The Complete Guide to Converting DVDs to iPod Format (Mac) | iLounge Article


The Complete Guide to Converting DVDs to iPod Format (Mac)

Editor’s Note

A new version of this article is now available. 

Please see our new Complete Guide to iPod, iPhone and Apple TV Video Conversion (Mac).

In the first part of our iPod video encoding tutorial, we looked at converting videos already on your computer into an iPod ready format. A separate tutorial discusses the iPod’s apparent and actual technical limitations so that you can make smart quality level choices before you encode your entire library. This piece looks at a practical but controversial part of iPod video encoding: converting DVDs into iPod-viewable files.

First, a disclaimer. iLounge is read by people in countries all over the world. The legality of DVD-to-iPod ripping varies based on your country of residence. iLounge does not in any way endorse violation of the valid rights of copyright holders, and strongly recommends that you consult your country’s copyright and fair use laws before copying any video content to your iPod. We take no responsibility for your actions, and assume that you will only rip DVDs that you are entitled to rip under the laws of your country.

Importing and Encoding DVDs

Almost all DVD movies are sold with CSS encryption, which must be broken before you transform the DVD’s contents into an iPod-ready format. It is generally accepted that you may convert a DVD provided that it is “yours” - which is the case if you’ve created the content yourself, for example.

For the conversion of DVD content to an iPod-ready format on a Mac, iLounge has had good results with the free, open-source software “HandBrake.” Before the new iPod was actually released, many people were recommending Handbrake as a smart video encoding tool, only to discover that the files it created were not actually iPod-compatible. But with its most recent update, HandBrake is now equipped for single-step conversion of DVD video into iPod-ready H.264 and MPEG-4 formats.


To begin, download HandBrake 0.7.0 and drag the downloaded file into your “Applications” folder.

When you launch HandBrake, it will immediately prompt you for a DVD video source (see below). “Detected Volume” is an actual DVD disk you have in your Mac’s DVD drive, although the label (like “/dev/rdisk1”) is not very helpful in telling you so.



If you prefer not to import directly from a DVD, you can point HandBrake to a folder (”./VIDEO_TS”, typically) or an image file created by a DVD import. Skip this next part if you’re willing to import directly from the DVD, and go right to the tutorial on Importing Directly from DVD.

An Optional Aside: Creating a DVD Image File for Later iPod Conversion

To create an image file for later iPod conversion - a step we recommend that you skip - there is a program called MacTheRipper (free).



Within MacTheRipper, choose the “Mode” tab, select “Full Disc Extraction,” and click “GO!”. Depending on your computer and DVD drive, the import process can take 30 minutes, give or take, and will require up to 9.4GB of free space on your hard drive - a lot of space. Again, if you don’t have this much free space, skip this step and remember that HandBrake can simply import directly from the DVD disk, a much easier route.

Importing Directly from DVD

Returning to Handbrake, once we’ve chosen our DVD disk or folder source, HandBrake will scan our selection for “titles” it can convert:



When it finishes, you’ll see all of HandBrake’s conversion options in one window. We’ll go through each subset of these options, one by one.

In the upper left is the “Source” panel.



This panel allows you to select which parts of the DVD you’d like to encode. You’ll need to know the “Title” number of the portion you’d like to encode. The longest title, typically Title 1, is clearly the main film, but if you’d like to, say, encode one of the special features, simply use Apple’s DVD Player application to determine which title number corresponds to the clip you want. Within a title, you can select a specific range of chapters to convert, as well. The default option is to encode all chapters in a title, but if you’d really only like to capture a certain scene, the option is there to do it (again, use DVD Player to determine which chapter numbers you want).

When initially testing various combinations of encoding settings, do yourself a huge favor, and begin by selecting only a chapter at a time, or even better - a very short title. For our testing, we encoded 70-second clips several times to make sure our settings worked before continuing to two-and-a-half hour movies.

In the upper right corner of HandBrake’s main window, you’ll find the “Destination” panel.



