Getting your DVDs onto your Mac, iPhone, iPod, or Apple TV

by Matt

One of the most common requests from clients is to learn how to get their movies and TV shows off of their DVDs and onto other devices. There’s no question the iTunes Store is fantastic — I’ve purchased hundreds of songs, along with a few movies and TV shows. Like me, most people I talk to purchased many of their favorite movies and TV shows long before the iTunes Store for videos came out, so they don’t want to repurchase this content. I always get the same questions: Is it legal? Is it hard to do? Does it take a long time? Do I need to buy anything?

Let me answer these questions by first showing you some of the advantages and disadvantages of converting your DVDs into a QuickTime movie:

Advantages

  • While you need to download at least two pieces of software, it doesn’t have to cost you any money.
  • Once you have your movie in a compatible format, you can play it on your Mac, your iPhone, iPod, or Apple TV. While you will sacrifice a bit of quality to make the movie playable on all of these devices, you’ll be happy to know you only have to complete this process once.
  • You’re effectively making a backup of your DVD. You can’t put this converted copy back onto a DVD-R should your original DVD ever stop working, but you’ll always have access to this digital version.
  • If you choose to watch these movies on your laptop (say, on a flight), you’ll use less battery power (allowing you to watch more), since your computer’s DVD drive will not need to spin.
  • Best of all, you won’t need to repurchase any of your DVDs!

Disadvantages

  • The legality of extracting the video from your DVDs is questionable, at least in the United States. I am not attempting to provide you with any legal advice, so consult with an attorney if you are concerned with the legal ramifications.
  • It’s time-consuming. Unless you have a Mac Pro, expect the whole process to take at least an hour (if not several) for each movie you want to convert. You’re not going to finish your 100 movie collection in one week, let alone one evening. If you want these for a trip, plan ahead!
  • It requires lots of hard drive space. As a general rule of thumb, expect each movie to consume at least 1 GB of space, a half-hour TV show to take 250 MB of space, and an hour show to take double. If you temporarily rip many DVDs in a row and then queue up each conversion (rather than doing one at a time), each DVD rip may temporarily consume 8 GB of disk space.
  • One size does not truly fit all. If you want to watch a widescreen movie with top-notch quality on your Mac or through your Apple TV, the file size of the movie will need to be large. At the same time, the iPod and iPhone’s tiny screen allows you to make a movie’s file size be much smaller and still achieve very good quality. For the most part, this means that making a universal file decreases the number of movies you can fit onto your iPod/iPhone.

Getting Started

If you’re still reading, I assume you’re ready to give this a try. I’m going to walk you through getting the software, ripping your first movie, and getting it onto your iPod/iPhone/Apple TV. At the end, I’ll give some tips for handling TV shows, multiple DVDs, and tagging the movies.

First, you need to download two pieces of software: Handbrake and VLC. These are great, and they are free. Handbrake is the program that will do all of our work. VLC is a full-featured application that plays many types of video. For our purposes, Handbrake will utilize one of the libraries in VLC to be able to take the video off of the DVD and put it onto your computer. All you need to do: put both applications in your Applications folder. This process may not work otherwise! Note: Be sure to download the appropriate application for your computer. If you have an Intel chip in your Mac, make sure you get the Intel versions. If you have a G4 or G5, make sure you get the PPC versions. Otherwise, this process will take MUCH longer.

Second, let’s put a DVD you want to copy into your Mac. For the first disc, please choose a movie rather than a TV show (and preferable a film that does not require subtitles). Once the DVD loads, what happens? Does DVD Player open? Does Front Row open? Or does nothing happen? Personally, I want nothing to happen. Why? I don’t want to have to quit DVD Player or Front Row every time I put a DVD in (since I’ll be ripping many of them). If you want to change your system preference to make sure nothing happens, here’s how:

  • Open System Preferences (either in your Dock, your Applications folder, or from the Apple Menu).
  • Click on “CDs & DVDs.”
  • On the line that says, “When you insert a video DVD,” select, “Ignore.” That’s it!

Using Handbrake

Now we’re ready to begin using Handbrake to convert the DVD. Open the program from your Applications folder. Handbrake will ask if you’d like to check for updates at startup. That’s up to you. I say “Yes” because I like to know when newer, better versions are released. You’ll then be presented with this window:

Handbrake is asking you, with this Open File dialog box, where the movie is. This should be easy to find, since the name of the DVD should appear under the Devices tab. Select the DVD and click “Open.” Note: Your video files are actually in a folder called Video_TS on the DVD. This will be true for every movie or TV show. Handbrake should automatically find this folder. If it does not, you can manually select the folder, too.

