Productivity

The Hassle-Free Guide To Ripping Your Blu-ray Collection

Blu-ray discs may be more protected and harder to play in certain programs, like XBMC, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play your HD video on your media centre. Here’s how to rip and compress Blu-Ray discs for high quality, space-saving results.

Blu-ray is not the most friendly of formats. It’s highly proprietary and copy protected, you can’t skip past previews, the discs only play in a few choice desktop computer programs (like PowerDVD), and they don’t play on Mac or Linux at all. Luckily, video encoding has come a long way since the days of lower quality, 700MB XviD DVD rips, and you can get high quality Blu-ray rips can weigh in anywhere between 4GB and 12GB each, depending on how close to the original source you want them to be, and boy do they look good.

There are a lot of different methods for ripping and encoding Blu-rays, several different encoding programs and more than a few ripping solutions. We combed through the options to pull together the simplest working method using the best free programs we could find. In addition, everyone’s preferences on quality and method of encoding are different, so you may prefer some advanced options we do not cover here, but this is intended to be a fairly simple, hassle-free guide for people who want to get the job done. It makes a compromise between being easy to execute without sacrificing too much quality. Also, while this method is designed for Windows, I can personally vouch for this method on Linux as well (see below for notes on DVDFab in Wine), and, while I haven’t tested it myself, it should work on OS X using Wine as well.

What You’ll Need

Unlike a lot of the Blu-ray guides I’ve stumbled onto, you’ll only need a few things for ours:

  • A Blu-ray Drive. This is pretty obvious; you won’t get far if your computer can’t read Blu-ray discs.
  • DVDFab HD Decrypter for removing copy protection from Blu-ray discs. There are a ton of ripping options out there, but I always come back to DVDFab — it’s well kept up, always gets through the latest encryption and stays free as long as you don’t want any advanced features (which we don’t for this). DVDFab also works fabulously in Wine using these instructions, making it perfect for cross-platform work. I haven’t tested it on Mac, but it should work in Wine there as well, if you’re willing to do a bit of work to figure out how.
  • Handbrake, our favourite cross platform, open source video encoder. There are a few other programs out there that will encode HD video, and some of them are a bit easier to navigate, most notably Ripbot264. However, I and many others have had problems running this on 64-bit versions of Windows 7, so I decided to go with Handbrake instead. You’ll need the newest version, which is 0.9.4 at the time of this writing.
  • Anywhere from 30GB to 60GB of hard disk space, depending on what you’re ripping. Blu-rays are big, and we’re going to rip the whole thing to our drive first, so depending on the movie you’re ripping and the quality you want in your final movie file, you’ll need a good amount of space. An external hard drive will work just fine if you have one and don’t have the space on your PC.

That’s it. Unlike using RipBot or other similar methods, you won’t need AviSynth, ffdshow or any of the other many installations such programs often require. Just download and install DVDFab and HandBrake (if you don’t have them already) and you’ll be good to go.

Rip The Disc To Your Hard Drive With DVDFab

Before we do anything, we’ll need to remove all the copy protection on the disc so we can work with the files. Open up DVDFab and choose “HD Decrypter” at startup. This is the free option; it will automatically start counting down your trial for the Blu-ray section when you first start ripping, but once that expires you should still be able to choose HD Decrypter at startup, which will rip full discs to your hard drive.

Hit “Start DVDFab” and it should take you to the main window, pictured below. click on Blu-ray to Blu-ray, make sure that your source disk and target folder (where you want to save the rip) are correct, and then just hit start — the default settings should be what you want (full disc set to fit on a BD50). Before long, you’ll have a folder in your destination directory called FullDisc, in which you’ll find the Blu-ray’s filed, free of all copy protection and ready to be encoded.

Find Your Source File

Before we open up HandBrake, we’ll want to find out which file in the Blu-Ray folder is the main movie. This is pretty easy; just open up the aforementioned FullDisc folder (and the enclosed folder with the movie’s name), and then open up the BDMV folder. Inside you’ll find a folder called STREAM; open that up and search for the longest (or largest, gigabyte-wise) m2ts file inside it.

