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Help File Help: Copying DVDs to Your Computer

For several months, I've had this question in my list of potential Help File topics:

Why can't I copy my Star Trek DVDs onto my Mac or my iPod, the way I copy my audio CDs today?

The short answer is that DVDs, unlike audio CDs, contain a layer of encryption called CSS (short for "Content Scramble System") that prevents them from being fully readable to a computer. But CSS was hacked over eight years ago; despite some heavy-handed attempts at suppression, variations of this hack have since shown up in a wide variety of DVD playback and copying programs.

Let's get this out of the way now: Yes, these programs can be used to make illegitimate copies. I do not endorse that. What I do endorse is making copies of movies that you own--either as a backup or for watching on the road. That's an entirely ethical use, and one that so many people find valuable that Fox has now begun providing iTunes-compatible (but usage-limited) copies of its releases on some new DVDs.

(Also: The movie industry's real piracy problems have little to do with individual digital copies of DVDs. If you want to put this issue in perspective, go to China and count how many Western titles you can buy for a buck or two each in markets and outside train stations.)

In any case... many of these DVD-copying tools are built for techies or difficult to find. What I'd like to do in a Help File column is offer advice that most users can follow without too much difficulty (that is, e-mailing me for extra help!).

Mac users are all clear, thanks to a simple, fast and free program called HandBrake. But the Windows version of this doesn't handle commercial DVDs, requiring the intervention of some other program to strip off the CSS encryption. Some have suggested another freebie called DVD43, but I've had erratic results with that.

Another frequently recommended program, DVDShrink, asks would-be users to run a Google search to find a downloadable copy. I can't ask readers to do that, not when they risk downloading some concealed malware by mistake. Yet another, DVD Decrypter, is significantly more complicated to use.

So you tell me--is there some Windows equivalent of the Mac release of Handbrake that I could recommend, or is this not a topic that I can boil down to the desired degree of Help File simplicity yet?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 23, 2008; 10:52 AM ET
Categories:  Video  
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IU've had good luck with Avex. It does take a long time for the conversion to take place, but it works well with realtively easy-to-undertsand options.

I have only used the iTunes-specific program, but they have a more high-end ripper as well.

Posted by: J | January 23, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure what is difficult to use about DVD Decrypter. It is dead simple to create an ISO backup of a DVD, and nearly as easy to perform a file extraction. Yes, there are lots of options in the program that I have yet to explore, but those can come later.

Posted by: LarryM | January 23, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Rob, DailyCupofTech covered this just the other day -- -- and he recommends starting with RipIt4Me before going to Handbrake.

As a MacUser, I find Handbrake works... 95% of the time. The rest of the time, I have to hand the disc to a linux-geek friend who says that the command-line access allows him more tweaking power when attempting the rip/encode. Unfortunately, I usually end up with an .OGG formatted file when forced to take this route. No biggie: VLC plays ANYTHING.

Posted by: Bush -- not related | January 23, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Rob - How about doing a primer on how to share videos taken with a DVD camcorder? As a digital video noobie, I've struggled with trying to figure out how to share my videos via Google or YouTube. How do you convert/compress vob/ifo files for sharing?

Posted by: David | January 23, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

DVD Decrypter is very easy to use. If I haven't used it in a while, I have to remember to change the mode from Write to Read (since the last operation I performed was usually a write). The rest could hardly be simpler if all you want is to copy a DVD for backup onto a hard drive or blank DVD. Whatever else it might do, I don't know, but for backups onto a hard drive, it's a cinch.

I've *never* had DVD Shrink ask me to run a Google search of any kind. I don't know whether that is a "feature" that's been added since I got my copy or one that it used to have that was dropped.

Posted by: BW | January 23, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

If you do write a Help File on this subject, you should discuss the DMCA. Actually, that would be a a subject I'd like to see a full column on.

Posted by: J | January 23, 2008 5:52 PM | Report abuse

I'd not only like a column on DMCA, but also some column on how the Presidential candidates stand on open source, DMCA, and other things of interest to techies (like voting machines!). Maybe this is not your purview, but could you find someone to write it?

Posted by: JH | January 23, 2008 8:18 PM | Report abuse

This topic would appear to have two major components.

One how to copy a DVD onto a blank DVD.

Second, how to copy the DVD onto a computer's hard drive.

I hope both forms of copying will be covered.

