Converting your DVD library to iTunes

Posted on June 30, 2012


Microwave DVD

Ripping and Zapping DVDs

DVDs are Dead.  Long Live The King.

The concept of a disc as the vehicle for watching content is dead.  My kids prefer to stream movies to the iPads or Airplay them to the big screen.  That said we still have a large library of old DVDs.  While the movie industry isn’t excited about users being able to rip their DVD collection it is obvious that between NetFlix and iTunes that more and more movies are being streamed rather than played from DVD or Blu-Ray.

If your old enough to remember VHS and having to buy the same movie again when it came out on DVD then you’ll be happy to know that using a few tools on your Mac you can easily convert your DVDs to movies.

In this post we’ll cover the steps needed to convert (aka ripping) your DVD library into MPEG-4 movies (.M4V) that are compatible with playback on PCs, Macs, iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) and even Apple TV.  The good news is that most of the tools are free and work well.  The bad news is that a few of your DVDs you will try to convert and you will need to find other tools or buy the movie digitally.  One advantage of buying the movie in iTunes is that it is made available online for streaming to any Apple device using your same Apple ID.  Movies that we “rip” have to be hosted on our computer or Synology NAS in order to be shared.

In a future post I’ll cover how to setup your Synology NAS as an iTunes server capable of streaming these converted DVDs so that you don’t have to use your Mac or PC as an iTunes server.

Here are the tools you’ll need:

Be sure the following 3 applications are installed on your computer.  These tools are also available for windows users, but these steps are written from the Mac point of view.  I have not included the steps for Blu-Ray, but they are similar.  Apple never embraced Blu-Ray so users would need to buy a 3rd party Blu-Ray disc drive to rip their Blu-Ray discs.

– iTunes (free) – This should already be installed.  You should take some time to think about how you are going to organize your converted DVD movies.  In Itunes/Preferences/Advanced if you have Keep iTunes Media folder organized checked and “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library” checked it will help automate the adding of your DVD collection to iTunes.  Just make sure that the hard drive specified has room for all your movies since it is about to grow much larger as you convert your collection.  iTunes can stream MPEG 4 movies to a variety of Apple devices 9iTouch, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV).  In a future post I’ll talk about how you can move your movies from your Mac (or PC) to your Synology NAS which is better

VLC Media Player  (free)  This is an open source media player that allows media playback on all major platforms.  You need to install VLC because it installs the playback library that allows the Mac to bypass CSS DVD Copy Protection used on Hollywood DVDs use to prevent copying.  It is useful for playing back all kinds of movie formats that your Mac can’t normally play (.WMV Windows, DIVX, XVID, Real, etc.).

HandBrake (free)  This is an open source media encoder that is used to convert the MPEG-2 movies on the DVD into MPEG-4 movies that iTunes uses for it’s movie format.  Handbrake has no ability to decrypt copy protected DVDs, so be sure to install VLC and possibly MacTheRipper.  This is the app you’ll be using the most so take the time to get familiar with it.  It can rip DVDs, Blu-Ray and convert downloaded movies in .MKV (Divx) to .M4V Apple iOS compatible movies.

Additional Tools that may help:

MacTheRipper (free) – NOT Mac OS X Lion 10.7 compatible.  You really only need this app for DVDs that licensed Rovi’s Macrovision scrambling protection (Disney titles) or to get around DVDs that won’t play on your Mac because of Region coding.  If you notice your handbraked movies playing severely pixellated (all the time, or intermittently) you will need to use this application to rip the DVD to a folder on your hard drive and then let HandBrake treat the folder just like a DVD to convert the Vidoe_TS .vob file into a useful .M4V file.

RipIt ($25) – For OS X Lion users that can’t use MacTheRipper and are running into problems decrypting a DVD or Blu-Ray disc to be converted using HandBrake then this is a good solution.

– MakeMKV (free while in beta) – Mainly for PC and Mac users running into issues decrypting DVDs or Blu-Ray discs.