If you have VLC installed, you should be able to open those files up and watch them too, to make sure. Note, however, that sometimes VLC messes up a bit and the movie scenes will seem out of order — this is fine; as long as it’s clearly the main movie track and not a special feature, you’ve found the right one. Take note of the filename and open up HandBrake, choosing it as the source file.

Choose Your Resolution in HandBrake

Now comes the more complicated (but also more fun) part of the process. There are a lot of settings available in HandBrake, and while we won’t delve into all the advanced features it has, you still have some choices to make and some settings to tweak. Most of it is personal preference, but we’ll outline what we recommend for getting the best compromise between quality and space savings on a movie-by-movie basis, so you can fit as many of those HD movies on your hard drive as possible.

The first thing you want to think about (which will affect your output size pretty heavily) is resolution. Blu-Rays are 1080p natively, and HandBrake will keep them as such by default. However, you may want to consider toning it down to 720p for some movies. 720p is still HD, but takes up quite a bit less space (a good 720p rip could take up around 4GB or 5GB while a good 1080p rip might be closer to 10GB — of course, this is quite variable and depends on the movie). And, let’s be honest, certain movies just don’t need all those pixels — I love Anchorman as much as anybody, but I don’t need to see Will Ferrell running around cracking jokes in glorious 1080p. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, probably deserves all the pixels 1080p can offer. It’s up to you to decide which movies you’d like to dedicate an extra few gigs to, but toning the less visually interesting ones down is something I’d highly recommend.

If you’re ripping a movie that deserves 1080p, you can skip this step, because 1080p is the already the default resolution. If you want to change it to 720p, then click on the Picture tab (or the “Picture Settings” button along the top of the HandBrake window, depending on your platform). Set the “Anamorphic” box to “loose” and change the width to 1280. Note that Handbrake crops out the black bars on either side to save some space, so your height will not be 720, but rest assured that it will be what you know as 720p quality. Exit that window and return to HandBrake’s main settings.

Set Your Quality Settings And Encode

Before you do anything else, choose your output type. I like MKV; it’s open in nature, supports DTS and AC3 audio, and works great in quite a few media players, including most media centre software. Choose H.264 as your video codec and hit the High Profile preset on the right sidebar. On the Audio tab, you have a few options depending on the nature of your disc. It will likely be some form of either AC3 or DTS — there are a few different versions of each, but for each I recommend choosing the Passthru option for your Audio codec (AC3 Passthru or DTS Passthru). It isn’t lossless, but it’s pretty darn good and is by far the simpler option (lossless audio would require more software, more time and more space).

Lastly, we’ll want to choose our video quality. This part is open to experimentation, but it’s pretty widely accepted that doing a constant quality encode is the best option, and that for HD rips about 55 per cent (or an RF of 22) will get you as much space savings as possible but still be nearly “transparent”, or indiscernible from the original to your eyes. Again this is personal preference though, so if you have particularly sensitive eyes you may want to move it closer to, say, 59 per cent, or if you can’t tell the difference you could probably squeeze a bit more space out of it by sliding it down more. Fifty-five per cent is the setting that a lot people tend to use and recommend, and in my tests the outputs looked pretty darn good to me.

When you’re ready, hit the encode button and let it go to town. It will take a little while, depending on the settings you’ve chosen, so maybe now is a time to kick back with a cold one and, if you’ve already ripped one of your Blu-rays, watch one (or two or five — seriously, it could take awhile). Once you’ve ripped all your movies, be sure to check out our guide to turbo charging your XBMC installation to learn the best organisation methods and our start to finish XBMC guide for even more customisation options.

Like I said before, this is certainly not the only way to rip your Blu-ray discs. A lot of people prefer different programs and settings, but if you’re not a true audio or videophile, these settings should get you pretty far in upgrading your digital movie collection to HD without taking up a ton of space. As always, if you have your own favourite methods for ripping HD content, sound off in the comments.