After you click “Open,” Handbrake’s window will say, “Scanning new source” and give you a progress bar. This might take 30 seconds or so. Once this is done, click the “Toggle Presets” button in the upper-right corner of the window so that you can see the presets tab:

I’ve done a couple of things here. First, I’ve opened the presets drawer, then I clicked on the “Apple” presets triangle so that I could see the built-in presets for different Apple devices. You should select one of these presets. Here’s how to choose:

  • If you only want to play these videos on an iPod, choose iPod.
  • If you want to play these only on an iPhone/iPod touch, choose iPhone & iPod Touch.
  • If you only want to play the movies on an Apple TV, choose Apple TV.
  • If you only want to play the movies on your Mac (not any other device), choose QuickTime.
  • Finally, if you want to play the movies on at least two of these devices, you should choose Universal. That’s what I’m going to pick. I personally play the movies on my Mac, Apple TV, and iPhone.

Getting Dangerous

It’s at this point that you can make things easy or difficult on yourself. If you want to go the easy route, simply click “Start” at the top of the window, and you’re in business. You’ll get a progress bar at the bottom of the window, along with an estimated time until the encoding process will be complete. You’ll notice that the default location for Handbrake to store your file is on your Desktop, using the name of the DVD disc as the file name. If this is the way you choose to go, great! Skip down to “Getting it Into iTunes.”

If you want to be a bit dangerous and modify some settings, here are the common ones:

Video Tab

  • You can click on “Browse…” to change the location of where the file is stored. You can then rename the file, too.
  • On the video tab, there are several changes you can make. You want to leave the “Video Codec” and “Framerate (FPS)” tabs alone. These ensure you’ll have the highest quality file that can be played on these device.
  • Under the “Quality” buttons, you can choose “Target Size” to make your movie fit into an exact file size. Handbrake will adjust the quality of the video to make sure you get the size you’ve asked for. Smaller sizes = lower quality. Note that you can’t make the quality better than the DVD itself (so if you have a regular DVD, no matter what size you pick, you can’t turn it into a high definition DVD).
  • You can also select “Average bitrate.” This setting allows you to select how many kilobits of data each second of the video will consume. You might try 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000, 2500, etc. and look at the differences. Choose a sweet-spot: the lowest rate that still looks acceptable to your eyes.
  • Finally, you can select a “Constant Quality.” This is a more complex algorithm. Basically, you can experiment with different percentage levels to find another sweet spot. Note that this setting does not allow for 2-pass encoding.
  • If you selected Target Size/Average Bitrate, you can also click the button for 2-pass encoding and Turbo First Pass. Two pass encoding means Handbrake will actually look at your video twice. The first time, it will note when the video seems static (like when someone is talking) vs when it is constantly changing (like in an explosion or chase scene). Video frames that are changing require more disk space than ones that are not. A two-pass encode gets your better quality at the same file size, at the cost of requiring more time to render the video. I suggest you turn on Turbo First Pass, which will not take as long as a full pass.
  • While you can change the picture settings, I don’t suggest it. Why? Handbrake has already selected the most appropriate video size when you selected a preset in the Presets Drawer. The only thing I commonly change is Detelecine and Deinterlace but almost ONLY for TV shows. Basically, if you are ripping a TV show (including cartoons), go ahead and click on the “Picture Settings…” button. Look at each photo of your TV show (by clicking “Next” and “Previous”). If you notice black lines coming off of people or objects in any of these photos, your video might be interlaced. In order to not see these black lines in your final video, you can select “Slower” from the Deinterlace popup to have Handbrake do its best to remove them. DO NOT select this if you fail to see the lines, since there will be a reduction in video quality.

Audio & Subtitles

  • In this tab, you do two things: choose which audio tracks you want to hear and force the inclusion of subtitles. Note that this is not like the DVD: you will not be able to turn on/off the subtitles (they will always be on if you include them), and only some devices/applications let you select which of the audio tracks to listen to. My advice: only select one audio track and only choose to add subtitles if you don’t speak the language you hear on the DVD.
  • I don’t want to get into the different types of audio codecs you can use (it’s beyond the scope of this primer). My suggestion is that you let Handbrake choose. If you only choose one audio track, though, make sure it says “AAC (faac)” under “Audio Codec.” If you choose to use only one audio track and the codec is AC3 Passthru, it will not play on your portable devices. Only include the AC3 Passthru if it’s the second audio track.

Chapters

  • You already know what Chapters are for DVDs (probably). They’re like bookmarks for your DVD, allowing you to skip to certain sections. I love them, and I suggest you leave them on, with one caveat: if you play this movie on an Apple TV, chapter markers will prevent you from fast forwarding or rewinding the video. You will only be able to go to the start of individual chapters, so if you want those other capabilities, you will need to deselect chapters. This does not apply to the iPod/iPhone.

