It may seem like it sometimes, but everyone isn’t streaming.
I’m willing to bet that you still have a couple hundred DVDs and Blu-ray discs sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust. Admit it, Your movie collection has been feeling neglected lately.
It’s OK. You’ve been spending all of your time streaming movies.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have access to some of those movies that you’ve paid for, without having to go dig them out of whatever dark hole they’re being stored in every time you want to watch them?
That’s what I’m going to talk about in this tutorial. I’m going to discuss DVD and Blu-Ray ripping using a program called MakeMKV to turn those unused discs into digital files that you can watch anywhere.
What you’ll need to get started
A couple of things up front: DVDs and Blu-rays take up a lot of storage space. A single DVD can hold up to 4.7GB of data. Blu-ray discs increase that by a factor of 10 to almost 50GB of data.
That’s a lot of space for one movie, so obviously, if you’re transferring your entire collection, you’re going to need a good-sized hard drive or two.
I recommend some sort of Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. Personally, I’ve got the consumer version of the Western Digital My Cloud which gives me 6 terabytes of space which I’ve got mirrored. That means it gives me 3 terabytes of total space, but that space is constantly backed up so that I never have to worry about losing my stuff because the drives go bad.
The other thing to note is that everything in this tutorial is written from a PC perspective. You’ll need either a PC or a Mac to run MakeMKV, but I’m a PC guy at heart.
And that’s it. That’s all you’ll need to get started, other than the movies you want to rip to digital files.
Let’s get the legal questions out of the way first though.
Is DVD and Blu-Ray ripping Legal?
Most reasonable, intelligent people would think that once you buy a movie or CD then you have the right to watch it or listen to it however you want.
And they’d usually be wrong.
In the United States and the UK, there are two similar concepts called Fair Use (US) and Fair Dealing (UK). In broad terms, they talk about whether making a copy of something is ‘fair’ or whether it infringes on the copyright owner – normally the musician or studio. They were both conceived to stop plagiarism and blatant copyright abuse. But, the lobbyists for the major music and movie studios have resisted modernizing these regulations. In some cases, they’ve even managed to overturn changes and revert these rules back to their pre-digital strength.
As of now, breaking the copyright protection on a DVD or Blu-ray is illegal in most countries – even if all you’re doing is watching it on another device (space shifting).
That being said, this is one of those areas where the common perception of morality doesn’t mesh with the laws on the books. In my opinion, the laws have to catch up with the way the world actually works at some point in the near future. But for now, just know the risks that you’re taking if you rip a DVD or Blu-ray to MKV to watch it on another device.
As always, if you have any concerns, please contact a legal professional in whatever country you happen to live in. This process may be legal, or it may not be. It’s better to check first and be sure.
What is MKV?
Wait…so what’s an MKV anyway?
The Matroska Multimedia Container is a broad file format that includes the MKV video, the MK3D stereoscopic audio, the MKA audio only, and the mks subtitles only extensions. The one we’ll be using most often is the MKV file.
You’ve probably heard of AVI, MOV, MPEG, or MP4 files. They’re some of the more common video file formats. An MKV file is similar but better for one big reason: an MKV can hold a virtually unlimited number of video, audio, or subtitle tracks in the same file.
Most movies have multiple audio tracks and subtitle tracks. For example, you can watch a movie in 2-channel stereo, 5.1 surround, 7.1 surround, or any combination of those formats in any number of languages. Throw in multiple languages for subtitles, and the sheer number of possibilities could get out of hand pretty quickly.
An MKV file helps to kind of compartmentalize the different tracks without becoming unwieldy. If you want to remove one layer of the track, it’s easy to do and doesn’t involve un-compressing, modifying, and re-compressing the file. If you don’t want to copy all of the special features or trailers when you’re ripping a movie, you don’t have to.
MKV files have become the de-facto standard for video files because of their flexibility and ease of use. The fact that the MKV standard is open-source probably doesn’t hurt either.
MakeMKV ripping software
There are several DVD and Blu-ray ripping software programs on the market, but the one you’ll hear about most is MakeMKV. Other popular programs are Aimersoft DVD Ripper, WinX DVD Ripper, and DVDFab.
I like them for two reasons:
- It’s dead simple to use. Seriously. I’ll go through it in detail in the tutorial part of this article below, but I’m sure you’ll pick it up immediately. There’s almost no learning curve to MakeMKV.
- It’s free unless you want to pay for it.
