Commercial DVDs are far too expensive to let scratches turn your video into a glorified coaster, but most people still don't back up their DVD collection. Once upon a time, the four to eight gigabyte footprint of a DVD on your hard drive was prohibitively large. But since the price of a gigabyte has plummeted, ripping your entire DVD collection to your computer is not just possible, it's prudent—and it's easy. Let's take a look at the best ways to back up and play any DVD rip on your home computer, along with how to burn a DVD rip back to a playable DVD.
What You'll Need
All you need is a PC with a DVD drive and a hard drive with some extra space. If you're working on a computer with limited space, that doesn't rule you out. You can find huge internal hard drives for cheap (like this 500GB drive for $99), and installing that hard drive is a breeze.
You only need a DVD drive capable of burning DVDs if you want to burn your backups back to a disc you can play in a DVD player. DVD burners are crazy cheap at under $30, and they install just as easily as hard drives.
I'm focusing on Windows solutions for this article. That doesn't mean there aren't methods available for other operating systems—it just means that the scope of this feature is limited to Windows users.
Set Up Painless DVD Ripping to Your Hard Drive
There are several methods for ripping your DVDs on your Windows computer, but let's run down a couple of the best below.
Rip DVDs in One-Click with DVD Rip and DVD Shrink
Our first and favourite option for ripping DVDs to your hard drive is DVD Rip, a free, open source application built in the Lifehacker workshop designed to make backing up DVDs to your hard drive as simple as possible. DVD Rip works in conjunction with another tool called DVD Shrink, a freeware application that rips and compresses the DVD image. DVD Shrink does all the heavy lifting—DVD Rip just makes it super-simple to use.
Pros: DVD Shrink compresses your rips so they take about half the space on your hard drive, so despite the fact that storage is cheap, you can still get more bang from your buck. Also, using DVD Rip in conjunction with DVD Shrink is designed to be simple enough that anyone in your family could use it. DVD Rip is also designed to work well with DVD Play, another helper app (mentioned below), for playing back your DVDs.
Cons: If you want your backups to be exact copies of your DVDs, the shrinking aspect of DVD Shrink probably isn't for you. It saves space, but it skimps on some video fidelity to do it. The space versus quality trade-off is one I'm comfortable making with most DVDs, but you may want to try it out yourself to be sure.
NOTE: DVD Shrink can break the copy protection on most DVDs without issue, but if you're having a problem, try running previously mentioned DVD43, which promises to remove copy protection from virtually any DVD, before you start DVD Shrink.
DVDFab HD Decrypter
Like DVD Shrink, DVDFab HD Decrypter breaks copy protection and rips the DVD contents to your hard drive. Unlike DVD Shrink, DVDFab does not compress the rip, so it's going to be the same quality as the original. DVDFab is actually a shareware app, but the trial version does full DVD rips and will even rip only the main movie.
Pros: DVDFab has a great reputation for cutting through copy protection, and it results in full quality rips.
Cons: Full quality rips mean lots of hard drive space per movie—around 8GB. If that's not a problem, more power to the full rip. If it is, DVD Shrink (with or without DVD Rip) will half that to about 4 or 5GB and might be more your taste. You might also consider ripping just the main movie with DVDFab if you don't want or need the extra features to save space.
Play Back Your Rips
Now that you've set up your computer to inhale any and every DVD you throw its way, you want to play these ripped DVDs. You could go one step further and encode them to popular compressed formats like DivX, but the rips you've already set up have their own charm for a couple of reasons.
First, ripping DVDs to the VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS folders (the default output for these methods) means you retain the entire DVD structure, so watching the rip works just like if you were watching the DVD, complete with menus and special features. Second, these folders can easily be burned back to DVDs so that—in the event that one of your physical discs is damaged—you can just burn the backup and never miss a beat. Here are a few methods and apps you can use to play back these DVDs on your computer and burn new DVDs from the rips.
Play Back Ripped DVDs with DVD Play and VLC
Similar to DVD Rip, DVD Play is a helper application that works in conjunction with the popular open source media player, VLC, to help you navigate and play back your ripped DVDs. To get a look at how DVD Play works in action, check out the video below.
In this video DVD Play is playing back a DVD ripped using DVD Rip and DVD Shrink. All you have to do is point DVD Play at the folder where you're ripping all of your DVDs, and it provides a nice interface for browsing and playing back those ripped DVDs.
Play Back Ripped DVDs in Windows Media Center
If you're a Windows Media Centre user, you can play back these ripped DVDs from directly within Media Centre. In pre-Vista versions of Media Centre, you can just add your rips folder to your My Videos library and they'll automatically show up as playable. The DVD library feature is turned off by default in Vista's Media Centre, but all it takes is one small tweak to enable it.
Burn Your Backups to a New DVD with ImgBurn
Finally, if your physical disc gets damaged, you can always burn a new DVD from your backup (again, with DVD menus and all the extra features). This time, we're using a freeware application called ImgBurn. To burn one of your backups to a new DVD, just fire up ImgBurn and enter Build mode by selecting Mode -> Build from the ImgBurn menu. Now just click browse folder icon beneath the source dropdown and point ImgBurn to the folder of the ripped DVD you want to burn.
After you've selected the folder, insert a blank DVD and then click on ImgBurn's Calculate button to determine if your DVD has enough space to burn the backup. If you want to back up DVDs you ripped using DVDFab (all 8GBs), you'll need a dual-layer DVD burner capable of burning to 8GB dual-layer DVDs. If you've just got a regular old DVD burner that can only burn to 4GB single-layer discs (which I suspect is most of us), the DVD Shrink method above is your best choice.
Now, assuming you've got a DVD big enough to handle your DVD rip, just click the Build button (pictured) and let 'er burn. Note: If your Build button does not look like the button pictured, you need to switch to Device Output mode by clicking the small button to the left of the Build button to switch to Device Output mode—otherwise ImgBurn will want to create an ISO file on your hard drive rather than burn the disc.
As with most things on your computer, there are plenty of ways to rip and back up a DVD. If you've got a favourite method that I didn't mention above, let us hear about it in the comments.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who believes that backing up media is just as much your right as backing up the rest of your digital data. His special feature, Hack Attack, appears weekly on Lifehacker AU.