie that was filmed in widescreen. 


When you're finished with picture settings, you can finally click on Start(or press Command+S) and it will begin copying the DVD in MP4 format(for compatibility with iTunes and iOS devices) or whatever format you choose. This process usually takes about 37 minutes or so for movies which are around an hour and a half long, although that will depend on your Mac’s Central Processing Unit (CPU) and optical drive. In addition to copying your DVD movies, you can also use Handbrake for copying DVDs of TV shows. In fact, I have already copied my entire DVD collection of Home Improvement:   

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 11.55.52 AM

Although, it will take a while for a whole disc of a TV show to be copied. So, if you copy a disc of a TV show, you should set up Handbrake to copy all of the episodes on the disc. This way you can just leave your Mac copying the disc while you go do something else. This will also keep you from having to babysit it for about 10 minutes per episode. 

Another nice thing about Handbrake is that you can do batch conversions, which is a very important capability when you're copying DVDs of TV shows. To do a batch conversion, you add each thing to the queue by clicking the Add to Queue button. 

If you have an extra optical drive(or two), you’ll be happy to know that you can use Handbrake’s queue for more than one disc, which is a very handy feature when you’re working on a large DVD copying project. It can keep you from having to babysit your computer and having to wait to set up the next disc. This can save you a lot of time and aggravation.

.Here’s what the queue looks like after you’ve set up a disc of TV shows: 

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 11.57.40 AM

When you’re copying DVDs, particularly DVDs of TV shows, you’ll definitely want to make use of a program called Subler, which allows you to easily add metadata which allows iTunes to correctly organize and display the TV Show episodes, even if you haven’t made a folder for each season of a TV show.  Adding metadata is particularly useful if you ever have to re-introduce a series of T.V. shows to iTunes, or even if you don’t want to have to organize them in iTunes. 

Subler is available at: https://code.google.com/p/subler/downloads/list

You can even set Handbrake to open the window for adding metadata to your movie or T.V.  show episode when it’s done being encoded:

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The Subler window for the video which Handbrake finished copying will look something like this:

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From here, you type in the name of the movie. In the case of a TV show, you click on TV Episode, or in the case of a movie, you click on Movie. Then, it will look like this: 

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 6.16.02 PM

There, you type in the the name of the TV show, the season number and the Episode number. If you don’t know the episode number, you can just type in the season number and then scroll through the list to find the episode that you’re looking for. But, if you don’t know the season number, you can go to www.thetvdb.com to search for the episode. 

That brings us to another issue: Specials. There are TV specials from time to time, such as the Spongebob special: Pest of the West. Subler usually uses TheTVDB for T.V.  shows and The MovieDB for movies. But, those databases don’t have specials listed in a way that would allow you to gather that data with Subler. To correct this, click on TheTVDB(or The MovieDB) and then a drop-down menu will appear. From there, click on iTunes. Now, you can get the metadata for the TV special from iTunes.

Now, from there, you can click Add after you have successfully found the movie or TV show metadata, and then you can choose the artwork, like this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 6.22.22 PM

Once you’ve selected the artwork, click on Set as artwork. 

Then you reach this point:

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 6.23.34 PM

Now, you just go to the File Menu and click Save, or for those who prefer keyboard shortcuts, Command+S.

As I mentioned earlier, Handbrake originally was able to copy DVD’s on its own, but that ability was later revoked. Then it was able to get its DVD copying abilities by way of VLC Media Player: http://get.videolan.org/vlc/2.0.6/macosx/vlc-2.0.6.dmg. Now, Handbrake can’t even copy DVD’s with the help of VLC Media Player. To be able to get it up and running again, you’ll need to download the most recent copy of LibDVDCSS. Here’s where you can get a copy of it: https://app.box.com/s/v7x6d1xgyj1c8qgnn72a

One last thing to discuss is storage. You might be copying DVD’s directly to a flash drive. If you do that, you may end up with files that are unreadable. If this happens, you have run out of room on your flash drive. To remedy this, you can clear off any files that you don’t need on there, or use a different flash drive. If you’re using a Solid State Drive, it would definitely be advisable to use a hard drive because, for financial reasons, you’re most likely using a low-capacity Solid State Drive and have your hard drive in an OWC Data Doubler.


© Joshua Blagden & Justin Barczak 2013-2015
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