– Meta Z (free) – From the ashes of Meta X comes a Meta Tage editor called Meta Z.  This app is useful for identifying and filling in your movie’s meta tags (movie info, cover art, etc) before you import it into iTunes.  I was having problems with the album art saving, but this was easy to manually add in iTunes.

iDentify (Mac App Store $10) – Like Meta Z, this is an optional piece of software, but is very useful for automatically adding the pretty cover art and movie info you see in iTunes.  I have found iDentify more stable that Meta Z, but both apps won’t always find your movie’s info so you’ll still have to manually add on occasion.  You simply drag the .M4V file that HandBrake creates onto the iDentify application icon, verify it found the correct name and metadata for your movie and save the file.  When you double click the saved .M4V file it will open in iTunes and add it to your movie library (if you have iTunes set to organize your files in).  If you don’t buy iDentify you can manually add the DVD info by selecting the movie in iTunes and choosing File> Get info.  You can do a google image search for the DVD case artwork and copy/paste it into the artwork field.

iSubtitle (Mac App Store $19) – A useful app for those of you want to add subtitles to your movies that don’t have them.  This is useful if your DVD didn’t include a Closed Caption file or if you have a family member that doesn’t understand English, but you want to put a subtitle of the language they can read so they can follow the movie.  Most movies in the iTunes store sadly don’t carry many movies with subtitles or closed captioning so iSubtitle is a great program.  The app includes built in search engine to help you find subtitles in any language for your movie.  Once selected the subtitles auto import.  A watch button lets you preview the video with the subtitles to verify they match.  If you have a special version of the movie (Director’s Cut, etc.) you should make sure the subtitles match.

Burn (free) – A useful app if you need to take an iTunes movie and go back to a DVD with it.  You won’t get back your interactive DVD menus, but if you simply want your movie to playback on a DVD player (like the one in your SUV) this app will do the trick.

Getting Started:

I’ve posted these steps for folks that have a purchased DVD collection and simply want to make their movies available via iTunes to watch on their TV, iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.

Do not use these steps to pirate DVDs.  While it might be tempting to use this on Netflix. RedBox or Library discs I would discourage you from doing so.  Most DVDs are cheap to buy these days (even cheaper than buying them in iTunes).

My ripped collection of 225 DVDs (Hollywood and Home Movies) on my Mac takes almost 1 TB of data.  The goal is to move these to my Synology DS411j with 12TB of space (9TB accessible with 3TB reserved for drive failure).

Step 1: Get your DVDs

Go and grab a stack of DVDs from your library.  Transcoding a DVD to a MPEG-4 movie takes a long time so make sure you are setup so that you can quickly swap out a DVD and keep your  so Mac ripping.  Be careful to keep track of which DVDs you’ve ripped and which ones you still have to do.  I put a sticker on each DVD case once I was done to help keep track.

Step 2: Tell Apple Player to stop being annoying

Fire up your Mac.  Go to your Apple’s DVD Player and DISABLE the autoplay on insert preferences!  Launch DVD Player (Applications Folder), Go to the menu bar and select DVD Player, subselect preferences and in the player controls turn off” Enter Full screen mode, and turn off start playing disc (When DVD Player opens and when a disc is inserted).  Otherwise you’ll go nuts if you try to use HandBrake and DVD Player at the same time.  Unlike hard drives, disc drives are horrible at handling more than 1 data request at a time so make sure only 1 app is accessing the DVD disc drive!

Apple DVD Player 5500.26.11 Preferences

Apple DVD Player – Turn off “Start playing disc” in preferences.  Mac OS X 10.7.4

Step 3 – Insert the DVD disc you want to rip.

Now that auto-launch is turned off nothing should happen when the disc is inserted.

Step 4 – Launch HandBrake.

It should open with the Open Source dialog open.  If not, choose File > Open Source.  Navigate to your DVD and to the Video_TS folder.  Click open.  Handbrake will now scan the DVD.  You should hear a lot of disc drive noise while completing the scan.

Step 5 -HandBrake Presets for Apple iOS devices

Choose the preset for the device you want to playback on.  Their aren’t presets yet for the Retina iPad3, but the recent update has added 1080p support for Apple TV 3.  If in doubt use Universal.

Handbrake – Click Toggle Presets and choose your device.  Handbrake 0.9.6

For those folks that use multiple generations of Apple TV please note that each Apple TV preset is optimized to take advantage of that generation of Apple TV hardware.  An Apple TV 3 preset encodes at full HD and full frame rate (fps) and creates a movie that will not playback on Apple TV 2 or Apple TV 1.

