Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Making Digital Movies from DVDs - Handbrake Tips and Tricks

The original idea for this blog came about because of all the time I spent trying to rip DVDs and to learn the ins and outs of Handbrake.   It took me months of trial and error to get to a point where I felt that I had a pretty good idea of how to do various things and to get around various issues.  This is when I thought it was a waste to leave all of that info stuck in my puny brain and that it would be somewhat useful for others if I could write it all down so they could save time and avoid the months of learning that I did.  There may be lots of blogs like this already but through my Bing and Google searches I didn't find a single place for all this kind of info.  More specifically I found lots of great newsgroups with threads of information but it was kind of time consuming to read through hundreds of comments to pick up the few tidbits of really good information.  It really did take me months.  I wish I was kidding.  Most of the stuff I picked up from other sites so I'm no expert but I thought it might be handy to have a bunch of these in a single place.

First off, some of you may be asking what is Handbrake? Handbrake is an open-source free application that will convert your DVDs to a digital format.  In my case an M4V.   If you want to convert your personal purchased DVDs to back them up or to watch them on your iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, XBOX, PS3 or other device you will also need to download the VLC Media Player application which is able to read these discs including the copy protected stuff.  The guys and gals that wrote this stuff are pretty darn smart and are truly nobel in that they've donated their time to write some incredible software and have given it away for free.  Wow!!! Hats off to you.
    Handbrake must be matched up with the right version of VLC and OS so make sure if you're using a 32 Bit OS that you're also using the 32 Bit Handbrake and 32 Bit VLC.  If my memory serves me right I think both apps have to be at the same level in the file system so that Handbrake can find VLC.  At least on my Mac I have both in the applications folder with all the other apps.  I think I originally had VLC in a folder and it didn't find it.

    Anyway, now for some tips.
    1) Universal preset - In Handbrake there are Preset Templates.  Always use the Apple > Universal template.  What this means is you can play the movie on your iPod, iPhone, AppleTV, Mac and Windows computers and pretty much everything else.  I used a different preset and the movies wouldn't play properly on my AppleTV.  I would get video stutters and the picture would turn white every now and then.  I also stopped updating these presets.  I updated once and it changed my defaults to a different present and a bunch of videos I ripped turned out bad and I didn't realize it until a few weeks later when I actually tried to watch one of the movies.  Bummer.

    2) Don't bother with changing the video quality settings.  I tried moving the slider to increase the quality but then the video wouldn't play on the Apple TV.  I'm probably just doing something wrong but I could never get this to work. 

    3) Subtitles don't automatically appear - I copied one of those cool kung-fu Chinese movies and none of the subtitles appeared.  It was a little difficult to understand.  Basically in Handbrake click on the Subtitles tab and then change the Track drop down to Foreign Audio Search.  This doesn't always work so you'll have to play with it a bit to get it to work.  The Foreign Audio Search is ideal if your movie is in English and sometimes in a foreign language where there are subtitles.  In fact I always set the Foreing Audio Search feature now because there were many times where I didn't use this setting thinking the movie didn't have any subtitles only to find that it did later but of course I didn't get them because I didn't turn on subtitles.  For example the Godfather is mostly in English but there are times when they are speaking Italian where subtitles should appear but wouldn't if you didn't set the Foreign Audio Search feature.  If the movies is always in a foreign language or you want the English subtitles to always appear then you can use the English Subtitle.

    4) Handbrake doesn't always get the movie right - When I first started ripping movies I simply put the disk in and let Handbrake pick the move and then I would click the Start button.  This doesn't always work because Handbrake always picks the longest track which it assumes is the movie.  The movie studios figured this out and created dummy movie tracks to trick Handbrake.  If you rip this movie it will actually move chapters around so you'll start watching a film and after a few minutes you'll jump to the ending of a movie and then it will jump to the middle.  What I do now is put the DVD in the computer and use the built-in DVD player.  I use the DVD navigation and click on Play Movie.  From here you can see what track it goes to.  This is the track that you want to rip.  On a Mac I use DVD Player.  If you click on the screen that shows the minutes a couple of times it will eventually show you the Track / Chapter information so you can figure out the track to use.  Then in Handbrake I switch to this track to rip.  This is the drop down labelled Title.

    5) Getting around bad tracks - Sometimes a copy protection scheme the studios use is they have a bad track that will always confuse Handbrake if you're trying to read the entire disk.  I think this is how the movie Click is done.  I kept trying to rip it and it would get stuck at track 32 or something.  I kind of gave up until I realized Handbrake allows you to read a single track and skip all of the others.  Go to the File menu and select Open Source (Title Specific).  After doing this a dialog appears.  In here just type the track number and Handbrake will read only that track.  It also saves time because it's not trying to read the entire disk.

    6) Sometimes movies and TV shows have lines in them - On the American President DVD I kept getting really poor quality in that the video always had lines in them.  It looked like I was watching a video tape recording of a move that was filmed off of an old picture tube TV set.  I think I read some place that this is because the video was prepared for old TVs that had interlaced video.  To fix this go to Picture Settings and switch to Filters.  I'm not exactly sure what picture filter to use but I've been using Detelecine = Default and Deinterlace = Fast.  After this I've noticed the picture quality isn't as sharp but it gets rid of all of those horrendous lines.   A lot of times old movies end up needing this or those extras on DVDs that were created for TV.

    7) Some DVDs can't be read...but they can be - Handbrake uses something called libdvdnav.  I'm not exactly sure what this does but for some reason on some DVDs this method prevents the movies from being encoded.  If your DVD for some reason doesn't appear to be rippable.  Try going to Preferences and click on the Advanced tab.  Look for a checkbox labeled Dvd-Video and uncheck it.   Try encoding the DVD again.  Sometimes this will work.  I think libdvdnav is generally a more reliable method of ripping the DVD but sometimes it doesn't work so unchecking this preferences tells Handbrake to use the old method which happens to be better in some cases.

    8) MetaX to get Movie Info and Ratings - I had been using Handbrake for roughly 6 months when I was talking to a friend complaining that there was no way to add movie ratings to iTunes which meant parental controls wouldn't work.  He told me I should be using MetaX.  I couldn't believe that I had been ripping my DVDs for so long without ever hearing about this application.  MetaX is an awesome free application that will read the M4V file and will automatically find the DVD cover, actor and description information, movie rating, and chapter information.  With a click of a button all of this information gets added as meta data into the movie which then in turn gets picked up by iTunes.  It will make your Movie library look really good because it will use the actual DVD covers as the representation of the movie.  I had been doing that by hand.  Wow what a time saver.

    Well that's a brain dump of what I know.  I hope you find this useful.

  • Click here to download Handbrake.

  • Click here to download VLC.

  • Click here to download MetaX

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