These options allow you to select which codec you’d like to use. For the iPod, the first pulldown menu must always have “MP4 file” selected. To pick between MPEG-4 and H.264, use the “Codecs” pulldown menu:



In the “File” field, select an output location and filename for your converted video, and then proceed to the “Video” options panel:



These settings are of paramount importance for whether or not your encoded video will work on the iPod, so we’ll spend considerable time discussing them.

“Framerate (fps),” at least according to Apple’s technical specifications for the iPod, cannot exceed 30 fps regardless of whether you’re using MPEG-4 or H.264. If you’re encoding from virtually any DVD on the planet, you can use “Same as source.”

“Encoder” must be “x264 (Baseline profile)” if you’re using the H.264 codec. The technical meaning of “profile” is beyond the scope of this tutorial, but trust us, or your converted video won’t work. When using MPEG-4, choose FFmpeg.

“Average bitrate (kbps)” needs to be below 768 for H.264, and below 2500 for MPEG-4. However, since this is average, it doesn’t guarantee that the peak bitrates stay below these levels. iLounge recommends using lower-than-maximum numbers here, just for safety. If you’re really picky about video quality, you’ll need to test some clips to determine what looks best (and still works) here.

The only other relevant option in this box is “2-pass encoding.” When this option is selected, the video will look better (even at the same bitrate), but the conversion process will take up to twice as much time to complete. Again, try several clips to determine if this extra conversion time is worth it to you. We primarily recommend this for videos that you plan to display off of the iPod’s screen, on a television or computer monitor.

The final relevant options panel on HandBrake’s main window is the “Audio” panel.



These options are simple and generally foolproof, as anything you select will likely work with the iPod.

For “Language,” you may find that there are several with “English.” Generally, you can leave this alone. Any of the audio tracks will convert properly, but if you’ve played with this, make sure you’re not using a track that has Director/Actor commentary. Again, test a small clip to make sure.

For “Sampling Rate,” the iPod is compatible with any of the options. iLounge uses the default 44100 Hz. Generally speaking, higher is better, but requires more space.

For “Bitrate,” iLounge recommends the default 128 kbps. Sure, higher audio bitrates will sound better, but keep in mind that this data will reduce the portion of your previously-selected total bitrate available for the video stream.

Since we’re done exploring HandBrake’s main window, it would appear that we’re finally done selecting all the relevant options, but there’s one more thing to do:

Click on the “Picture Settings” button near the lower right corner of HandBrake’s window. Here, we’ll need to select an image dimension compatible with the iPod. From what we noted in our separate tutorial on the iPod’s resolution capabilities: for H.264, make sure that the product of height and width is less than 76,800 pixels, and that it’s less than 230,400 when using MPEG-4.



Adjust the resolutions accordingly, click “Close” to leave the Picture Settings window, and we’re finally ready to click “Start” to begin the encoding.

Depending on the length of your video clip, your conversion options, and your Mac’s processor speed, this process will take a long time. For a full DVD, in fact, be prepared to wait overnight, at the very least. We frequently left a 1.25GHz Mac mini encoding for an entire weekend, and a 1.42GHz Mac mini going for a day.

When it finishes, add the file to your iTunes library by simply dragging it onto the iTunes icon in your Dock. Be aware that just because a video file is accepted by iTunes does not mean that it’s compatible with the iPod; this won’t become apparent until you synchronize the iPod.

HandBrake initially looks daunting, but now that we know the allowable combinations of settings for iPod-ready video, all that remains is a lot of waiting time! Your patience will be rewarded, however, with lots of iPod-ready video content for you to enjoy on the go!

iLounge urges you to continue testing your video files with various video formats and settings so that you can settle on a combination that works best for your setup. Good luck, and please post your experiences in the comments section below for the benefit of your peers!

