Travelling with Movies on a Mac

DVD Player IconThere are several situations where you might want to dump a DVD to your hard drive to watch later. For instance, I get significantly better battery life when watching a video from my hard drive than I get when watching it from a DVD. If I’m stuck in a plane for several hours, having my movie on the hard drive can be the difference between finishing the show, or running out of power halfway through. I use a PowerBook and in OS X 10.3 and earlier you could just use the built in Disk Utility to copy a DVD to your disk, but it stopped working in 10.4. However with a few free tools you can accomplish the same thing and more.
Mac The Ripper One of these tools is Mac the Ripper. It looks like they may be running into some legal trouble with Macrovision, but last time I checked it was still available for download through Version Tracker. Basically it allows you to copy an entire DVD to your hard drive where it can be opened with DVD player and viewed just like the original DVD (menus, special features, etc.) You simply specify the location you want to save to and let it work away. The process isn’t particularly quick, so you’ll probably need to allow 45 minutes to 1.5 hours for it to complete.
Apple’s built in DVD player app has the ability to play DVD media that is stored on your hard drive. To view the DVD, you simply open DVD player and tell it to “Open DVD” media. You’ll have to locate the VIDEO_TS folder and it should play like a regular DVD from there. You can also use a tool like VideoLan client to play the videos if you prefer.

Open DVD Media

The problem with copying the entire DVD to your drive is the amount of space it consumes. You can easily have a single DVD taking up 7 gigs of space on your hard drive. This works ok for a single movie, but if you are trying to take 5 to 10 movies with you on vacation it can become unmanagable.

Handbrake LogoBy compressing just the movie portion of the DVD into a file format like MPEG-4, you can drastically reduce the amount of space required. There are several different ways to do this, but the simpliest method involves a little piece of software called HandBrake. HandBrake give you a simple GUI tool that hides most of the complexity from the process. You give it a DVD and it will create a .mp4 file of the main movie.

The program lets you specify the target bit rate or the final file size. Generally a target bit rate of 1000kbps will give you files of about 1GB in size. You’re also given the choice of encoding using FFmpeg or DIVX. DIVX will give you smaller file sizes, but it seems to take a lot longer to encode. Most of the settings work just fine left to their default, but you can play around with them to see what works best. Make sure you type a valid filename. HandBrake doesn’t appear to check, so if you try to save the file in a non-existent folder or something like that, it may chuck away for hours, but you won’t be able to find the file once your are done.

Hand Brake Encoding Rate

Not all DVDs can be encoded with HandBrake, so it is best to check the resulting file for playback before leaving on a trip.

VLC Control

VLC LogoOnce you have an encoded mpeg 4 file, you’ll need a player. The standard Quicktime player can handle mpeg 4, but it doesn’t allow you to watch in full screen mode unless you pay the $29 for Quicktime Pro. VideoLan Client can play mpeg 4 (and most other video formats) in full screen mode and it is free software.

Command + F toggles between full screen and window mode. A few other commands that you’ll find useful are Option + Command + arrow to jump forward or backwards a few seconds. Command + arrow to turn the volume up or down.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that people steal copies of DVDs by trying to create a huge library of movies on their computer. I’m suggesting the above methods for situations where you have the legal right to watch a video (purchased, rented, etc.), but it is inconvenient or impractical to play it directly from the DVD.

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36 thoughts on “Travelling with Movies on a Mac

  1. Funny that you include a screenshot of VLC playing a WMV file, since those with WMV3 video (pretty much any WMV this days) is the most obvious format it is not compatible with. It should eventually be compatible with it, reborn as VC1, but nobody is saying when videolan.org will be including it.

  2. There is a developer way around the Quicktime Pro fullscreen mode if you did not purchase the upgrade,

    Thanks for the link. I’ll definitely check that out.

  3. I have problems with handbrake. I use it to rip from a dvd from my drive which takes a really long time to be left with dissapointment of no sound.
    Is it something that Im doing?

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  5. I have problems with handbrake. I use it to rip from a dvd from my drive which takes a really long time to be left with dissapointment of no sound.
    Is it something that Im doing?

    Carl — First I’d suggest using FFmpeg as shown above. This should speed things up if you are currently using Divx. Under the File fomat select MP4. Under codecs select MPEG-4 Video/AAC Audio. That should set things up to encode correctly.

    Since DVDs can have multiple audio tracks make sure that the audio section is setup to use the correct channels. Generally you’ll want to make sure that Language 1: is set to something that looks like it is the main audio track.

    If it still doesn’t work, try it with another DVD. Handbrake doesn’t seem to work with all DVDs for some reason.

  6. You could just import your encoded MP4 file into iTunes to enable viewing in full-screen mode. Whilst the stand-alone Player is restricted, the embedded player in iTunes is not. Also keeps your movie files organised in one central location.

