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Digitize Your Life – Part Four – DVDs and Blu-Rays

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This is part of an ongoing series on how I digitized my entire life a few years ago. Nowadays, I do not have any paper, nor CDs, nor binders, nor DVDs; none of that stuff. It’s all digital, baby!

My initial post on this is right here, followed by how to digitize cassettes here and music and audiobook CDs here. Today, we’re going to talk about how to digitize your movie collection of DVDs and blu-rays, so you can watch any movie you own, whenever you want, at the click of a mouse, rather than looking for a shiny round thing to shove into a computer. Not to mention the fact that after doing this, you’ll no longer need overloaded bookshelves of DVDs/blu-rays. Your movies will simply be files on your computer(s). It’s very, very nice.

As usual, I’m writing this article for someone of minimum technical skill. (If you’re a video techie-geek, most of this will bore you.)

One disclaimer here. Please do not do anything illegal. This is not a guide on how to pirate things. My laymen’s understanding of the law is that you are allowed to make one backup copy for your own personal use of any CD/DVD/blu-ray you have legally purchased and that you don’t share with anyone. I’m not an attorney so I could be wrong on that. I’m simply giving you the technical steps of how to digitize things. For legal minutia you’ll have to look elsewhere.

On the plus side, many movies these days come with digital downloads already, which eliminates this legal issue.

Okay, here we go…

Items You’ll Need

1. A decent-sized USB hard drive. You can purchase these on Amazon or Newegg very cheaply. What hard drive capacity do you need? Use this handy dandy equation:

(number of DVDs X 4.3) + (number of blu-rays X 27) = total amount of GB of hard drive space you’ll need

We’re going to be digitizing these movies in their uncompressed format, so you will lose absolutely zero picture or sound quality. That’s the good news…the bad news is that these files will be pretty big. But as I said, hard drive space is very cheap.

There are ways to digitize movies in a compressed format so the movie takes far less space, but the problems with that are:

  • There is some loss in quality. Not a lot, but some.
  • The process is ridiculously technical.
  • The process is ridiculously time consuming.

Seriously, it’s way, way easier to just get a big hard drive and do it the uncompressed way. I personally have two 4 TB removable drives (one primary one, and a backup in case the primary one dies/fails). Be sure to purchase more space than you need to accommodate future movie purchases.

2. Ripping software. “Ripping” means copying data from a CD/DVD/blu-ray to a file on your hard drive. There are many software programs you can purchase, so you’re welcome to do your own research. The two I use are Smartripper (which is free), which will rip DVDs, and DVDfab for ripping blu-rays (which costs about $50; well worth it). These instructions assume you are using those programs, or programs very similar to them.

3. Video playing software. You’ll need software to play all these movies once they’re on your hard drive. The best one out there by far is VLC Media Player, and it’s free. Just Google it. The one downside of VLC is that it can be a little jerky when playing some uncompressed DVD rips (not blu-rays). If that bothers you, you’ll have to spend the money and purchase a DVD/blu-ray player software like WinDVD.

4. A computer with a DVD player and/or a blu-ray player. Obviously you’ll need a DVD-ROM drive in your computer if you want to do this, and a blu-ray capable one if you have blu-rays to digitize.

How To Digitize DVDs

The steps for DVDs and blu-rays are different. We’ll start with DVDs.

1. Insert the DVD into your DVD player in your computer.

2. Use your DVD player software to play the movie. Just play it for two or three seconds, then close the software.

3. Launch Smartripper. When it’s done loading, click Settings, and make sure max-filesize says 9999 (so it doesn’t chop up the movie into multiple little files) and file-splitting says “max-filesize”. Click OK.

4. At the bottom of the screen, choose the folder you want the movie saved in, then click start.

5. Your movie will be copied to your hard drive. It takes about 10 minutes.

6. When done, close the software and go to the folder you specified. You’re looking for a file with the extension VOB that will be between 3 and 6 GB in size. That’s your movie. Rename it to the correct movie name, and test it by double-clicking it and running it in VLC Media Player. If it plays and sounds good, you’re done! Rename the file to the correct movie name and copy it to your removable hard drive.

8. It’s possible that you may be hearing the wrong sounds when you play the movie file. Just right-click in the middle of the screen, then click Audio, Audio Track, and pick a different track. One of them should be the correct one.

9. Done! Rinse and repeat with all of your other DVDs. Then enjoy your new 100% digital movie collection.

How To Digitize Blu-Rays

1. Put your blu-ray movie in your computer and then launch DVDfab.

2. Once the software is done “opening” the blu-ray (takes about a minute), click Copy then “Main Movie”.

3. On the audio entry on the same line of the highlighted movie, click it and see if there are other audio tracks checked. If there are, check the blu-ray box and see if there are commentaries. If there are not, un-check all other audio except for the main track.

4. Click “Save To” at the bottom of the window and point to where you want the digitized

movie file. Remember, this sucker is going to be about 30 GB so make sure you have room on your hard drive before doing this!

5. Click Start. The copy will take about an hour or so. Close the software when its done.

6. Go to the folder you specified. There will be a lot of strange subfolders, but the one you’re looking for is “Stream”. In there will be a file that is much larger than the rest, about 30 GB in size. Test it by running it in VLC Media Player. Then rename it correctly, and copy it to your collection.

7. Done! Repeat with your other blu-rays.

When you’ve completed this, you’ll have every movie you own on a removable hard drive that you can simply click and play whenever you like on any computer in your house. You could also share this over a home network if you know how to do that. Nice!