How to Rip a DVD (Mac)

So iTunes offers us a very easy and simple way to convert our music on CDs into digital files. But what if you’re interested in converting your movies or television shows on DVD into digital files? Poke around in iTunes for a few minutes and you’ll quickly find there is no such option. The simple fact is that there is still a massive legal battle going on that is preventing you, the person who paid for your DVDs to do what you want with them! Well, under a specific type of copyright law called “fair use,” you should be (as long as it’s for your own personal use, and not for distribution, of course). In the US, the issued is muddied by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it illegal for someone to sell tools that circumvent copy protection.

Photo by comedy_nose

So essentially, it’s illegal to sell software that can rip a DVD, but not illegal to use that software to rip a DVD for your own use (I know, I find it confusing too).

If you’re interested in the issues surrounding this, the following articles may be of interest to you:

What we need

Since iTunes can’t do what we need it to do, we’ll first need to download a few programs to handle the DVD ripping. There are a few commercial options like RipIt or DVD Ripper that make the process simple, but I’ve gone entirely with free, open-source programs in this tutorial. I think this method is fairly easy, but if you feel like you need tech support or additional assistance you may want to go with one of these commercial options.

VLC Player

The first thing you’ll need is a video framework – something that provides you with all the backend video codec libraries you’ll need to do this. If you don’t know what a video codec is, that’s ok! All you really need to know is that you’ll want a program called VLC Player. Not only does VLC provide you with a video framework, but it’s also a fantastic lightweight open source media player.


Next thing you’ll need is a way around DVD encryption, which is just another term for copy protection. For Mac, the best decryption software I’ve found is a program called Fairmount. When you install this, make sure you’re installing Fairmount. For some reason, the makers of Fairmount bundle their commercial program DVD Remaster into the download as well. Decryption programs like Fairmount can get around most types of encryption and allow you to copy the files on the DVD directly to your computer.


Finally, if you want files that can be viewed on your iPhone or iPod Touch, you’ll need video encoding software, to convert those raw files from the DVD into a format that is viewable on those devices. In this video, I’ll be using a program called Handbrake.

The process

OK, now that you’ve got all these programs installed, you can start the process! For the Mac, you’re going to start by launching Fairmount and then inserting the DVD. Create a folder on your desktop that you want the files to be copied into. Now, you’ll notice that instead of the usual DVD icon on your desktop, you’ll see the DVD as a mounted disk. Go into the disk and simply drag the VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS folders over to the folder you created.

The files you’ve copied over can now be viewed using the VLC Player, and it should behave just like a DVD, with all the menus intact. I can open it in VLC by going to File > Open Disk. In this popup box, I’ll choose the button next to VIDEO_TS folder, and click browse to locate the folder where I copied in the files.

This is perfectly fine, but if you want the videos to play on your iPhone or iPod Touch, you’ll need to encode video in a format that is viewable on those devices. What I like to do now, especially if I’m ripping a DVD for a TV show, is to find out the title numbers of each video I want to extract. Just for some background: when you click on an item in a DVD menu, your DVD player goes to a specific title number and plays that. Every single menu item has a title number, and you certainly don’t want EVERY SINGLE item extracted as a file. So when you click an item to play, just go into the “Playback” menu in VLC player, go into the “Title” menu. This will give you a dropdown menu of all the titles on the DVD, and the one you’ve selected to play will be the one checked off. Write down that number, because you’ll need it in the next step.

The next step is to use Handbrake to convert the video to a format that can be viewed on your device. When you open up Handbrake, you’ll automatically get a file browser. Find the file that you copied your DVD to, and select “Open.” Handbrake will go in and analyze the DVD, which may take a minute or two.