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  8. And if you really want to save on battery power: select only 1/3 of the chapters. Create 3 mpeg movies of 330Mb, instead of 1 of 1Gb. Make a RAM disk, copy the first part onto this disk, start the quicktime player and put the hard disk to sleep. Turn down the backlight as much as possible. Put processor performance to “reduce” in the Engery Saver – Preference pane.

  9. VLC is great for compatability, but a little cumbersome in terms of interface.

    My player of choice is NicePlayer, with the Xine plugin. It runs really well, even on an iBook or Mac Mini since it is fairly light on resources with great compatability and a nice minimalist interface that is easily controlled by the keyboard or mouse so you can leave your video playing full screen. Y

    ou can even rip one DVD with Handbrake whilst you watch another with NicePlayer (due to excellent multitasking in OSX).

  10. Two more ways to conserve battery life: (1) turn off AirPort and (2) turn the brightness down a few notches. By bringing the brightness down I’ve been able to add up to half an hour to the charge in my battery.

  11. DVD2OneX can also be used for compressing the movie file. It halves the space consumed by the movie, perfect for fitting movies on a single-layer DVD-R disk.

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  15. I used Mac the ripper to extract a movie DVD to my HD, following instructions from the manual of Mac the ripper, using
    Full feature extraction. End up with a VIDEO_TS folder on my desktop.But when I tried to open it with Quicktime, The open button is greyout. If I tried to open one of the files in the folder, it says “error opening movie”. What’s wrong?
    Thanks for your help.

  16. Ben, try using VLC or DVD player to open the VIDEO_TS folder. Quicktime isn’t able to play VIDEO_TS folders directly. If you use the OS X DVD player you should be able to get the open dialog box up with Apple + O

  17. i’ve recently found the joys of ripping dvds and compressing them onto my external hard drive for later viewing. i found both mac the ripper and handbrake very useful, but every forum i run into says to use mac the ripper first and then handbrake. i use mac the ripper to put one or more dvds on my hard drive, insert a third dvd and open handbrake. the browsing feature allows me to open both dvds on my hard drive and the third in the disc drive, throw them all in the queue and leave it overnight. by morning, i’ve got 3 1gb files on my desktop, i check em, trash the original 7gb files eject the dvd in the hard drive and transfer everything onto the external. my question, is what is the purpose of using mac the ripper, if you’re only compressing one disc? the end product is both the same for files compressed from the disc drive and those compressed using mac the ripper. I’ve also had success with realplayer (has full screen mode)

  18. I need help with a mp4 file ripped using HandBrake. Once I encode a DVD movie into mp4, I then want to drag it a copy into iTunes so I can transfer/load in my video iPod but I am not able to so. What do I need to do?, or what I am doing wrong?

  19. I’m a bit confused about Handbrake. Done all the things the tutorial said, and I still ended up with only the first 12 second of the movie. What am I doing wrong? Or there’s something wrong with the software? And is there anything out there that can convert AVI to MPEG? Really really needed that. Thanx

  20. With MTR I’ve ripped a 4 episode disk of an Australian TV series. Then used Handbrake to compress into 4 MPEH4 files averaging 46 to 48 minutes a file. Can these MPEG4 files be burned with Toast?

    If they can be burned, is it possible to burn more than one?

  21. Im in the exact same position as pedro, i have ripped the dvd and converted them using quicktime pro into itunes ready files but itunes still wont let me import them, i’d really appreciate any help with this, im desperate to get my video ipod working!

  22. How come by PBG4 plays my movies in full screen, whether or not they come from Mac the Ripper of not…See no real point in having all that software when it works off just one.

    Also, I have tried using HandBrake to convert video to my iPod Video. I have tried 2 separte movies, and both have yielded on sound. I have followed all the screen shots, from numerous forums/guides, none of them prove any different….any ideas on getting some sound?

  23. I am unable to figure out how to load tv series (with many episodes per disc) using handbrake. It typically only records the 1st episode. Any help is greatly appreciated.

  24. Use the DVD player on your computer to figure out what title/chapter information coincides with which episodes, select the “Enable Queue” feature on the bottom left, and enter the start and end title/chapter for the first episode, then click “Add to Queue.” Continue by adding each subsequent episode as you did the first, and click “Rip” to do the job. Note: you will have to reset ALL settings each time you add a new episode, unless using the defaults.

  25. what do I do about DVD’s with built in codons. I can’t burn them using mactheripper and DVD2Xone

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  27. I ripped a dvd recently with Mac The Ripper. Then compressed the Video-TS file with DVD2zone2 it started burning the DVD-R then an error window popped up. It completed burning and when I went to play the disc it came up perfect apart from won’t go past chapter 16 of the movie and then I can’t quit the dvd player.

    What could I have done wrong???

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