An Apple TV 1 (original 1st generation Apple TV that is grey and big like a Mac Mini instead of small, black and without a hard drive like ATV 2 & 3) can’t play back ATV 2 or ATV 3 encoded movies.  The movies will load into your Apple TV, but you will only see black video or experience a crash (hold menu and minus key on Apple remote to reset an ATV).

What to do?  You can either encode the movie twice, once at each optimized ATV preset you need (just name the movie accordingly), or you can choose the lowest common denominator (Apple TV 1 preset will encode movies that will play on Apple TVs 1-3 without issue).  For DVD movies you shouldn’t see much of a difference, but for HD the Apple TV 1 can only play 720p at 24 fps vs the ATV 2 at 720p at 29.97 fps vs the ATV3 at 1080p 30fps).

Step 6 – Titles aka Choosing which Movies on your DVD to rip.

It helps if you have an understanding of how the DVD you are going to convert is laid out.  For your first DVD take the time to navigate thru the menus on your DVD player and see what bonus content is mentioned.  Converting your DVD movies means you lose your DVD menus.  Each movie clip on the DVD that you want has to be brought over as an individual movie file.

In handbrake you need to specify which title(s) you want to convert off the DVD.  Each Title is a MPEG-2 movie found on the disc.  Many DVDs have previews of other movies and bonus movies as DVD extras.  Select the drop down and look for which movie is the longest.  This is your main film.  Some DVDs are authored by connecting multiple movies.  This is commonly done on TV shows where each title is an episode.  If you want to convert more than 1 title you’ll need to do steps 7-11 and then use the “Add to Queue” button.  Do this for each title and then use the show queue and the start button to begin your conversion.

Step 7 -Parlez Vous Francais? aka Choosing Audio Tracks in HandBrake

Choose the audio tab in the Handbrake window and make sure the correct DVD language you want is selected!  There is nothing worse then ripping a movie with the wrong language.  The cool feature is that you can embed multiple languages into your finished movie.  This is useful for households with more than one language spoken, or for folks trying to learn a foreign language (just be sure to also add subtitles as well so you can translate).  If your DVD includes a director’s commentary track this is where you would add it.

Quick Audio compression lesson:

AC3 – This means Dolby Digital which is standard on all DVD players.  You should keep this option selected to preserve the audio quality, but don’t count on most devices being able to play the audio back.

AAC – This is what replaced MP3 on most consumer devices today.  You want to make sure you always include an AAC mixdown to Dolby Pro Logic II (or even stereo for devices that don’t have a Dolby license to play audio).  If you only include AC3 you could run into situations where the movie plays fine, but you get no audio since the playback device can’t decode the audio.

This DVD only had stereo, but most DVDs have 5.1 Dolby AC3.

Step 8 – Subtitles Track in HandBrake

Choose the Subtitles Tab in Handbrake and add the Closed Captions track if available.

Many DVDs can support subtitle tracks that can be burned into the video image.  In America we also support closed captioning (CC logo on the back of the DVD case for most TV shows) where the subtitles are hidden in line 21 of the video transmission.  Each device can decode CC slightly differently, but size, color and position data are included.

If your DVD has closed captioning be sure to add the track “Closed Captions – Text CC” to preserve it.  It is off by default, but is useful.  Many TVs when you hit mute will automatically turn on playback of closed captioning.

If your DVD only has DVD sub titles (VOB SUB) then this means it is graphical bitmaps instead of text, and can only be burned into the video image (DVD players can turn on/off this track, but in transcoding you only have the choice to burn it into the video – something most folks don’t want.)

You can always add subtitles later using the application iSubtitle (listed in tools above).  Just be sure to preview added subtitles to make sure they stay in sync since the subtitles downloaded from the internet might not match your movie length.

Step 9 – Advanced options in HandBrake

Well for the purposes of this post I would recommend sticking with your device presets.  You’ll notice the presets can dramatically affect the advanced settings.  In my case I use our 720p Apple TV2 as our preset, but if you’re not sure about which future devices you’ll use choose universal as your preset.  DVDs use video that is sized 720×480 so don’t sweat an Apple TV 2 vs Apple TV 3 preset.  If however you are converting Blu-Ray which uses 720p or 1080i/p you do want to pay attention.  Using an Apple TV 2 preset limits the video to 720p.  The new Apple TV 3 (3rd generation – Apple just calls it Apple TV) supports full 1080p and the new Handbrake now has a preset for it so you don’t have to bother customizing for it in Advance options anymore.