A little more on the “free” part. MakeMKV is one of the most famous, and longest-standing beta programs in software history. WinZip and WinRAR are the other two that immediately come to mind. In these cases, a Beta program is like a trial version with some decreased functionality. If you like it, the idea is that you pay for it to support the developers and unlock the extra features.
With the MakeMKV beta, once the 60-day trial expired, you could usually uninstall the program and download it again from their website – essentially having a permanent, unlimited beta version for as long as you repeated the process. I bought the program because I used it enough to justify the purchase, and because I really think the developers deserve something for making this program.
Would they like you to buy it? Of course. Do you need to? Nope.
The first thing you’ll need to do is download MakeMKV. You can this link to go directly to the MakeMKV download page.
The only choice you’ll need to make is whether you’re running Windows or Mac. The Windows file size is right around 10 MB and will use up to around 120 MB when installed. The program is pretty small and usually should finish downloading instantly if you’ve got a high-speed connection.
On the download page (image to the left), you’ll also see recent version history. If you’re looking for a specific feature or support for a particular video or audio format, this will usually have that information. Plus, it has the limitations of the MakeMKV Beta version at the bottom. I won’t make you go to their site, though. I’ve copied them below.
MakeMKV BETA restrictions as of 10/23/2016:
- The program is time-limited — it will stop functioning after 60 days. You can always download the latest version from makemkv.com which will reset the expiration date.
HD-DVD support is limited – some discs may fail to open and not all audio and subtitle tracks will be preserved.
- Blu-ray and DVD discs are fully supported.
- Computer administrator privileges are required on Windows to run the beta version. This is a limitation of the Windows SCSI application programming interface. Eventually, MakeMKV will not require administrator privileges to run.
How-to Install MakeMKV
After you click on the download MKV link from the page above, you’ll be asked to open the program and install it. The installation process is extremely straightforward, but I’ll go over it here for the sake of being complete. Note: your version number may differ slightly
Your first choice is to choose a setup language. English is the default choice, but you’ve also got the option for Dansk, Deutsch, Espanol, French, Italiano, Nederlands, Norwegian, Portugues Brasileiro, and Svenska.
Once that’s selected, you get the normal Windows installation splash screen and user license agreement.
You’ll then need to select a location for the MakeMKV program. Note: This is not where you’ll be saving your movies. We’ll pick that location in the Settings screens later.
You’ll then be asked to name the Start Menu folder – the default selection works fine here.
And then the program will install. The entire process should only take a few seconds, depending on the speed of your computer and what else you’ve got running at the time.
Once you get the “Completed” message, you can click Next and be given the option to read the Readme or go straight into MakeMKV. Click on Run MakeMKV to launch the program.
I’m going to briefly touch on the different options that MakeMKV gives you. You can get to the different options by clicking on the View menu option on the top of the window and then clicking Preferences, or by clicking the wrench icon on the top row.
The only options I change are the file directory locations, but it’s nice to know what other options there are if you want to tweak your installation.
Here are the changes that I recommend:
In the Video tab, change your default destination to a temporary directory with a lot of available space. This is where you’ll be ripping your DVD and Blu-ray movies to mkv files. I like to have a temporary directory instead of my library just in case anything goes wrong. It also lets me play with the file after I create it and add things like custom artwork or rename the file if I forget to do that in the MakeMKV interface.
How to rip a DVD or Blu-ray to mkv
Ready? Let’s get started.
The process is the same for ripping a DVD and for ripping a Blu-ray.
The main screen will look like this when you launch MakeMKV. Because it’s available in so many languages, much of the main functionality is done using icons. On the main screen, there’s a drop-down box underneath the Source section on the left-hand side. If you’ve got multiple optical drives in your PC, like a DVD drive or Blu-ray drive, you may need to select the correct one. You can see some basic information about the drive on the right-hand side, like the manufacturer, product number, and serial number. Don’t worry, you won’t need to know any of that, but it’s a useful place to go if you ever need to troubleshoot your optical drive for any reason.
Right now, there’s no disc inserted in my computer. You can tell because the large box-shaped icon in the center is empty and the status window on the right says “No disc inserted.”. If I had a disc in the drive, it would look like the image below, and the status window would have some basic information that it read from the disc.
I’ll be greying out the disc information for the rest of the tutorial images, in case you’re wondering. 🙂
This part isn’t intuitive, but you can click directly on the big drive icon to have MakeMKV analyze the disc and see how many tracks are on it. That process should take anywhere between 30 seconds and a few minutes, depending on the speed of your PC. On the right-hand side, you’ll see a counter with the elapsed time and the expected remaining time.