Additional Resources for iPod Video Encoding Information

iLounge Forums video encoding tutorial for Windows Users
iLounge Forums video encoding tutorial for Mac Users

« The Complete Guide to iPod Video Formats and Display Resolutions (2005 edition)

The Complete Guide to Converting Video to iPod Format (Mac) »

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i have found that Handbrake significantly darkens the image compared to the dvd. this is most notable on dark scenes where detail falls completely into black.

several other people have mentioned this on the Handbrake forums, so it’s not just me. I urge you to make your own comparisons.

incidentally Quicktime 7 Pro will lighten a movie that it converts to “iPod format” so i have been using handbrake to make an intermediate encode and then QT7 Pro to convert to iPod format. the result is not as dark as Handbrake still not quite as light as the original DVD, but better.
One problem with this method (and a deal breaker) is that QT7 Pro seems to fail to keep longer movies (longer than 75-90 minutes) within iPod specs and my ipod will refuse to accept these movies. no problem with hour long tv shows and shorter though.

Posted by dshank in TX on November 21, 2005 at 3:38 PM (CST)


If you have a DP G5, Handbrake is Faaaaast. I encoded a 110 Min movie, in dual pass mode, in Less than 1.5 Hours. Great App!

Posted by funkdaddy in TX on November 24, 2005 at 12:26 AM (CST)


Through some rather extensive HandBrake DVD Ripping I have noticed the following video quality difference:

Xvid exibits a higher quality video image at the same bitrate as FFmpeg (any inherent video artifacting doesn’t come across as blocky square pixels as is common when using FFmpeg at lower bitrates.) 

To prove my point just Rip two separate (but identical chapters) of almost any DVD then pause them at a specific point where there is noticeable camera movement.  If you look carefully (very noticeable at 720i) at both clips any pixelization in the video looks smoother in the clip that was encoded with Xvid vs. the one that was created with FFmpeg (at identical bitrates.)

The only downside to Xvid is that it does require approximately 30% more time to encode vs. FFmpeg.

If anyone is interested in having comparison .jpegs sent to them just email me at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Thanks and good luck.

Posted by serkoart in TX on November 24, 2005 at 5:12 PM (CST)


Eureka! Thanks to this tutorial, I now have a DVD movie “that I own” on my G5 iPod. Video Podcasts only entertain so long.
It took my G4 Powerbook about 4.5 hours at the settings given above.
One point, the picture settings you show in the illustration give a 288,000 pixel image - too many for the 5G. I bumped my picture settings down one notch.

Posted by Prince Albert in TX on November 27, 2005 at 12:31 PM (CST)


Just wanted to emphasize that FFmpeg is a faster and better encoder at higher bitrates (1.0 mbit and above) than Xvid.  If you are encoding at lower bitrates (below 1.0 mbit) then Xvid is preferential (especially if the image size is 480 pixels or above at that lower bitrate.)

Posted by serkoart in TX on November 27, 2005 at 1:07 PM (CST)


For those of us stuck using Windows…...

Just wanted to mention that if any of you have a PSP already, the videos you rip for that will work flawlessly on the iPod video.  I use DVD Decrypter to rip my DVD, then use Xilisoft Video Converter to format for the PSP.  Now I have a library I can share between devices…Macromedia just bought the rights to DVD Decrypter so if you don’t have it yet, find it soon.  Not sure if these products are availalbe on the mac but I can format a 2 hour DVD to iPod/PSP format in about 90 minutes…..on an AMD 1800XP with a gig of RAM.

Posted by ratchet in TX on November 28, 2005 at 7:51 PM (CST)


i did what you guys suggested and ripped the trailer from a DVD before i ripped the entire DVD to make sure it played on my ipod. the trailer worked fine. so last night i started to rip the entire DVD. this morning when i tried to update my ipod, the whole movie wouldn’t transfer to my ipod. any idea why the trailer would, but the full movie wouldn’t?

Posted by mdwsta4 in TX on November 29, 2005 at 9:16 AM (CST)


I am trying for two days to convert using Xvid and 2000 bitrate but the damn video won’t get in my iPod. I used double pass and even tried to rename the .mp4 file to .m4v but nothing. I am trying the ffmpeg codec now and see what happens. But how did some of you managed to convert with Xvid?