Step 10 – Chapters Track in HandBrake

DVDs have chapter markers that allow users to jump to the next section of the movie.  Handbrake will match your DVD’s chapter markers.  You can rename these if you want, but most of us leave the default names of Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc..

If your DVD is a TV show series it might be worthwhile adding the names of the episodes in your chapter markers.  If you get tired of manually doing this use the app iDentify listed in the tools section.  It does a great job of adding the correct episode names as well as a host of other items (artwork, movie info, etc.).

Your DVD’s scene selection menu is lost when encoding a movie for streaming (there is no concept of DVD menus in your encoded movie).

Step 11 – Preview in HandBrake

If this is your first time, be sure to choose Preview Window and then hit Live Preview to see and hear a short section of your rendered movie.  You can’t preview subtitles or other language tracks, but it will give you a good idea of the video quality you are going to get.

Step 12 – Gentlemen, start your engines

Verify your destination path and choose the green start button (or from the File menu choose start encoding).  Now look to the bottom of the screen to slowly watch the encoding bar’s progress.  Time to go do other things and check back later!

Finally – Handbrake is done re-encoding your movie!

Step 12 – Did it work?

Open your completed movie with iTunes (unless you are using iDentify or Meta Z  to add the movie info).  It should automatically start playing once in iTunes.  You can right click the movie and choose open with iTunes, or drag and drop it into your iTunes Movies library window.  Verify the movie plays well.  Use the iTunes play bar to verify that your audio works (you can use the thought balloon to toggle audio and subtitle tracks).

You should also check to see if iTunes copied the movie to it’s managed media folder (iTunes preferences) or is linking to it from the location handbrake placed it at (get info on movie in iTunes to see location).

Check your movie’s chapters, audio tracks and subtitles all work.

Step 13 – Meta Tagging you movie in iTunes

Hit escape to cancel movie playback and go to your Movies section of your iTunes library.  You should see a black box with the name of your DVD movie.  Select it and choose get info. Right click option or iTunes>File>Get Info.

You will want to modify the info to match your movie.  IMDB is a great resource for finding the relevant info.  iDentify will let you type in the IMDB’s file number from the movie’s URL to quickly add all the info.  In iTunes you’ll have to manually enter the movie’s info.

If you use Meta Z (last updated 2009) you drag your handbrake’d movies to the files to write section on the right side panel.  Select a movie and then on the left you use the search bar to type the movie name, hit return and match the movie with one in the database.  You can double click to add all meta tags or manually check which info you want added to the movie.  You then click the write button in the upper left to save the new meta info to your movie which can then be dragged and dropped into iTunes.

Be sure to enter your movie’s info to help keep it sorted correctly in iTunes. Use Meta Z or iDentify to simplify the process.

In the Info screen be sure to use the Options tab to choose Media Kind: Movie or TV Show.  This will move the movie to either your iTunes Movie Library or the TV Shows library.  TV show uses the season info to group all the shows together (a nice visual de-clutter feature).

In the Info screen use the Artwork tab to add the DVD cover artwork (scan your DVD case cover or use Google Images or Amazon to find a high res image).

There are several restricted Get Info meta tags that only iDentify or Meta Z can access.  Items like the movie’s rating (not your stars, but the MPAA (Movies) or TV Parental Guidelines (TV shows) can only be set in these apps.  If you’re a parent and want to restrict your kid’s access to some movies on their iPads you will need to add these meta tags, and on your iOS device go into settings>general>restrictions and specify what your kids are allowed to watch.

You can manually do a get info and update any Movie’s info or use a program like iDentify.

Common Issues:

  • If the iOS device playing back the movies shows duplicates, or has the wrong thumbnail you’ll need to turn off and then back on home sharing.  This forces your iPhone or iPad to get an updated list of your iTunes shard movies and TV shows.
  • If your TV episodes are showing up out of order on your iPad or iPhone be sure to correctly meta tag your movies in iTunes.  Do a get info on the file in iTunes and use the track number (for episode number) and the artist info (for the name of the TV series) as additional meta tag fields.

Useful Links:

Posted in: Apple, DVD