OS X: How to backup (rip) a movie DVD?

DVD Copy ProFirst of all, this post is not about making illegal DVD copies. My goal is to transfer my DVD library from optical disks to a hard disk (ok, a large one), the same as I did with my music CD library, entirely transferred to iTunes. Well, not exactly the same, since the DVDs are significantly more complex than audio CDs.

The classical audio CDs structure is very simple, just a list of tracks, without any additional information, so ripping it did not loose any content.

On the other side, DVDs usually have a very complex structure, with multiple audio tracks, multiple subtitles, menus, special features, photos, etc.

The common approach when ripping DVDs is to preserve only the main video and audio streams and repack everything using a very high compression algorithm to produce a DivX or MKV stream. For my taste, this approach is not acceptable, due both to quality issues and missing content.

A true backup should preserve the full content and the quality; the only solution I know is to use a disk image format, like ISO.

Unfortunately, Apple does not provide any support for this task, so third parties solutions are needed.

After an extensive research I discovered that most of the existing solutions are in fact derivatives from Wondershare products.

Wondershare DVD Copy Pro for Mac

The program is commercial, but it provides a demo license that allows to backup 10 disks before expiring. The program can be downloaded for free from the Wondershare product page.

Installation is straightforward, and the user interface is easy to use.

When starting, if there are more DVD readers, the program asks the user to select the unit to be used, and then waits for the DVD to be inserted.

W Copy

Then, the disk is analysed and a selection window is presented.

W CopyFor my requirements, the Full Copy option should be selected, with output in ISO, without compression from D9 to D5. The conversion process is initiated by pressing Start.

W CopyFor usual DVDs, this takes a lot of time (tens of minutes), even on a modern processor. The result is a standard .iso file, that can be archived on a hard disk.

Playing the backup image

One of the reasons for transferring the DVD library to a media server is the possibility to play it remotely on a TV, by using one of the new networked (HD)TV media boxes. There are many such boxed, with varying degrees of support for .iso files (more on this on a separate post).

In addition to media boxes (more or less a future solution), playing the .iso files might be possible on hardware DVD players, and the easiest way is to use a USB flash disk, or even a USB hard disk. If playing .iso files is not supported, an alternative solution is to unpack the VIDEO_TS folder from the ,iso file before copying to the USB storage.

For those willing to play the DVDs on their computer, VLC (and other software players) have no problems with .iso files.

Not surprisingly, the Mac OS X applications  (DVD Player, QT, iTunes) do not directly play .iso images (DVD Player plays .dvdmedia folders).

Burning the image

In case you need to burn back the DVD on an optical disk, this can be done with the Mac OS X system Disk Utilities application. For this, select the menu Images -> Burn… and select the desired .iso file.

However, please note that most of the DVD images are larger that 4.7 GB, and do not fit on common DVD-/+R disks, requiring dual layer disks. Currently these DL disks are several times more expensive than common blank DVD-/+R  disks. Also, burning them on some writers (like the Pioneer in my Mac Mini) does not work as expected. Not to mention that DVD-/+R DL are not supported by the old DVD players (check yours before burning disks to be played on it).

Compressing D9 to D5

The program advertise an interesting feature, to compress large DVDs in order to fit on a standard 4.7 DVD-/+R. Unfortunately, the current version (2.1.1) has some problems and in the resulting D5 image the audio track is not in sync with the video track.

Wondershare provides a good support server, and I opened a ticket, even if I’m currently not a registered user.

Conclusion

This is obviously not the only possible solution, but it is the only convenient one I found, able to directly produce .iso files.

Other commonly used program is RipIt, but the current version generates only .dvdmedia folders, not .iso files (packing .dvdmedia folders to .iso should be posible, but I did not find a convenient way to do it).

Any comments on other positive experiences with other similar programs are welcome.

About Liviu Ionescu (ilg)
Hi! My name is Liviu Ionescu (ilg, ilegeul or eunete for colleagues and friends) and I’m a senior IT engineer. Or should I say a real programmer?

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