Advanced

  • LEAVE IT ALONE. Please don’t change settings here unless you’ve looked at the Handbrake forums and know what you’re doing.

Getting it into iTunes

Once your video encode is complete, you’ll probably want to add it to iTunes so you can play it there or copy it to another device. Simply double click the file, and it should open iTunes and copy it into the iTunes folder. If it does not, simply drag the file’s icon onto the iTunes icon in the dock, and the file will copy.

iTunes, by default, makes a copy of the file you import and places it in the iTunes folder inside your Music folder. Because of this, when you add the file to iTunes, you’re going to be stuck with two copies: one in the iTunes folder, and one on your Desktop (or wherever you put it). Once you copy the file to iTunes, I suggest you delete the Desktop copy to save space. You’ll no longer need it.

Now the process begins again with the next DVD! In a future post, I’ll explain how to rip TV shows, use MetaX to tag your videos with helpful information, and use Handbrake’s queue to process many videos at once.

Did this work for you? Have a suggestion to improve this answer? Post your thoughts in the comments section!

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 amanda December 25, 2008 at 7:38 pm

i did everything the directions said and it only half way worked. i got the icon and everything but when i double click it and it opens up to iTunes it’s a 6 sec. long video that’s just a big blur of green.

2 Matt December 25, 2008 at 7:44 pm

Without being in front of your machine, my best guess is that Handbrake could not correctly identify the main feature of the DVD and chose only a six second segment. I’d try again and manually select the Title. Make sure it’s an appropriate length (say, an hour and a half).

After the encode completes, don’t quit Handbrake until after you’ve tested the video in iTunes. If the video still doesn’t work, open up the Activity Window in Handbrake (it has an icon in the upper right portion of the window). Copy all the text and paste it into a comment here, and I can take a look. Alternatively, you can do the same at the Handbrake forums.

3 Bela December 27, 2008 at 10:33 pm

ummmm Handbrake says it can’t find VLC in apps…and it’s there!!

4 Jim December 28, 2008 at 5:23 am

I just use mvPod from Sourceforge.net

5 Sam December 29, 2008 at 11:58 am

Any helpful clues for PC using iPhone owners?

6 Stew January 2, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I have the same problem as Bela…i choose the option to decode anyway but it says 4+ hours for the decode so I said thanks but no thanks:) I have restarted and the same issue occurs. Any advice would be excellent.

7 Matt January 2, 2009 at 7:44 pm

I have a 2.4 Ghz Core 2 Duo iMac with 4GB RAM, and it takes about 3 hours to encode a 2 hour movie. That’s not an error; that’s simply how long it takes to encode an H.264 video file. You cannot do this in ten minutes.

8 Stew January 2, 2009 at 8:10 pm

coolism…that’s all I wanted to hear, thanks:)

9 Daniel January 3, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I’ve converted my movie using Handbrake and dropped it into iTunes but I still cannot get it onto my iPhone. iTunes only let’s me sync rented video’s – there is not even a movie tab. I have it set to automatically sync everything.

I currently live in the UK, so perhaps this is why? Maybe there are stricter copyright laws here which prevent Apple from allowing us to add movies to other devices?

Thanks

10 Matt January 9, 2009 at 10:53 am

Daniel,

This one is a bit more difficult for me since you indicate iTunes does not even have a tab for Movies. Even if you have no movies to sync, the tab should still be there when you click on your iPhone in the iTunes window. You may need to reinstall iTunes or delete its preferences (also make sure you have the latest version). Obviously, if you delete your preferences, then all the preferences will be reset to factory defaults (you’d delete the com.apple.iTunes.plist and com.apple.iPod.plist files in your user’s Preferences folder, which is in your Library folder).

If you can get a Movies tab, select your converted movies to sync, and then try a sync. If you get an error message indicating those movies cannot be copied, then we know you need to encode the movies differently in Handbrake. You could try using the iPhone preset under the Apple preset tab. If you manually set the bit rate, don’t go above 1500.

Let me know what happens.

11 pete January 13, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Worked for me, just got 200 DVDs to back up now, thanks for wasting 200 or so hours for me Matt ;-)

12 Scott A. January 15, 2009 at 12:16 am

When Handbrake/VLC doesn’t work, you may want to take a look at RipIt. (http://www.ripitapp.com). It often rips things that others won’t, which you can then run through handbrake (although there can be issues there at the moment – they’re working on it though).

My only problem with Handbrake is that, even with presets, it’s dang complicated.

13 Jennifer February 25, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Thanks for the great how-to! I didn’t find your site until after I guessed my way through my first conversion. I queued up eight episodes of a program on one DVD and Handbrake converted all of them. But all that showed up on my desktop was one episode and that’s all that opens in iTunes. Any ideas?