Posted by ilianto in TX on November 30, 2005 at 8:00 AM (CST)


And still nothing! Even with ffmpeg convertion it won’t upload to the iPod. I begin to wonder if I purchased a Photo iPod with a bigger screen… The bitrate I used for MPEG-4 convertrtion is 2000. Is it too little maybe or too much?

Posted by ilianto in TX on November 30, 2005 at 9:46 AM (CST)


Ripped “Army of Darkness” dvd with handbrake…Check
Moved mp4 file to iTunes library…Check
Shows up in iTunes ready for use…Check
Sync brand new 80 gig black iPod 5G…Check
all systems go but where the hell do I find my movie on the iPod?  I don’t see it anywhere.  Help!

Posted by BoyNamedSue in TX on November 30, 2005 at 9:39 PM (CST)


Today I converted using h264 baseline and still it won’t get in the pod!!!! Help, please…

Posted by ilianto in TX on December 1, 2005 at 2:47 AM (CST)


I finally did it. It could not sync because the audio bitrate was set by me at 192. It plays DVD quallity with xvid, 2400 kbps and single pass!!! Great!!!

Posted by ilianto in TX on December 1, 2005 at 5:44 AM (CST)


Will Quicktime Pro convert DVD’s to play on Ipod G5 for windows users? Is there a better solution for window’s users? My Ipod G5 is supposed to get here tomorrow. I am very new to this any help would be appreciated.

Posted by tvpnell in TX on December 1, 2005 at 12:20 PM (CST)


Great article first of all. but i am a little confused by this:

“We frequently left a 1.25GHz Mac mini encoding for an entire weekend”

i have a 1.25 GHz G4, and it only took 3 hours per dvd to encode.

thanks alot,

Posted by GuyGio in TX on December 3, 2005 at 11:47 PM (CST)


Okay, although I am not going to get my iPod 5G till Christmas morning, I was wondering if someone here can dispel a myth for me. I read (somewhere) that the iPod will limit the movie length of any movie to only 90mins. Can someone tell me if this is fact or fiction?


Posted by Teknosnob in TX on December 4, 2005 at 6:57 PM (CST)


I followed the instrutions and everytime I selected any languge english 2 I still got directors cut, I am now trying it with all 5 channel! maybe it will work this time. Also the last time I tried the picture size at 320 x 144, this for wide screen it worked as far as putting it on I Tunes put it did not go on to the I Pod so now I an trying 320 x 240, it may squeeze the picture put hopfully it will go on the I Pod. what ratio could I use to have wide screen on the I Pod?

Posted by Christopher Cooper in TX on December 5, 2005 at 5:51 PM (CST)


“what ratio could I use to have wide screen on the I Pod?”

i don’t know if this would work, but on the ipod go to videos>video settings then you can set it to wide screen. i don’t know however if your ipod will then let you put wide screen movies on it or not.

Posted by GuyGio in TX on December 6, 2005 at 9:21 AM (CST)


” I read (somewhere) that the iPod will limit the movie length of any movie to only 90mins”

I currently have Baseketball on my ipod and it is 1 hour 43 minutes. so you can put movies over 90 minutes on the ipod.

Also, the myth about not being able to fast forward is false. you just push the center button and use the click wheel to go backward and forward in the video.

Posted by GuyGio in TX on December 6, 2005 at 9:25 AM (CST)


This was an excellent tutorial. I have one suggestion for those who want to put entire movies on their iPods: When using handbrake to rip the entire movie from DVD, I sometimes got errors or corrupted .mp4 files at the end - I had MUCH better luck when breaking the movie up into smaller files, i.e. just ripping 5 or 10 DVD chapters at a time. If you are not having success with entire films, try this.

Posted by kelland in TX on December 19, 2005 at 10:11 AM (CST)


I have a iMac G5 1.8 GHz with OS 10.3.9.

When I select a VOB file in ‘DVD Folder/Image’, I always get message ‘No Valid Title Found’.  Does anyone have same problem?

When I rip a clip directly and trying to upload it directly to video iPod, I also get an error message stating that it cannot be loaded.

Posted by TYW in TX on December 21, 2005 at 4:29 AM (CST)

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