The movie I ripped looks better than VHS tape quality but not quite up to the level of a DVD.
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T e c h n o f i l e
Can you copy DVDs to your computer or iPod? It's easy, and the video looks good

Oct. 1, 2006

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, The Post-Standard

   Have you ever wanted to watch DVD movies on your laptop without actually needing to have the DVDs on hand? This thought kept racing through my mind the other day, so I took the plunge.
   I copied a DVD. The commercial kind. A movie.
   The movie I ripped looks better than VHS tape quality but not quite up to the level of a DVD.Let me be straight with you. Copying a commercial DVD is not something that will bring the Thought Police to your door. It's legal -- as long as you do it for your own personal use, and, just as importantly, as long as you own the DVD.
   In other words, when you buy a CD of Elvis favorites or a DVD of "Titanic," you can listen to the music or watch the movie in whatever way you choose. Extracting the contents of a commercial disk is called "ripping the CD" or "ripping the DVD."
   CD ripping takes only a couple of clicks. Apple's iTunes software, introduced in 2001, built CD ripping into the program, and now there are hundreds of CD-ripping programs for Windows, Macs and Linux.
   DVD ripping took a different course. The movie industry is worried about piracy -- sales of movies on copied DVDs -- and has tried to make commercial DVDs uncopyable. Movies are encrypted and can't be played without a decryption algorithm, or code.
   In home DVD players, the decryption code is in a chip within the player. Computer DVD players use a software version of the code.
   Here's where things get dicey. When you rip a DVD, you copy the digital file that represents the movie straight to your computer's hard drive, bypassing your computer's DVD player. (You get better quality that way.) You then use readily available software to compress the DVD file to a much smaller size.
   But bypassing the DVD player on your computer means you're also bypassing the decryption code. This means the software you use to turn the DVD file into a viewable movie must have its own version of the code. The software manual or documentation should tell you if that's the case.
   I used two related Mac OS X programs to rip my DVD movie to a form I could view easily on my laptop or on an iPod. I used Fairmount and its companion software, DVDRemaster. They're available from www.metakine.com. Fairmount is free and DVDRemaster costs $39.99 for a "standard" version or $49.99 for a slightly more advanced "pro" version.
   (Windows users have similar software. Go to www.idvd.ca/super-dvd-ripper or to www.freedownloadscenter.com/Best/convert-movie.html. Another helpful site for Windows users is www.riphelp.com.)
   DVDRemaster, the OS X program, provides a choice of creating a backup DVD or an iPod-compatible video file. There are three quality settings for iPod videos; the highest level worked best.
   My iPod doesn't even have a screen, so I haven't watched my ripped movie that way. But on my laptop computer's screen, the movie I ripped looks better than VHS tape quality but not quite up to the level of a DVD. That's fine with me. Being able to watch a movie that I owned on my laptop or on my next iPod -- that's a hint, Santa -- is what I was after, and the results were much better than I expected.