Posted by: Steve R. | January 23, 2008 9:08 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to second the opinions of other posters that DVD Decrypter is simple to use (and very fast, too). I just leave all the settings at default and it's always worked perfectly.

Posted by: Videoholic | January 23, 2008 9:10 PM | Report abuse

I have found the free DVDFab HD Decrypter works well for decrypting and copying the DVD folders to your hard drive. There seems to be some new tricks (besides just CSS) the studios are playing to make it harder to copy a DVD. The free version of the software just copies the folders so you need some additional software or the pay version if you want to make a single file playable on a portable device.

Posted by: PT | January 23, 2008 9:11 PM | Report abuse

I have used DVD Shrink for several years. Major problem (and reason you are asked to search for downloadable program)is the programmer was threatened by the digital police and hasn't updated the program in over a year. As a result, it can't handle some of the newer encryption methods such as SONY.
There is considerable evidence DVD43 will no longer work under VISTA SP1. Wonder why?
Currently using DVDFab HD Decrypter (Free version Makes full copy or just the main movie. No problems so far.

Posted by: jcarter387 | January 23, 2008 9:16 PM | Report abuse

I used Handbrake to rip my entire DVD library on to my Mac. A few DVDs were stubborn and for those I used a free program called Mac The Ripper first and then Handbrake. Once these titles were in Itunes I was able to stream them to Apple TV and view my entire collection on my TV. The only DVD that would not rip with either Handbrake or Mac The Ripper was Godfather part 1.

Posted by: bob1115 | January 24, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I use Magic DVD Ripper - lets me save it in various formats for portable devices as well as normal resolution.

Posted by: WindowsObserver | January 24, 2008 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I used Magic DVD Ripper this past Christmas - works great - both for PC and new IPOD Classic I gave my college-aged daughter

Posted by: GS | January 24, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I use DVDXCopy to make backup copies of my DVDs. It's essentially a two-click process - it rips and decrypts on the first click, then compresses and burns to a blank DVD on the second click. It can be a somewhat slow process, depending on the size of the files; but it doesn't need a babysitter. Not a free program but it has been well worth the money. I've never used it to copy them to my hard drive, however.

Posted by: Moonshadow | January 24, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I have used DVD Fab (includes CSS) for several years. The newest version (cost=+/-$30) is Platinum 4. I copy DVDs from both Region 1 (USA) and Region 2 (Europe) with no problems.

I recall a recent online newspaper article about some person from Arizona who has been charged with breaking the law (by RIAA?) for copying music CDs that HE OWNS onto his PC's HDD. What's your take/update on that?

Posted by: Verona, IT | January 24, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Don't steal content people!

Posted by: steve ballmer | January 25, 2008 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Search for a product called "AnyDVD". It basically lets a Commercial DVD appear like any other un-protected DVD. Effectively allowing you to copy the contents to your hard-drive. It's not actually an stand-alone application, but a piece of software that sits between your DVD-drive and the file-system. So you can use it in addition to DVD Shrink on titles that Shrink no longer reads.

Posted by: Frank | January 25, 2008 11:02 PM | Report abuse

I use Easy DVD Clone to rip and burn, though it doesn't work on most Sony DVD's. For that I use DVD Fab to rip and EDC to burn. The dilemma I have now is finding a good program that converts my VOB files to something that will play on my iphone.

Posted by: spliced | January 26, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I have been using DVD Decrypter for some time. Yes, it's a bit geeky, but I really ain't, and can use it just fine. Only real issue I have found is that the read/write functions tend to expand the size of the file such that I've had to go to double sided dvds on several occasions.

Looking fwd to using handbrake on the new iMac.

Posted by: stevenwr | January 31, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Look folks, free DVD ripping programs worked great when DVD movies only had one DVD protection mechanism (i.e. CSS). But now there are dozens of "add-on" protections that the Hollywod studios add the the new DVD movie releases. In this way, new DVD movies have become like computer viruses and much like your computer's anti-virus software, your DVD copy software needs to be updated in real-time to copy all your DVD movies. DVD x Copy used to be the best for this, but they were shut down by Hollywood. Currently the best dvd copying and burning programs are 1 Click DVD copy and DVD neXt Copy. All the best DVD copy software programs are listed, ranked, reviewed and compared side-by-side at:

Posted by: DVD Copy Software | February 17, 2008 8:23 PM | Report abuse

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