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