Despite the good reviews, AppleTV has a few glaring omissions. There’s no way to play a DVD. There’s no digital video recorder.
The Mac utility Handbrake lets you rip your DVDs to backup status in iTunes to be played on your Mac or Windows PC or AppleTV. That’s getting there.
I have more than my share of favorite Mac applications which do triple duty—they work on Macs, Windows, and Linux. Handbrake has to be near the top of the list.
What Handbrake does is nothing short of remarkable, short of a better solution from Apple or the movie industry. Handbrake copies your movie DVDs so you can make backup MPEG-4 movies.
Apple isn’t likely to create such a tool so leave it to the open source community. Handbrake works. Mostly. Drop in a DVD of a movie you purchased, and Handbrake will copy it so you can save it on your Mac or burn it to a DVD for backup, which, as far as I can tell, is legal.
The latest version of Handbrake comes with a bunch of presets for the Mac. That’s handy if you plan to use your iPod with video or Apple’s new AppleTV to view the movies.
Handbrake is more than handy for those of us willing to take the time and effort to backup our DVD collections. It’s the bridge Apple isn’t willing to build.
Simply put, Handbrake will make a copy of nearly any copy protected DVD, encrypted or unencrypted with CSS, PAL or NTSC, AC-3, LPCM, or MPEG audio. If you don’t know what all that means, don’t worry. Handbrake makes it easy.
When it copies a DVD movie for AppleTV and iTunes you’ll end up with MPEG-4 or H.264, with a few other options available. The long and short is—Handbrake copies DVDs so you can back them up or play them via iTunes for AppleTV—or iPod, or Sony Playstation 3.
Upon launch you’re greeted with a simple dialog box asking you to select a DVD, or insert one, or browse until you find one.
The side panel has presets for AppleTV, iPod, and PS3.
After that, there a handful of additional settings, though for most copy purposes, sticking with the presets works fine.
How long it takes Handbrake to copy a DVD will depend on the power of your Mac or PC, the speed of your SuperDrive or DVD player, the length of the DVD movie, and the settings.
In my experience, DVD movies have been ripped in 20-minutes all the way to two hours. YMMV.
The latest version of Handbrake remains a work in progress though notably easier than previous versions. Polish shows in the Preferences, too, which checks for updates, displays the presets, allows for chapter markers, and can even have the audio set to other languages besides English.
The files Handbrake creates are huge, often up to four gigabytes in size, so transferring them from Mac to Mac or from iTunes to AppleTV won’t happen in a blink or two. Or three. It will take awhile.
The reason you have to copy the DVDs is to make them playable on iTunes for AppleTV or your iPod (or, for backup purposes). There are many reasons why Apple doesn’t provide an easy backup of their own, not the least of which is the need to court the movie studios to put downloadable movies on the iTunes Store.
Not all DVDs can be ripped… copied easily as copy protection schemes vary. I’ve also had good success using MacTheRipper to copy DVDs. It’s free, it’s simple, it’s Mac only, it works. Mostly.
I do not expect an easier solution to ripping movie DVDs to your Mac. No one except the Mac or Windows user wants the process to be fast and simple.
For now, I’m content to use MacTheRipper and Handbrake to copy select movies on DVD to iTunes. I’m a little worried that my new 500 gigabyte hard drive isn’t going to be large enough.
Do you copy DVDs to your Mac? What tool do you use? Do you plan to play movies on AppleTV?