Editor's Blog: Handbrake Helps Roman Save His DVDs

Editor's Blog: Handbrake Helps Roman Save His DVDs


The other day, my 2.5-year old son came up to me as I was washing the dishes. He tugged my leg and shouted, "Paw-pah, I wanna watch dis moo-vee" and in his cute little hand was a shiny Peter Pan DVD. The first thought I had was, "Whoa, he knows how to open the DVD player," because the disc was still in the player from the last time we watched it. The second thought, which came as soon as the first thought ended, was "Yikes! Don't mess up the disc!"


After I cleaned my son's fingerprints off the DVD, I popped it in the player. Fortunately, the DVD was fine. And as my son watched the movie, I decided that it was time to back up some of our DVDs and put the rest of my library into storage. This is a job for Handbrake, an open source utility that lets you rip commercially-made DVDs to your hard drive. I had been using HandBrake 0.7.1, but as it turned out, a new version of Handbrake (0.8.5b1) was released a few weeks ago. Good timing, I thought; I can check out the new Handbrake, back up my wife's first season DVD set of Lost (and Peter Pan after my son is done watching it), and write about Handbrake for my blog.


Before we begin with our look at Handbrake, here's something to consider. Handbrake lets you ripped encrypted DVDs to your hard drive, and breaking that encryption is considered a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The MPAA's Dan Glickman has recently stated that managed copying - ripping DVD content for use on an iPod, Mac, or a home server - is acceptable. However, using Handbrake for purposes other than for your own personal viewing is illegal.


Handbrake's main interface. Click to see a larger screen shot.


Handbrake has a new interface, but it's really not much different from version 0.7.1. The major difference is the Presets pane to the right. Handbrake 0.8.5b1 comes with three presets: Apple TV, iPod, and PS3. Pick one of these three presets to adjust your settings for optimal use for the related device.


When you put your DVD in your Mac, you select it as the source in Handbrake. The trickest part of Handbrake is figuring out which file on the DVD is the movie file. In the Title section in the main interface, you get a pull-down menu showing the rippable files on the DVD. The files are identified by time length, so if you're ripping a movie, you can select the file with the longest running time. It can get tricky if you're ripping a DVD with a commentary track or extra features that run the same length as the featured video.


Handbrake lets you adjust the picture setting resolution.


Click on the Picture Settings button, and you can manually adjust the pixel resolution instead of using a preset. There's also anamorphic widescreen support. Cool.


Handbrake supports 5.1 and Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound.


On the audio side, Handbrake lets you adjust the sample rate and bit rate. There's also support for surround sound. Want to keep the subtitles? Make sure you turn it on.


When you have your settings settled, click on Start, and go do something else. It can take a while to rip a DVD. On a Dual 2GHz Power Mac G5, it took three hours to rip a 45 minute episode of Lost. On a 1GHz PowerBook G4, it took 6 hours to rip a 45-minute episode. Fortunately, Handbrake is a Universal application, so you Intel Mac folks will get much faster results. For example, a 45-minute Lost episode took about an hour to rip on a 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo Intel iMac.


You can use Roxio Toast 8 Titanium to make DVDs...


...or you can use iDVD.


After the videos are ripped, I used Roxio Toast 8 Titanium to create a new DVD (you can also use iDVD). There's a catch: the commercial DVDs are double-sided DVDs capable of holding more data that the single-sided DVDs that I have to use because I don't have a double-layer DVD burner. That's OK with me; I don't need to include the extra features on my movie DVD backups, but it does mean I have to use more discs for my Lost backup. You can try adjusting Handbrake's settings to shrink down file sizes, but you'll sacrifice image and audio quality.




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MacTheRipper merely removes DVD encryption. It is a lossless "conversion", but you still have a bunch of .vob files. If you stop here, you can still use some disc burning software to create a new, perfect, region-free copy of the DVD.

HandBrake converts DVD's (with or without MacTheRipper) to video files, that you can more easily manipulate, or sync to your iTunes and your devices.

They are not the same product. In fact, I often rip a DVD with MacTheRipper, put the disc back, and then let HandBrake run overnight.



I haven't tried to rip Lost season 1 yet, but I've toasted 2 DVDs trying to rip & burn Lost season 2. In both cases it took several hours to rip a single disk. I've found some mention of more tricky encryption on that season's disks, but they all referred to burning on PCs. I've used MactheRipper+Toast successfully for a number of movies, but not for a TV series. I can't imagine that it's much different, right? Any suggestions on ripping & burning season 2 with Mac software?


