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. Lifehacker.com 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.