How to rip your DVDs legally to your PC or iPad

Copying your DVDs to your phone or IPad is easier now - and legal, too.
Copying your DVDs to your phone or IPad is easier now - and legal, too.
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IT HAS been common practice for years now to transfer the contents of audio CDs to iPods and other portable music players. But that was yesterday’s technology; today, the trick is to to the same with DVDs.

More of us now want to “rip” movies and TV shows from discs to watch on our iPads, phones and netbooks. But without any built-in functionality in Windows, the process has traditionally been a geek-only preserve.

A free program called Handbrake means that’s no longer the case - and as of this summer it’s no longer illegal, either. A change to the copyright law means you can now freely copy DVDs and CDs to other devices so long as you own the discs in the first place and the copies are for your own use.

Handbrake’s function is to convert DVD video to the Apple-friendly H.264 format, which you can then watch on your computer or transfer to your portable device in the same way as any other file.

But you do need to slightly modify the program to make it bypass the copy protection built into most discs. This involves simply downloading a single file called libdvdcss into the folder in which Handbrake is installed. Use these links to obtain it, and then rename it to libdvdcss.dll (Mac users double-click to install it). Windows 32-bit | Windows 64-bit | Mac

Once modified, Handbrake will scan the DVD currently in your computer’s drive and list the titles available for copy. If the disc contains a film, there will be one long title (the movie itself) and several shorter ones (the DVD menu and any extra features). In the case of a TV show, there will be a title per episode and you will have to process each one separately - though you can add them to a queue. You then select your intended destination from a list of presets, and press the Start button. If you plan to watch on a computer, the “normal” preset is fine, but there are optimised settings for iPhones, iPads and Android tablets.

If you’re used to ripping audio CDs on to your computer, the first difference you’ll notice is how much longer it takes to copy video. A three-minute song will typically transfer in a few seconds, but a half-hour TV show can take anything from five to 50 minutes. Handbrake allows you to set the transfer speed with a simple slider that goes from Ultra Fast to Very Slow - but with speed comes much larger file sizes and possibly lower video quality. Unless you want to quickly copy something for a one-off viewing, you’re better off choosing a slow speed and leaving your videos to encode overnight in a queue.

Lack of speed apart, the convenience of Handbrake is such that you may even think about digitising your DVD box sets and storing the content instead on a hard drive connected to your smart TV. This makes accessing a programme or movie much faster than fumbling through a shelf full of plastic cases - and for the confirmed couch potato, may actually do away with the need to leave the sofa at all.