14 Matt February 25, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Hi Jennifer,

My guess is that you did not change the file name for each item in the queue (which you can do on the File line near the top of the Handbrake window). Unlike some other programs, Handbrake will overwrite an existing file with the same file name. I’m betting that if you watch the file you have, the video will be of the last item in your queue, since it was the last to be written to that same file.

15 Sam Bailey May 13, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Hey Matt, i use handbrake and all of my movies look nothing like the quality of a regular itunes bought movie. They turn out all fuzzy like with weird colors on my mac.
Thanks

16 Liam May 20, 2009 at 6:52 am

I love Mac and try not to have a PC in my house, but something has always bugged me about ripping DVD’s on the MAC. Why does Handbrake take almost 3 hours to convert a two hour DVD on a new and powerful Mac, whereas a modest PC with DVD Shrink can rip and compress the same movie in less than 30 minutes. Surely, there must be some setting/algorithm that is letting DVD Shrink “cheat” and get this done so fast. I have to admit, the result of DVD Shrink always looks good on a 40″ HD LCD TV. HOW CAN THIS BE? Thanks.

17 Chantelle July 14, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Thanks it worked! but is this process any different for tv shows??

18 amy September 8, 2009 at 1:25 am

Does using handbrake on a dvd leave any lasting evidence?

19 Grace October 4, 2009 at 5:04 am

I have a Mac G5, and tried downloading Handbrake for it. But when I get it open and start to scan it, it the progress bar gets 1/3 of the way and stops there. In the Activity Bar thingy, it keeps repeating that it’s failed. So what do I do? I have downloaded all the mac versions from the handbrake website and tried them out, but they all seem to have this problem.

20 Moon River October 19, 2009 at 11:13 pm

For Mac users:
If you also want to get your iPod nano Video to DVD on Mac, just follow this guide:
http://www.mediasoftmac.com/dvd-creator-articles/how-to-convert-ipod-nano-videos-to-dvd-on-mac.html#129

21 karrysony August 4, 2010 at 10:24 pm

good !
I useipod to mac software
Transfer and backup iPod/iTouch files to computer hard disk and iTunes directly

22 michael September 3, 2010 at 10:20 pm

can you explain how to get wide screen version when DVD contains both wide screen and full screen?

23 Liam September 3, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Michael,

I would suggest using MacTheRipper 3.0r14 in non-Disc mode to select streams. For instance, it allows you to rip a single episode off a disc with multiple episodes. It allows you to nip out the extras (DVD Menu, Previews, etc.). In your case you might have to experiment a little to nip out the 4:3 version in favour of the 16:9 version.

24 Sam September 4, 2010 at 6:25 am

Use handbrake! It’s amazing Mac the ripper doesn’t work

25 michael September 4, 2010 at 8:16 am

Liam – MacTheRipper does not work for me – rejects most disks with various error messages.

Sam – any idea how to choose from the different formats? can’t figure that one out.

26 Scott September 4, 2010 at 7:00 pm

I also suggest handbrake (with VLC installed). You don’t have to jump through hoops to get it like Mac the Ripper.

But my absolute favorite is RipIt.

27 Liam September 4, 2010 at 7:39 pm

My advice to MTR was only referring to the ripping process. I find it the easiest to isolate the sources on the DVD that I want to compress/convert/burn — maybe I just want the Main Feature without the rest of the DVD junk or maybe I want to isolate one episode of a DVD that has multiple television episodes. After using MTR you can use DVD Shrink, RedKawa Videora, Toast, HandBrake, VisualHub, whatever to compress/convert/burn.

I have used MacTheRipper on over 300 DVDs (about 60 in the last 2 months were newly released material) without fail on various machines — PB G4 Ti, PB G4 Al, Intel MacBook, Intel MacBook Pro, Intel Mac Mini, PowerPC Dual G5. I simply insert the DVD, leave MTR in Disc mode, and push “GO”. With one button push, I have the ripped DVD onto my desktop and can do whatever I want with it. Why not rip a DVD to your desktop BEFORE beginning the compression/conversion to eliminate DVD spin time? I have never had a DVD fail, unless it was scratched beyond belief. I am in the United States. Could you issues be due to NTSC vs PAL or region codes? Could you be having problems with MTR 2.x? I used to use MTR 2.x all the time without issue but moved onto MTR 3.0 at some point. Sometimes MTR does say that a DVD is protected, but I just Push “OK” and go right past the message and continue ripping. To say that MTR doesn’t work is ridiculous.

28 dudude August 10, 2011 at 9:30 pm

You can also get Clone2Go DVD Ripper for Mac to help you convert DVD to Mac, iPod, iPad, iPhone, etc.

http://www.clone2go.com

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