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Basic DVD conversion

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Q: I read your excellent three-part series on converting (ripping) DVDs to watch on an iPod. What are the chances that the process will work without a great deal of difficulty for someone who’s not a computer wizard? Are there other conversion programs that you recommend other than the ones mentioned in the articles? And what about transferring DVDs that I’ve recorded from TV? Can they be watched on an iPod?

- MJ

A: For most users who simply want a simple and straightforward method for converting their commercial DVDs into an iTunes-ready format we generally recommend Handbrake, as it provides the most effective one-step solution for this. It also has the advantage of being updated quite regularly to provide support for new features such as subtitles and Dolby Digital sound (which is now supported on the Apple TV 2.0 firmware). Handbrake’s normal default pre-sets will generally produce more than acceptable results for the casual user, so don’t be intimidated by all of the advanced settings that are otherwise available.

For Windows users looking to copy commercial copy-protected DVDs (ie, movies and TV shows), an additional DVD decryption component is required since the open-source DVD decryption libraries that Handbrake uses on the Mac are not available on the Windows platform. Tools such as DVD Decryptor and DVD43 can be used for this, and are explained in our Windows conversion tutorial.  DVD43 is generally the recommended solution for the average user, as it simply sits in the system tray and silently decrypts the DVD as Handbrake reads it, so there is no need for any extra steps.

Users of Handbrake on the Mac should not require any additional software beyond Handbrake itself, as the Mac version includes the necessary DVD decryption components built in.

Note that DVDs that you have recorded yourself from TV or from home movies will not have any copy-protection on them, however, and these can therefore be fed into Handbrake without any additional tools required to decrypt them, so this should be an even simpler process. Other than the copy protection, there is really no difference between converting a DVD that you’ve recorded yourself versus on that was purchased in a store.

It should also be mentioned that the legality of the process of “ripping” commercial DVDs varies in different countries due to the issues surrounding the copy protection itself. For example, in the U.S. the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits the circumvention of technical copy protection restrictions (such as those found on commercial DVDs) for any reason, apparently including fair personal use. You should therefore of course consult the laws in your particular country of residence.

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