Mass-converting DVD collection to h.264

My wife and children and I have amassed a large DVD collection. It started out as a protest against District CableVision (now Comcast). Now the collection nearly fills two book shelves floor to ceiling and it is a big heavy pile of plastic. We have a tight weight allowance for shipping to Ghana and I want to jettison the weight without losing the content.


Enter Handbrake. Handbrake is really good at transcoding DVD to h.264 but it doesn’t deal with the encryption schemes that some vendors have included. On Linux and Mac, Handbrake will use libdvdcss from VLC if present but not so on Windows. On Windows, the tool of choice is Slysoft AnyDVD.

I’ve learned a few things.

First, it takes a lot of CPU time to transcode h.264 video and a nice movie conversion is in the ballpark of a gigabyte in size (+-20%).

Second, some of our DVDs, particularly the ones my kids have handled are messed up. I have had to reconstruct one using ISO Buster which is also a cool program to have around.

Third, the copy protection schemes on DVDs include not only encryption with the Content Scramble System (CSS) but also deliberately mastering the disks with bad sectors and other errors. Disney seems particularly into this method of selling broken DVDs. It is a miracle the damn things even play in a DVD player, which as it happens, sometimes they don’t. We had an older Bose DVD player that couldn’t play Snow White or Peter Pan. We had to use VLC to play those discs. It could only play Mary Poppins if you hit a magic sequence of skip and menu on the remote. We eventually bought a new Samsung DVD player to fix the problem but it seems likely that the real problem was that the discs are mastered with bad sectors on them.

Fourth, corollary to the first point. It takes a long time to transcode to h.264 but if you aren’t there to swap discs, the computer can sit idle for hours. It also sits idle most of the night. The key to keeping the processor burning is to rip the VIDEO_TS directory to hard disk (and remove encryption in the process). The rip runs at just about whatever the maximum speed of the DVD drive is. You can then schedule a huge transcoding queue with Handbrake. I have 3 computers running 24×7 in a race to get as many DVDs converted before we pack out.

This whole scheme of copy protection and making broken discs on purpose really pisses me off. I feel like I have purchased defective manufactured items and am having to fix them myself. If these content producers wanted to provide a good experience for me who pays them a ton of money, they would figure out a way to deliver h.264 files for every DVD I have ever purchased. And if they really wanted to keep my good will, the downloads would be in HD.


Why is Handbrake’s logo some kind of tropical fruit drink and a pineapple?


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