Victor A,

YIKES.. Those rip times are too long! I've been ripping my dvd's on my PC using Nero 7 Ultra Edition Enhanced. Not as many options as handbrake, but I ripped my Zoolander dvd in 30-45 minutes. For the most part I haven't any issues with anti-piracy except last night when I tried to rip Constantine. I'll probably try handbrake for that one. I was recently on Roxio's site and they have a new product called Roxio Crunch. Probably going to switch to that soon.


Charles P. Whaley

Good review, Roman, but I have to agree with Sergio, that those ripping times with Handbrake are waaaaaaayyyy too long (and you didn't even add in the burn times).

Using the MacThe Ripper/Popcorn combo, I usually do a round trip in about the playing time of the movie, and I include all features (menus, subtitles, etc.) that I think I might use. My machine is an older G5 iMac (single core, non-Intel) wth a single-layer burner.

I sometimes skip the "extras" if I know they're likely to be crap, but normally it's the whole thing. Yes, there's degradation in the copy, but I find it minimal. Generally, that means the playback will pause for a second or two, then resume. At worst that'll happen a couple times. Annoying, but tolerable.

Since both solutions require you to buy Roxio Popcorn, I'd opt for MacTheRipper.

For comparison sake, Windows users have a better variety of free products. Since I'm using my Mac for other things, I will rarely copy DVDs while crunching spreadsheets or doing major web work. Maybe it doesn't matter but I like to play it safe.

So, nowadays, I use a Dell P4 (single core) Windows box to copy movies. (What else are Windows machines good for?)

With DVD Shrink (a freeware product) I also get round-trip performance of about the playing time of the movie. After you exclude what you don't want backed up, it's a one-click process to rip-and-burn. (Technically, it uses Nero, another freeware product, to do the burning, but it's so seamless you'd never know it unless you don't have Nero installed.)

So, I've learned that Handbrake isn't for me. I like to support open source products, but not if they reduce my productivity. I'm really glad you included those time estimates!! Thanks.


Eye of the Tiger

I myself have an iMac ppc and go the same route as Charles. Mac the ripper is much faster than handbrake, it is too slow.



Handbrake is a useful tools, thanx for your guide:)


Mark Lorenz

I downloaded the new version of Handbrake. After setting up my DVD, I want to add to queue or hit start, I get this message, " This is not a valid destination directory! " I am doing everything I did with Mediafork. Any suggestions?



Interesting article, but I'm still thinking that HB take too long time to rip a DVD. To back-up my purchased DVDs, I used MacTheRipper and Popcorn, the whole process take me between 60 to 90 minutes, to Rip and Burn an exactly copy of my DVD (Menus, Extras, etc. included)
My set-up is this MacBookPro Core 2Duo, 2.0Ghz, 1GB Memory.
Try it yourself and you gonna save some to time ;)
Best Regards.



Good Article. Roxio Popcorn works great also to compress the original dvd to fit onto a 4.7 gig dvd. So you can have a backup of the original. You lose some quality, but it works just like the original.



Handbrake is great, but how can you save the chapters for playback, i.e. like movies downloaded from Itunes. I guess it's the IDVD route...



Yes, speed of DVD encoding is definately a factor. My MacMini takes hours to encode a movie. However, my QuadCore G5 can encode a ripped DVD at a little better than real time using Handbrake. (example: a 2:15 movie takes about 1:55 to encode) So I am adding 6 or 8 movies a day to my media storage. This is using the provided AppleTV preset.

Overall, Handbrake has been great for my AppleTV. I am loving having my movie collection as handy and accessible as my music collection in iTunes. This is what really 'makes' the the AppleTV a terrific buy for me.

Once the industry wakes up and re-works their copyright laws regarding DVDs (for personal use, of course) then I'm sure Apple will add DVD ripping ability to iTunes just like CDs. What a breeze it will be.

Of course, by then, we may not be buying 'hard' media anymore...



The MPAA's Dan Glickman made it sound like they're investigating different DRM schemes to make it easier for consumers to use movies on multiple devices, but interoperable DRM is a contradiction itself. But at least the MPAA seems to be heading towards some progressive thinking when it comes to DRM.


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