After MakeMKV has finished analyzing the movie tracks, it will break everything down in a list, like in the screenshot below. You’ll see a log of the analysis on the bottom half of the screen.
Not every track on the disc is important, so you’ll see some messages like “title #00069.m2ts has a length of 10 seconds which is less than the minimum title length of 120 seconds and was therefore skipped.” Don’t worry about those. As you can see in this image, there are 97 different tracks on this particular disc. MakeMKV considers any file less than 2 minutes as irrelevant, just to make it easier for us to figure out what we want to keep and what we want to get rid of.
Right now, all thirteen tracks are selected, but we’re going to be changing that now. This is going to include all of the bonus features, trailers as well as the movie itself.
That may be what you want, but it probably isn’t. After all, hard drive space is pretty cheap, but the Blu-ray rip for this movie is going to be 32.8 GB (second line down from the top). Ripping all of these extras would add another 11.5 GB to the size of this movie. That’s a lot of extra space for something that you may only watch once.
The actual movie file is going to be tracked with the largest file size. Un-check all of the other boxes and just leave the biggest one selected.
Note: In some movies, you may see that the biggest track size is exactly identical on two or more tracks. For example, two tracks that are 32.8 GB and all of the other files are much smaller, like you see above. Which one do you choose? In my experience, only pick one of them – it doesn’t matter which. Some movies will cause MakeMKV to mistakenly report that there are more tracks on the disc than there actually are, or could actually fit on the disc. Once you start the Blu-ray ripping process, MakeMKV will figure it out and ignore the duplication.
The main movie file will normally have different audio and subtitle tracks associated with it. After all, this is one of the benefits of the Matroska format – being able to keep all of these different tracks in the file easily. MakeMKV defaults to include the audio and subtitles in your default language and ignore the rest. But you can change this by selecting or deselecting the individual tracks as shown below.
In this example, I did not choose to copy the TrueHD Surround 7.1 track, but I am copying the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio track. I don’t have, nor do I plan to have, a 7.1 surround system so this is a waste for me. Feel free to pick and choose what you want to include or ignore here to make it right for you. Keep in mind though, that hard drive space is pretty cheap. Unless you’re absolutely certain that you’re never going to need a particular track, it’s better to include it than not.
Choosing a file name
I want to emphasize the naming conventions for files because if you use a media center like Kodi or Plex, the right file name for your movie will go a long way to automating the process of adding it to your library. When I’m ripping a DVD or Blu-ray, I usually have IMDB.com open so I can grab the movie’s release date and include it in the file name or folder name.
How to Name Movies
If you choose to use subfolders, movie folder names should include only the title “and or for” the year. Tip: To improve the scraper’s performance, add the year within the parenthesis to the end of the folder name, or filename.
How to Name TV Shows
If you’d prefer to have one folder for all of your media files, you would include the same information in the same order, but you would change the filename, rather than the folder name.
\TV Shows\House (2004)\Season 1\House.S01E01 – Everybody Lies.mkv
Before you create your MKV file, be sure to change the file name in the Output folder section in the upper right-hand portion of the screen. Once you have everything selected and your file renamed, click on the small “Make MKV” icon on the far upper right-hand side of the screen to start the ripping process.
As with the initial analysis, there’s a timer for the expected elapsed time and the expected remaining time on the right-hand side. Ripping a DVD should only take a few minutes, but ripping a Blu-ray can take up to 30 minutes because there’s that much more data. Some large movies may take longer, but you should expect that Remaining timer to fluctuate wildly, at least at the beginning of the process.
Once everything is finished, you’ll get a message “Copy Complete. 1 title saved.”
And that’s it. If you go to your Output folder location, you should see your new movie file in its own folder. I like to check it out by opening it in a standalone media player like VLC, just to make sure that it works and that there are no problems with video or audio stuttering.
I’m not going to say that ripping a DVD or Blu-ray to mkv isn’t time-consuming. I like to block off about half an hour for each movie that I’m transferring. But MakeMKV makes the process as easy as it can be. The benefit is that you won’t be spending that time hunting for the movie every time you want to watch it, or hooking up your DVD player. Your digital copy will be in your Kodi or Plex media library, ready to stream to all of your devices at a moment’s notice.
I’m a big fan of making things easy and simple. Having digital copies of the movies you own is the best way I can think of to make streaming simple.
Have you ripped your movies to your network hard drives? What did you think? Do you use another program besides MakeMKV? If so, let us know in the comments below.