Blu-Ray Ripping & Viewing

I’ve been ripping my DVDs as a long time standard practice so I could pack them away in storage boxes and just play them from my Windows Home Server. I’ve had a few Blu-rays but never spent the time figuring out what was needed to rip them. It was time to take a look at my options for ripping and streaming Blu-ray discs.

videostreamI’ve been ripping my DVDs as a long time standard practice so I could pack them away in storage boxes and just play them from my Windows Home Server.  I’ve had a few Blu-rays but never spent the time figuring out what was needed to rip them. I have so few of them they don’t take much shelf space so I lacked the motivation to deal with them. I recently decided to give it a try and see how things went. I’m basically lazy and lacked any serious motivation to do this, so I’d be looking for the path of least resistance. It ended up being pretty easy to get working video files. It’s a bit more difficult to then view these files everywhere I wanted.

Software

I already have Slysoft’s AnyDVD HD and I use the Open Source Handbrake. Technically that’s all I need but it’s pretty messy figuring out which title’s I want. MakeMKV is frequently recommended so I looked at that.

MakeMKV is “free while in beta” and costs $50 for a permanent license key. The beta license key needs to be updated every month. The program author could decide to end the beta program at anytime and just go to a limited trial. (IMO this is more a trial software scheme than a beta program. The software seems fully baked.) The online help has the screenshots that show the screens so I won’t do my own screenshots. I did not test it on regular DVDs but according to the site there is no charge to open regular DVDs. MakeMKV is available for Windows, OS X and Linux, I used the Windows version.

I only encountered one title that MakeMKV couldn’t rip and I did go the AnyDVD route for that one.

MakeMKV is extremely easy to use. I just have it load the Blu-ray and select the largest title that it lists. (technically I deselect all the others since everything is selected by default). I also select all the English audio and the English forced subtitles. There isn’t any compression used to create the target file. They’re smaller simply because they only have the tracks needed. By default any title that’s less than two minutes in length is ignored. This is configurable and helps limit the title list to just the titles that may be of interest. If you want multiple titles they may not be in the same order as the disc menus list them (for example, TV show episodes). I found they were in the same order in most cases, but there were exceptions.

The only way I can play the MKVs directly is with VLC Media Player. So once I have the MKV file I use Handbrake to convert it to a more compatible format. I use the “High Profile” preset that is bundled with Handbrake. I find this setting to be compatible with all the devices I want to play them on, from iPad to TV. I’ll talk about it more later, but the resulting file is huge which brings problems of it’s own.

As far as time to do all this goes – I didn’t do any benchmarking and my process is to be ripping DVDs with MakeMKV and then put them in the Handbrake queue so both are going at the same time. MakeMKV is only going to go as fast as the Blu-ray drive can support and mine is fairly slow. It took me just over an hour to rip a full length feature. The Handbrake encoding takes much longer. With six cores kept busy it still takes about 5 hours to encode that movie so Handbrake is queued to overnight and runs until all the jobs are done. Handbrake settings can be tweaked to decrease the time but at the expense of either file size or quality.

Viewing the Files

There are still issues with the resulting file, mainly around file size.

To my surprise, my 3rd gen iPad is the most reliable and had the fewest problems, other than VLC on my computer. I was also able to stream some of the smaller, and lower bitrate, files from my Windows Home Server for viewing on my Gen 3 iPad (By “streaming”, I mean simply loading and playing the file across the network, there’s no special re-encoding or software.) I stream across an 802.11n network running on the 5Ghz band. There’s less interference from other wireless networks at 5Ghz since most hardware either only supports 2.4Ghz or defaults to 2.4 GHz. The initial load may buffer a bit and hesitate but after about 30 seconds it begins playing and has been solid straight through. Once I tried larger (higher bitrate) files I had some buffering problems. Copying to my iPad resulted in problem free playing.

The picture quality is great. But I don’t care what people say about resolution and distance making it equivalent to TV viewing. The experience is not the same, even if the math says it is.

My LG Blu-ray player was OK with some files but just would not play others. While I’m sure it’s files size or bitrate limited, I didn’t find a solid line that would be a problem if crossed.  I generally found this to be too aggravating to deal with due to all the issues. My Blu-ray player does have wireless 802.11N but only on the 2.4Ghz band. This did not result in a pleasant streaming experience, even for files that could be played.

I decided to pull out my old Roku player.  It’s an older Model 2100X but has a USB port and HDMI-out. Since USB thumb drives generally have FAT32 file systems with a 4 GB file size limit, I reformatted one of my USB external drives as NTFS so I could play larger files. I didn’t have any problems playing anything through the Roku player.  The largest file I had was approx. 15 GB and had an average bitrate of 21775kbps. This played fine using the Roku with the file on the attached USB drive.

My Conclusion

I had more Blu-ray discs than I thought, thanks to two Criterion Collection sets and a couple HBO series (Game of Thrones & Band of Brothers). But they fit fine on a small shelf next to my TV, making them easy to find. Thanks to some strange pricing and promotions Blu-ray’s may be cheaper than DVD,. so while my movie purchases are just a trickle, I may be buying a few.  For the Blu-rays I have, I want the quality. So re-encoding at a lower bitrate isn’t acceptable for me. So for now, the Roku with an external drive attached will be my solution.

If I decide I really do want my Blu-rays for streaming I’d probably go with ripping them as full ISO’s and then use software/devices capable of playing the ISOs. For the Blu-rays I have, I’m as likely to want the extras as the movie itself.

That said, the MakeMKV/Handbrake combo is a perfectly acceptable solution for turning Blu-rays into streaming media. Both are easy to set up (I used the pre-baked settings for both) even if it does take considerable time to chug through all the processing.