Now you may find all the different options that Handbrake presents somewhat confusing. There’s this whole list of presets off to the right here, all these different options, what exactly do they mean? My personal philosophy is you don’t need to worry about any of these things. If you leave all these settings as the default “Normal” setting, I’ve found it works beautifully for creating video files that work great for watching on my TV, on my computer, and on my iPod, so I leave all those settings as is. Of course, if you don’t have an iPhone or iPod Touch, your mileage may vary – you should consult your device’s manual or an online community. You might also not want to do this if file size is a concern for you – in this case, you can select the “iPhone & iPod Touch” preset, and this will create smaller video files. Personally, I don’t like it because it degrades the video quality quite a bit, to the point where it looks terrible on a computer or a TV.

Photo by Mattastic!

The next thing you’ll want to do is prep your files. Remember the title numbers you wrote down? You’ll see all the titles in this drop down menu at the top. Select the first title you’ll be ripping, and name the file in the “Destination File” box. Click “Add to Queue” to add this to your ripping queue. Repeat the process for all the titles you’ll be ripping, and make sure that each title has a different file name. If you don’t change the file name, you’ll just overwrite the same file over and over again.

Just to double check before you start, click “Show Queue” which will bring up a pop-up window showing all the titles that you’re going to rip. I like to make sure again that I gave all the titles a different name. When you’re ready, click the “Start” button. This process will take at least several hours, and pretty much make your computer unusable, so you’ll want to do this at a time when you won’t need to do anything with your computer.

That’s it! When the process is done, you’ll find all the files where you specified them to be in the “Destination File” box. To use it with your iPhone or iPod Touch go into iTunes and click “File > Add to Library” and it’ll copy the files into your iTunes Library.

Potential problems

There’s no guarantee that absolutely every DVD out there can be ripped using this process. New DVDs especially have a lot of weird copy protection that these programs have difficulty handling. If your DVD decrypter, Fairmount or DVD Shrink, is having trouble reading the disk, you may want to skip that step entirely and encode the video in Handbrake straight from the DVD. To do this, you’ll just select the DVD itself from the “Open Source” option in Handbrake and encode as you normally do. A lot of people actually use just Handbrake, but I think using a DVD decrypter speeds up the process and is a lot less taxing on your optical drive.

In a lot of newer DVDs, you’ll also find hundreds of title numbers, which are meant to confuse you. All you need to do to get around this is to follow the process I showed to find the correct title numbers in VLC and only rip those titles.

Other resources

This is a pretty popular topic to create a tutorial from (though I’d say mine is one of the better ones purely for the fact that I’ve edited out all the “uhh’s” and “umm’s” out of my video), so I’d be somewhat remiss if I didn’t point out some other great articles:

Will Smith has this great step-by-step article at Tested that really delves into the various options in Handbrake that I decided to omit from my video. Especially helpful if you’re ripping a DVD with subtitles or want to pull out the commentary tracks.

Adam Christianson goes through pretty much the same process that I’ve described in this episode of the Maccast. He also throws in a review for the Elgato Turbo.264 HD Encoder/Accelerator which is a dongle which supposedly speeds up the process of ripping video significantly. At $130, I think it’s probably a bit excessive unless you’re encoding tons of video.

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One Comment

  1. Perry Metzger
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    FYI, Metakine seems to have stopped distributing Fairmount, but as it was open source, I’ve updated it to the latest Mac OS X and put it up for download here:

    Note that you now have to install a package from the VLC people and not VLC itself to use it.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By It Box @ All Around the World News on June 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Rip DVD to iPod…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  2. By How to rip a Blu-Ray disc on June 18, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    […] Thought Shots Technology learning made easy. Skip to content About « How to Rip a DVD (Mac) […]

  3. By How to Use Boxee on August 1, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    […] The stuff stored locally can be just about any kind of photo, video or audio file – Boxee is able to play just about any file type you throw at it. This is, of course, with the exception of any DRM-locked content. This means just about any video content you’ve bought from iTunes is not accessible through Boxee. For more info on how to digitize your DVDs, you can watch my video on How to Rip a DVD. […]

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