Building a Windows Home Theatre PC
We now have our HTPC correctly set up and configured to play DVDs and Blu-ray discs in full 1080p high-definition with high quality sur- round sound audio. I guess that’s the end of the series, right?
Oh no. We’ve got a lot more to cover!
It’s great to be able to pop a disc into our HTPC’s drive and watch a movie – but wouldn’t it be better still if we could create a digital movie library on our HTPC or another network storage device? That way, whenever we wanted to watch a movie, there would be no need to hunting for the disc – we just call it up from the library and it’s playing within seconds!
This is the HTPC-owners dream. We’ll cover the movie library part of the dream in later chapters, but now we need to figure out a way of getting that movie off the disc and stored digitally on our HTPC.
Welcome to the world of movie ripping!
Finding the Right Movie Ripping Software
Do a quick search on Google for “Blu-ray rip” and you’re going to come up with a lot of pages. Not only are there a wide variety of packages out there that perform the role we need, there’s a huge amount of hype, spam, conflicting guides and confusion out there on the web. Funnily enough, there’s a lot of people trying to make a buck out of ripping, and some of them may be a little unscrupulous.
So, in this chapter, I’ll talk you through a solution that a. works and b. is (at the moment) free. You can spend a lot of money very quickly trying to find a ripping workflow that suits your needs – hopefully, I’ll be able to save you some time and some cash!
Movie ripping software basically performs two essential roles. Firstly, let’s talk encryption. You’ll no doubt be aware that most commercial DVDs and Blu-ray discs are copy protected and region locked. Try to copy one using a DVD or Blu-ray writer, and it simply won’t work. Try to play a disc made for the US market in a European player, and it won’t work.
DVD and Blu-ray ripping software firstly removes region and copy protection, allowing you to copy the contents of that disc. Obviously, doing so may or may not be legal in the country in which you’re reading (and ripping) and morally the decision is yours as to whether to proceed with this or not.
The second role of the ripping software is to copy the contents of the disc and convert it into a particular format – MKV, MP4, ISO files and so forth.
We’ll be using an application called MakeMKV (http://makemkv.com) for our ripping exploits in this chapter. It’s currently in beta (although it is very stable as the app has been in beta status for years) and is free to use during this period. Free licence keys are available from the app’s forums (http:// www.makemkv.com/forum2/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=1053) and whilst these are time limited keys, new ones are published immediately during the beta period. Should you wish to purchase the product, expect to pay around £40 plus tax.
MakeMKV ships with a small but perfectly formed set of features, which include:
- Reads DVD and Blu-ray discs
- Reads Blu-ray discs protected with latest versions of AACS and BD+
- Preserves all video and audio tracks, including HD audio
- Preserves chapters information
- Preserves all meta-information (track language, audio type)
- Fast conversion – converts as fast as your drive can read data.
- No additional software is required for conversion or decryption.
- Available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux
- Functionality to open DVD discs is free and will always stay free.
- All features (including Blu-ray decryption and processing) are free during BETA.
Go ahead and download MakeMKV, install it and grab the licence key from the forums should you need it.
What File Format Should I Rip My Discs Into?
This is a key question for you to consider. The average Blu-ray doesn’t just contain a movie – it has a host of extra features, soundtracks, subtitles, menus and so on. So the first question to ask yourself is whether you simply want to grab the movie for your library, or do you want the whole disc with menus, bonus features and so on?
If it’s just the movie, then I’d recommend ripping into the MKV format. MKV is increasingly supported across a wide variety of players, is open source (and free) and importantly, supports essential features like multiple soundtracks (for switching to different languages as well as director’s commentaries), subtitles (multiple languages as well as just showing “forced” subtitles – like when Klingon is spoken in Star Trek), multiple sound sources (one file with your choice of 2 channel stereo, 5.1 Dolby or 7.1 Dolby) and chapters.
Alternatively you could go for MP4, which offers the same breadth of features with even greater device support. Or you could rip to MKV and convert it to another format later (we’ll cover that shortly).
The key piece of advice is this – rip at the highest quality you can to create a “master copy” for your library. Then convert the file later for different formats, lower resolutions (e.g. to create a “mobile” version of your movies for smartphone/tablet) and so on. You can reduce quality down, but you can’t build it back up unless you re-rip!
If you want the whole disc, with menus and bonus features, then you’ll need to create an unencrypted backup of your disc. MakeMKV can achieve this, creating a BD folder structure on your HTPC which can subsequently be played in your media player of choice (ArcSoft’s Total Medias Theatre) is one such player that can handle BDMV folders.
Alternatively to a BD Folder rip, you could choose to rip your Blu-ray discs to an ISO file format, which can be played natively by XBMC (http://xbmc.org/) which we’ll be covering later. (As a side note, Plex (http://www.plexapp.com/) which we’ll also cover later is not able to play Blu-rays ripped as ISOs or BDMV folders, but works with MKV files just fine).
MakeMKV is not able to rip to ISO, but I’ll walk through an alternative option for those of you seeking ISO ripping, courtesy of another (not free) application called AnyDVD HD.
So, a quick summary:
- Rip Blu-ray to MKV: Use MakeMKV
- Rip Blu-ray to BDMV Folder: Use MakeMKV or AnyDVD HD (the latter works across a wider range of discs)
- Rip Blu-ray to ISO (Menus): Use AnyDVD HD
Personally, I just rip everything to MKV with MakeMKV, but we’ll walk through each in turn.
Option 1: Rip a Blu-ray to MKV
Open up Make MKV and drop in your Blu-ray Disc. For this example, I’ll use Disney’s Toy Story 2 (a fine sequel to the Pixar Masterpiece). Drop the disc in the drive and MakeMKV will initially scan the disc for a few seconds, bringing up some (non-essential for you and I) information about the disc.