This is a the easy way to convert DVD videos, including commercial/encrypted DVDs, into any of a handful of popular video formats; specifically iPhone/iPod/PSP (MP4 or M4V), as well as AVI using free software called Handbrake. The method described here is notable for the following reasons:
  1. You will be able to convert commercial/encrypted DVDs (or at least 99% or them).
  2. You will NOT need to rip (i.e. copy) your DVD to your hard drive first. Conversion will be done straight from your DVD, which means that (a) you will NOT need 5-8 gigs of free hard drive space to rip your DVD onto, and (b) you will save the time that otherwise would be spent waiting for the ripping process to finish.
  3. Uses freeware programs like Handbrake. Handbrake now comes with all codecs/filters needed for the encoding process, so you will not need to install any codecs or filters separately.
Important note: this article will describe an example where I convert a DVD to iPhone MP4 format using a handful of settings that I like to use; however, I will also indicate what to do if converting to AVI as well. Also note that at any point you could customize the settings as they come along to something that may be more to your liking.

Step 1: Installation.
Download and install HandBrake. Note, however, that if you do not intend to convert commercial DVDs (i.e. if you are converting DVDs that are copy protected) you can proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Select source.
Run Hanbrake. Click “Source” in the top left and select the correct DVD source.

Step 3: Select Title to convert
Go to the “Title” dropdown and select the title that you are interested in converting. Most DVDs will contain a handful of titles (these include the movie itself, previews, menus, interviews, behind-the-scenes extras, etc.) The DVD I am using for illustration contains no less than 28 different entries (see screenshot). You can convert any content you like; but you’ll have to figure out what’s what.

A really simple way to identify the title to select is through the displayed time duration. In my example here, it is obvious that the movie is “Title1″, since its time duration is 1:29:27, so that is the one I select.
For TV series or other DVDs that contain more than a single title of interest, your guiding principle would be the same: it will be fairly easy to identify the episodes because they will run 30-45 minutes or so each and they will have more or less the same duration.

Step 4: Select Preset.
In the “presets” area on the right hand side, select “iPhone & iPod Touch”. If that’s not the format you want, you can do one of two things; either (a) select that format for now; you will get to change specifics later, or; (b) find and select the format you want from the available options.

I strongly suggest (a), such that what you will see will correspond to the screenshots provided here.

Step 5: File Destination and Format.

Click “browse” next to the box labeled destination, find your desired destination folder, and type in your desired filename (and extension). Or use the file format dropdown to make sure you’ve got the correct output format.

A note on formats: MP4 and M4V are the same format (M4V simply denotes that this MP4 file is a video file, but is often not recognized by some media players). Note that iTunes will recognize both, but I personally prefer to use MP4.

AVI Format: if you want to get an .AVI format file, make sure to specify AVI in this step, using the dropdown.

Step 6: “Picture Settings” tab.
Next, in the “Picture Settings” tab, move down to “Width/Height”. If you have an iPhone/iPod touch or a newer generation iPod type 640 in the left (width) box. Leave the “height” box blank. This will prompt Handbrake to calculate the height for your video based on the correct aspect ratio of the title, and your resulting video will look right and will not be lopsided or resized incorrectly.

This is the only input you will make in this tab. Leave everything else alone.

Important note on height=640: the reason I use this value is that the resulting video will play nicely and at an excellent quality both on most iPods/portable devices as well as on the computer (i.e. I like to create one file that will work everywhere, and will look decent on a computer screen).

: However, that although iPhone/iPod Touch and all newer generation iPods (5G onwards) can accept video sizes up to 640 pixels, iPhones/Ipod Touchs will only display this video at a resolution of 480 pixels wide, while older iPods will only display a resolution of 320 pixels wide. Pre-5G iPods cannot handle video files with 640 pixels resolution at all, therefore if you have an older device than a Fifth Generation iPod you must use “320″ as the width value rather than “640″.

Step 7: “Video” Tab.
Here you have to do 3 things:

1- Set the target size in megs (under quality). Here are some guidelines

  • For a “normal” feature film use 700 megs. Your video will be of excellent quality and if you want to burn it to CD to get it off your hard drive it will fit on a single disk.
  • For typical TV series episode use 230 megs (such that you could fit three on a single CD) or 350 megs for better quality (and you could fit two episodes on a single CD). I usually go with the former, and typically the quality is excellent.

2- Under “Advanced Encoding Settings” check "2-pass encoding". This will make for a better quality video but at the expense of longer processing time. Do it!

3- Select video codec using the dropdown

  • Select MPEG4-Xvid. Yes you could use Xvid to encode MP4s, which some people do not know; you do not need to use H264 (although yes H264 it is much much more common for MP4s - you can use H264 if you want to).
  • For AVI files: use Xvid, plain and simple, if your intended output is an AVI file.

Step 8: “Audio & Subtitles” Tab.

1- Go to the Bitrate (Kbps) column and use the dropdown to select 160 Kbps. This is the maximum quality that the iPod can use and I always select it; I advise you to do the same as believe you me there is NOTHING more annoying than trying to watch a video on a portable device in a public place where the din of outside noises is more audible than the audio from the video that you are trying to watch.

2- Subtitles:

  • If you do not need subtitles (i.e. the audio is in your language), do not select or check anything and skip to Step 9 …. or
  • If you think there may be scenes in a foreign language, but the video is mainly in the language you want, select your desired language from the dropdown and click on “Forced Subtitles Only”. This will result in burned-in subtitles only for those scenes that may require it.
  • If you are converting a foreign film, and/or you want subtitles visible on-screen at all times, then select the language you want from the dropdown; in this case do NOT click on “Forced Subtitles Only”

Note on subtitles: any subtitles created with Hanbrake will be permantently “burned into” your video. Handrbake does not produce a seperate subtitles file.

Step 9: “Chapters” Tab.
This one is easy; uncheck the “Create Chapter markers” box.

Unless of course you want chapter markers displayed for some reason, inwhich case keep it checked. These markers will be displayed on-screen in the same way burned subtitles would. Moreover, if you want to you can edit/customize the “labels” that you want to display for each chapter marker under “Chapter Name”.

Step 10:

You’ve done (unless you want to process another title).

You are now ready to start the conversion process. You can do one of two things

  1. Start the process (go to step 13)
  2. Add another title or titles for “batch encoding”; i.e. have Handbrake schedule another conversion or conversions to be executed back-to-back after this one.

Step 11: Batch Encoding

Batch encoding allows you to schedule another conversion or string of conversions to be performed serially one and after the other.

In the process described here, for example, you could batch-convert multiple titles that exist on the DVD such as multiple episodes or extra materials that you are interested in.

How to do it: click “Add to Queue”, then select a new title to convert from the title dropdown, enter a new destination file, and customize the settings for the new title as per the steps above. Press “Show Queue” to review the list of conversions that you have scheduled.

Once you’re ready to start the process, go to next step.

Note on multiple episodes/TV series: the beauty of scheduling multiple episodes/TV series in batch is that for each title that you add to the process you do not have to change any of the settings (assuming you want the same settings to apply to all episodes). All you would need to do is select title > enter a new destination filename > add to queue, and keep doing this until all episodes on the DVD are covered.

Step 12: Start the process

Click on “Start” in the upper left to start the conversion process.

A DOS window will appear which reveals what is going on under the hood. The time this will take to finish will vary depending on the titles you are converting and how powerful your system is. On average I would say it takes 2.5 hours per movie.