Watching movies on MacBook Pro

In an age of digital media, it's about time you turned your DVD collection into something you can watch from any device.

I've got way too many DVDs in my house. I've been gathering them for years and years: They take up nearly half a wall in my living room, and that's after giving away about half my collection.

Funny thing is, I rarely watch my DVDs. It takes so much more effort than just turning on my Apple TV and hitting "play." But that said, I do have a few hundred DVDs that I can't watch on any of my streaming services — this year, I figured it was time to digitize my DVD collection so that I could stream my movies on my Apple TV.

Note: This guide is primarily is for digitizing a DVD collection; we'll have a separate guide for Blu-Ray discs soon.

A comment on copy protection

Laws vary on whether or not it's considered fair use to rip a DVD you own for backup and personal use, and since Apple is a U.S. company and needs to maintain relationships with U.S. studios for iTunes movies and TV releases, you can't just rip a DVD to your the Mac the way you can with a CD.

Instead, you have to use third-party software to make it happen. When looking for the best software to digitize your DVDs, make sure it includes copyright protection removal for Content Scramble System (CSS), which is the most popular — though not the only — copyright protection method.

And while it should go without saying, we don't endorse using the methods below to steal movies you don't own. Don't be a jerk.

Get the right hardware

Most of the Macs Apple sells these days don't ship with a DVD drive, so if you want to digitize your films from a newer computer, you'll need an external disc drive. There are a bunch of external DVD and Blu-Ray drives available on Amazon if you feel like browsing; a few iMore editors have had specific success with the VicTsing USB External DVD drive.

See at Amazon


Get the right software

Once you're all set with a compatible DVD drive for your movies, the most important step when digitizing your DVD collection is finding the right software.

MacX DVD Ripper

MacX DVD Ripper Pro interface

I just recently tried out this software, and I'm very pleased with how easy it is to use. It looks a little intimidating because there are a lot of options to choose from out of the gate. But, if you trust the software's default settings, you can just select the source (your DVD) and click RUN.

I do suggest noting the destination folder, so you know where to look it when it's finished. Where apps like Handbrake default to saving to your Desktop, MacX DVD Ripper saves it to your Movies folder under Mac Video Library. Your destination folder will look something like this: /Users/yourusername/Movies/Mac Video Library.

MacX DVD Ripper provides many options for converting your DVD collection to digital files, including selecting the type of device where you'll be playing the final file (i.e. iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV). You can also rip the full ISO image — a nice option for more advanced users.

The one downside: MacX DVD Ripper takes forever to rip a DVD — much longer than Handbrake. If you're trying to digitize a collection of hundreds of DVDs, you're not going to want to take hours to rip one.

You can download a trial of MacX DVD Ripper for free, but you can only use it with very limited actions. It normally costs $59.95, but is reduced to only $39.95 temporarily.

See at MacX DVD

MacTheRipper 5

The MTR 5 interface

MacTheRipper is likely the longest-lived DVD ripper on the market: I've downloaded and used MTR a handful of times and it is a fantastic piece of software if you need to go next-level with digitizing your DVD collection. It's got all kinds of incredible features that make it possible for you to turn your DVD disc into a digital file, and you can really customize how you want it to rip.

But it's complicated. I couldn't figure out how to rip a DVD when I first started using it: I had to watch half-a-dozen help videos, and still don't completely understand the process. I do think it's worthwhile if you're looking for a more advanced way to digitize your DVD collection, but the user interface is abysmal.

You can download a demo version of MacTheRipper 5 from MacUpdate (click the "Download" button right under the MTR banner. It's a little confusing because there are about a half-dozen "download" buttons on that page). If you want the full version, however, you'll have to email the developer directly. He will email you back with instructions on how to send him a "gift" via PayPal, at which point he will send you back a license key.

See at RipDifferently

RipIt

The RipIt interface

RipIt is another popular choice for digitizing your DVDs. It is very easy to use and you can quickly rip complete archives of your DVDs. You can also compress the DVD files if you want to send them to your iPhone and save some space. I like that this is a set-it-and-forget-it kind of software. Just load your DVD and click "Compress" (you have to compress it in order to make it compatible with iTunes, otherwise, it just makes a .dvdmedia file). RipIt does the rest of the work. It doesn't have as many features as MacX DVD Ripper, and especially not as many as MTR, but it's also a lot less expensive. The full version costs just $24.95, and you can try up to 10 DVD rips before you buy it.

See at Little App Factory

Handbrake

Handbrake interface

When it comes to DVD conversion software, I've saved the best for last: Handbrake is my favorite (and the easiest) DVD ripping app on the market. It's user-friendly while still offering toggles for rip quality, audio quality, subtitles, and more. All you have to do is pick the source (your DVD) and click Play. Handbrake does the rest.

Unfortunately, as of MacOS Sierra, the latest version of Handbrake won't load its copyright protection removal system: To fix it, you currently have to download a secondary software program that connects to Handbrake.

Normally, Handbrake ships with a copyright protection removal program called libdvdcss. Unfortunately, libdvdcss does not work with macOS Sierra: Apple's System Integrity Protection stops libdvdcss from properly installing on your Mac.

Warning from Handbrake about copyright protection removal

There is a Terminal code you can try, which circumvents the security protections Sierra has in place to fix libdvdcss. But doing so disables those security features, which protect your Mac from getting malicious software, and as such, I can't recommend it. If you choose to do so, make sure you back up your Mac before going through the steps. Additionally, if you have access to an older (pre-Sierra) version of Handbrake, you should still be able to use it without running into macOS's security protections.

With these caveats, it's hard for me to currently recommend Handbrake to new users — you may be better off with MacX DVD Ripper or RipIt. If Handbrake updates and fixes its permissions issues to comply with macOS Sierra, however, it's hands-down my favorite software for digitizing DVDs.

Put it into iTunes

iTunes

Once you've ripped a DVD, you'll have to do something with the digital file that you've created. I suggest sending it to iTunes, where you can access it from Apple TV or another computer via Home Sharing.

Make sure your file is compatible with iTunes (.mp4, .mov.m4v) and then, all you have to do is grab the file from its original source on your hard drive and drag it into the movies section of iTunes. It will appear in your Home Videos section. It's that easy. If you want to convert your movie to something compatible with a specific device, make sure you've got that set up in your ripper program, or you could use an after-rip program like Smart Converter Pro to convert it to a file compatible with Apple TV, iPhone, or iPad.

You can easily access your movies on Apple TV thanks to Home Sharing. Just open the Computers app on Apple TV, go to Home Videos, and select the movie you want to watch.

Plex

If you don't want to use iTunes, you can also use Plex. It is a fantastic alternative that gives you access to your movies from a multitude of platforms (including Fire TV and Roku if you're not part of the Apple ecosystem).

How do you digitize your DVDs?

Do you digitize your DVDs? If so, what's your process? Have you just stopped buying DVDs (or Blu-rays) altogether and only download digital movies, instead?