With its hacker-friendly aesthetic and open source mentality, you'd think a Linux desktop would be the best place to assert your digital rights—you know, make backup copies of your DVDs, convert them for iPods, that kind of thing.
And you'd be half right. There are plenty of programs that let you take control of your video discs, but they're only useful if you can make it through a maze of configuration menus, command line options, choices about bit rates and codecs, and the occasional confusing message about a missing library.
I've tried out a good number of DVD ripping and conversion programs, and I've made peace with one method, and one program, that gets the job done more often than not. It's not exactly one-click, but once your system is set up, you can drop in DVDs and back them up or convert them with relative ease.Note on system differences: I set up my ripping/burning system on a Lenovo Thinkpad T61 running a brand-new installation of Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon). As with so many things Linux, packages and commands may vary based on your system. But for the most part, the tools I use in this walkthrough work across distributions and on both major desktop environments, GNOME and KDE.
Make your system media-friendly
The key ingredient to ripping in Linux is enabling your system to read encrypted DVDs—the kind you buy and rent. Since Linux lacks (to my knowledge) a licensed DVD player, we'll be using the libdvdcss2 package to get access. You might find the libdvdcss2 package in your distro's repositories, but you'll definitely find it at the VideoLAN web site, and Ubuntu users can install it from the Medibuntu site.
If you're going to be shrinking your DVDs down to portable media formats like DivX or MPEG-4, you need the corresponding codecs installed. For Ubuntu users, that means heading to Applications->Add/Remove, typing in gstreamer and installing all the packages that come up, along with installing the w32codecs package from the Medibuntu source above. In other distros, try searching your installation programs for terms like "codec," "divx," "restricted," and other relevant phrases.
The program I'll be using to shrink dual-layer DVDs down to burn-able size is K9Copy, available in many repositories. It's straight-forward, it doesn't ask 47 questions about your bitrate preferences, and it works mostly on its own. Although it's KDE based, it runs in GNOME environments without too many required libraries.
Finally, here are the programs I recommend for playing and burning video files and ISOs. Use what you know best, but I've had the best success with these selections:
- VLC Media Player: Just like on Windows and Mac, the Linux version of this all-in-one wonder plays nearly anything resembling video or audio. You could use it to play back entire DVD backup folders, as Adam prefers, or even play the DVD image itself.
- DeVeDe and ManDVD: For creating burnable DVD images from video files. DeVeDe can handle fancier conversions, but ManDVD lets you create some pretty slick-looking front-end menus.
- K3b or GnomeBaker: These burning programs for KDE and GNOME seem to just work, and often catch errors before burning rather than create coasters, in my experience.
Load a DVD into your drive, launch K9copy and select the blue folder icon in the top left corner. The title contents of your disc will be displayed, but don't touch any of that yet. Hit the "Settings" menu and select "Configure K9Copy."
Select the "DVD" category on the left of the menu that pops up, then change the "Output directory" to a convenient location. This is where the "AUDIO_TS" and "VIDEO_TS" folders that make up a DVD will go before an ISO is made. I had trouble getting the folders to go into a Windows-formatted storage partition on my Ubuntu system, and while I think KDE-based users might have more success, plan on having at least 9 GB free on your actual Ext3 (or Linux-formatted) drive or partition. You can change the "DVD size" setting here if you have trouble burning to disc, but the default 4400 MB is what most single-layer DVD-Rs can hold.
Now select the MPEG-4 category, unless you don't plan on compressing DVDs down to video files. I've found success choosing the XviD codec, selecting the "2 pass" option and changing the codec under the "Audio" tab to AC3, but video geeks will know what to do here. You can also easily opt for better quality rips and larger files by adjusting the "File size" option in the "Video" tab or splitting the rips onto two or more CD-Rs. Note that these are just the default settings; you can rip to another format, like the iPod-friendly MPEG-4 using the "MPEG4 Encoding Options" tab at the main window's bottom edge.
Hit "OK," and now it's time to choose what we want to retain from the DVD. If you want to copy everything—including menus, featurettes and all the language and subtitle tracks—select the "DVD Playback Options" menu from the right-hand edge and check the "Keep original menus" button at the bottom. Otherwise, you can go title by title through the DVD, deciding which audio, video and subtitle tracks to drop for better picture quality. If you're unsure what to pick, hit the camera button at the top left to preview the video and change the subtitle and audio options to see what's best.
Let 'er rip
Now make sure the "ISO image" output device is selected, and then click either the MPEG4 or Copy buttons (or choose from the Actions menu) to start ripping. I found my ripping times to be about even with DVD Shrink in Windows, but certainly faster than if I ran DVD Shrink in WINE or other Windows emulators. After it finishes, you're most of the way there—you can burn the ISOs to DVD-Rs, watch the backups in your media player, or use the video files wherever you can play 'em. K9Copy has an option to burn directly to DVDs, but I haven't read too many great things about it.
As I said earlier, this is what worked for me, and I've read similar success stories in Linux forums and amongst our own commenters. Die-hard GNOME users who never install KDE-applications might check out a similar program, DVD95, but I found the interface a bit too confusing for a first-timer.
Have a better system for ripping DVDs on your Linux box? Know an uber-command-line trick that does the job every time? Let's hear about it in the comments.
Kevin Purdy is a guest editor at Lifehacker who's thrilled that he's now able to back up the entire Michael Mann canon.