Ripping and Converting DVDs to MPEG-4 on Mac OS X

I've been converting a lot of my DVDs to MPEG-4 recently. The process is much easier than I always imagined, so I decided to explain the procedures I use here. All of this is done on my Mac, so the directions are somewhat Mac-specific. That said, HandBrake (the main application used in this process) is open-source and available on Windows and Linux. You should be able to find MacTheRipper-equivalents for Windows and Linux (and if you know of some, please mention them in the comments!).

Download & Install Software

  1. Download MacTheRipper (v2.6.6 is listed on that site but I'm using v3.0. Search BitTorrent for the newer version if you're interested.)
  2. Download HandBrake (I'm using v0.9.3)
  3. Install the above applications

Rip the DVD Using MacTheRipper (what an awesome name!)

  1. Insert the DVD
  2. OS X will automatically start playing the DVD. Press CMD+Q to quit the application.
  3. Launch MacTheRipper (and be careful he doesn't hurt you)
  4. MacTheRipper

  5. Leave the default options and select File -> Save To...
  6. Create a new directory to temporarily store the raw contents of the DVD and select it
  7. Click Open. MacTheRipper will automatically start ripping the raw contents of the DVD to the directory you selected
  8. When the ripping finishes, quit MacTheRipper

Convert the Raw DVD Data to MPEG-4 Using HandBrake

  1. Launch HandBrake (don't break your hand)
  2. Upon launching, you should be presented with the Open dialog. You want to select the directory to which you ripped the DVD using MacTheRipper. Note: Select the directory that contains the VIDEO_TS directory, but not VIDEO_TS directory itself! The other directories contain important data, such as AUDIO_TS for audio data.
  3. Click Open and HandBrake will scan the various titles in the raw data. When finished, you'll be left with the main HandBrake screen
  4. HandBrake Main Screen

  5. The correct title should already be selected and it should be the longest one in the list. If it's a 2-hour DVD, you don't want to select the title that says 1 minute. There may be lots of short titles mixed in and these may be extras on the DVD or previews.
  6. After you've selected the correct title, choose browse and select a location where you want to save the converted video. After selecting the location, you can change the filename or leave the default. I like to store various bits of information in the video filename, such as the year the video was released, whether it's widescreen or full screen, and the codec and audio formats. For example:


  7. Now select the format. I usually choose AVI for the best compatibility.
  8. For video codec, choose "MPEG-4 (XviD)"
  9. Next to "Quality:", select "Target size (MB)" and use the following guidelines. I like to retain as much of the quality as possible, so I follow these rules. Remember, the higher the file size, the better the quality. If you don't care so much about quality or don't have lots of free space, you can just use 700MB for DVDs. I use 1400MB for DVDs, and smaller sizes for TV/Documentary or episodic movies.

    Here are the sizes I use depending on the length of the movie or episode:

    175MB (20-30 mins)
    350MB (40-55 mins)
    1400MB (90 min+), also known as 2CD quality

  10. Click the "Audio & Subtitles" tab
  11. Choose the best audio source quality available. Sometimes the DVD will contain 6-Channel 5.1 audio, but it won't be selected by default.
  12. If it's available, select "AC3 Passthru" under "Audio Codec".
  13. HandBrake Audio Settings

  14. With everything configured, click Start. If you're converting a DVD that is a collection of shorter movies (like the Outer Limits DVD I'm ripping in the example), you can simply click "Add to Queue", repeat the above process for each of the titles, and then click Start when everything is queued up. If you plan to do this though, you should definitely convert at least one episode first to make sure it comes out correct.

Depending on the speed of your computer, the quality, and the length of the movie you're converting, this process could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours.

When HandBrake finishes, try watching the resulting AVI and make sure it plays correctly (with sound and all). If you're not happy, delete it and repeat the process again. Once you're happy with the AVI, you can delete the raw data that you ripped earlier with MacTheRipper (it takes up 6-7GB of space!).

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    • Thanks Ariel! I too often just guessed at the codec and other settings; I never followed a set procedure. But after recently ripping a dozen DVDs or so, I finally collected enough information to write everything down. 🙂


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