Ripping Blu-rays and making my own digital copies

Last month, I discovered an dissatisfying truth about the digital copies that consumers often get with their home video home video purchases — you know, when you purchase a blu-ray, DVD, digital copy combo pack. Those digital copies provide you a code to only download a standard definition (SD) copy of the film. It’s likely my fault that I had never considered what was the resolution for these digital copies. I didn’t realize this after all these years, because I often watched them on either my iPhone or on my little 19″ Dell LCD monitor, which only could only output in SD. I knew Apple sold both SD and HD versions through iTunes, but I didn’t give it much thought. I discovered this when I tried to play a few films on my new HD-capable 24″ Dell monitors — color me surprised to witness the terrible resolution!

I had to research it, but it’s confirmed. Digital copies that come with your blu-ray and DVD combo packs entitle you to one SD version. Apple allows  you to purchase HD versions of movies, but you can’t upgrade your SD digital copies. Now I had a conundrum – I planned this slowly-built-up digital library for when I got my future Retina display, HD iPad. Now, these films will look terrible as well. Frustration! I’m officially disenchanted with digital copies. They’re no good to me. I don’t expect to make extra effort to purchase those combo packs any longer. In addition, in January of this year, I upgraded to TiVo Desktop To Go Plus, as I had the new faster PC. With the TiVo also at home, perfect opportunity for me to transfer current movies and tv shows to my home PC, iPhone, and future iPad. Guess what? While The TiVo Desktop Plus software ($24.95) allows you to convert your recordings to mobile devices (e.g. the iPhone), it does not allow you to convert the recordings to more than a 640×480 resolution! That’s fine for the mobile phone, but again, useless for an iPad equipped with a Retina display. Curses!

What to do?

Instead, I’m exploring ripping my own digital copies for private home use from my personal collection. writer Whitson Gordon wrote an article last December, The Hassle-Free Guide to Ripping Your Blu-Ray Collection, which is exactly what I’m looking for. At the moment, I’m using MakeMKV for the initial blu-ray rip to a high quality .mkv file for easy encoding. Through my initial trials, the initial ripping process for blu-ray films takes about 1-2 hours, and outputs the aforementioned MKV file.  You can’t play this file out of the box, unless you do what I did and installed the VLC freeware, which plays .mkv files.

Once you have an .mkv file, you can use the Handbrake open source video encoder to encode to various file formats, such as H.264. There are various presets, including 1080p, 640×480, and even iPad. This process takes a little less than the initial blu-ray ripping, but it’s not hours. I think this must also be dependent on the speed of your CPU. So far, it works well. BTW, I think you need to have various encoded versions, because I hoped that I could just encode one 1080p version and use it on the home PC and the iPhone, but iTunes told me it was an unsupported file format. Once I encoded the file in an iPhone-friendly size format, it was fine. The good news to share is that smaller (lower resolution) format takes a shorter time to encode.

That’s about it. I’m trialing all this software right now. So far, it’s not bad. I think I can rip .mkv files of my personal video library, and later encode to whatever format I desire at a later date for my devices.

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2 Responses to Ripping Blu-rays and making my own digital copies

  1. Jim says:

    Great minds think alike. MakeMKV rocks! I’m using that to rip all my blu-rays and then bye-bye physical media. My goal is to get rid of all my DVDs and Blu-rays this year. I’m tired of all that crap taking up storage space. I’m storing the movies on a single drive right now. Once prices go down, I’m going to get 2 3TB or 4TB and mirror them. I’ve got a QNap device, just no cash for the drives right now.

    I’m using Plex as my media server, and Roku to stream it to my TV. Love the apple tv, but no more for me. Only Roku going forward.

    Handbrake is great for encoding it and shrinking down the size as well. I ripped Inception and it was about 30 gigs uncompressed and trying to stream that was a nightmare. After handbrake, it was down to about 8-10 gigs and streamed fine.

    Are you going 100% digital now, or are you keeping the discs as backup?

  2. Joel says:

    If you’re using MakeMKV and Handbrake also, then I know I’m in good company!

    I’m not currently planning to go all digital at this time, though I have a friend who has done that also. Right now, I still like my physical discs, because I haven’t learned enough about which streaming methods won’t result in lossy audio (I like my 7.1 surround sound.) Also, I don’t have the money or space for additional hardware in our medium-sized townhouse.

    My objective with playing around with ripping my own digital copies is for home viewing on mobile devices — on our phones or future tablets, for use on the train to work or when traveling. I want the high quality but without spending more than necessary. I’m not going to purchase digital copies of movies I always have!

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