How To Convert DVD To MP4

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I love this movie (don’t judge – I’m sure there are a few guilty pleasures in YOUR collection, too) and I’ve bought it four times. I never want to buy it again.

Isn’t it annoying, not being able to watch movies you’ve purchased wherever and whenever you want: at home on your big screen, OR out and about on your  Kindle Fire / iPad / Galaxy Tab  etc. etc.? Since they’ve made it illegal to make our own digital copies from the discs we’ve bought, studios offer us a choice between a higher-priced disc+digital copy bundle or buying a separate digital copy all on its own (from many vendors, at a price near or equal to what you paid for a disc copy).

And as an added bonus, most digital copy vendors keep the copy you buy locked into a specific device brand (*cough* Apple *cough*), cable provider (*cough* Fios *cough*), or buggy, dedicated ‘viewer’ program that only runs on a handful of devices and offers a very limited catalog of titles (*cough* Ultraviolet *cough*). Sorry about that…I guess I’ve got a tickle in my throat. Or something stuck in my craw.

The How-To Is No Secret

While I can’t go into specific, step-by-step detail here without risking the unwanted attention of the FBI, I can lay out the broad strokes and anyone so inclined can fill in the blanks with a little help from Google easily enough. I will lay out the broad strokes, but first I want to explain why, even though I have the tech skills and knowledge, I do not convert my own DVDs and Blu-rays. My “conversion” method is to buy digital copies to replace my disc copies whenever I see the digital copy is on sale at a great price.

Thanks to a couple of lost and lent/never returned copies, I’ve bought this movie SIX times.

I Know It’s Illegal, But…

…that’s not the primary reason why I don’t convert my own movies. In fact, it doesn’t even make the top five. The main reasons are:

1. It takes almost as long to convert a disc to a high-quality digital file as it takes to watch the movie, and if the job fails partway through for any reason you’ll have to start it all over, from the beginning.

2. You need a powerful computer with special disc unlocking and conversion software installed (each will cost you anywhere from $30 – $120) to do the conversion job. The conversion will use up pretty much all of the computer’s resources, so you can’t use it to do anything else while the job is running.

3. There are a lot of video settings (or “codec parameters“) you have to set correctly in the conversion program to get a high quality digital file that will run and look right on the device(s) you intend to use for watching.

4. To get the best-looking results on various devices, you will often have to create a separate digital file for each target device, with different video settings for each.

THREE times.

5. Once you’ve created the digital file, it will take some “sideloading” (sort of like very low-level hacking) and a special video player program or app to watch the file on portable devices like tablets and smartphones. Sideloading may void your device warranty or tech support contract, and not all video player apps will work with all videos.

Big, Hairy Hassle, Or Buy A Copy? 

So, it’s a big, hairy, time-consuming hassle to create your own digital video files from disc, and it doesn’t actually save you any money at all when you consider what your time is worth. Even for someone who only earns minimum wage, the two hours or so it will take to set the job up and run it not only WON’T save you money compared to buying a licensed copy, it will probably cost you MORE. Sure, you can just start the job and then leave to go do something else, but you have to check on it frequently to make sure it’s still running, all the way through to the end.

Add to that the big, hairy hassle of creating multiple copies to run on various devices; when you buy a licensed copy, it’s already built to detect the device you’re playing it on and run a version that’s optimized for that device. Consider also all that sideloading nonsense, and buying a licensed copy starts to look like not such a bad deal after all. Especially now that there are purchase options that don’t lock you into a specific device manufacturer.

At Last, A Digital Video Vendor That Gets It!

I know I’m coming off like a big ‘ole shill for Amazon here, but in all honesty, Amazon is my vendor of choice for digital videos because Amazon is doing everything in its power to make its digital videos compatible with every device out there—not just Amazon’s own Kindle Fire device line. I used to buy the disc+digital copy bundles and get the digital copy from Apple’s iTunes store, but eventually I realized that since those copies will ONLY play on Apple devices, building up my digital video library that way was locking me into a lifetime of buying expensive, Apple-brand devices.

Twice on disc, once in digital.

You can play Amazon Instant Videos on your internet-enabled TV, other TVs with a Roku / Wii / Wii U/ Tivo / PS3 / XBOX / web-enabled DVR or Blu-ray player, Android smart phones and tablets, Apple devices like iPads / iPhones / iPod Touch, and of course, the Kindle Fire family of tablets. Click here to read more about all the different devices you can use to view Amazon Instant Videos. I’m sure Amazon’s not done adding devices to this list, either.

I wait until the videos I want go on sale (I get most of them at $4.98 – $6.99), and I sell the discs I’ve replaced with digital copies to fund my next round of digital video purchases (either to my local video store or Amazon’s Buy Back Program). It’s a lot cheaper than spending my valuable time doing conversions myself, buying disc+digital bundles, or buying digital copies from a locked-in vendor like Apple (which virtually always sells its digital copies at a higher suggested retail price than Amazon, and rarely puts any of them on sale).

If You Still Insist On Doing It The Time-Consuming, Big, Hairy Hassle Way…

…here’s how.

1. Locate a DVD / Blu-ray security unlock program and converter program, buy one of each, and install them. Google searches on “DVD converter” or “Blu-ray converter” will locate many such programs, but be a careful shopper. Since scam artists know anyone looking for these programs is looking to do something illegal, there are a lot of ‘crapware’ and malware programs out there masquerading as legitimate software:  their creators know an unhappy customer isn’t likely to complain to any authorities. “Hello, Better Business Bureau? I bought an illegal DVD converter and unlocker program that doesn’t work, and the vendor is refusing to refund my purchase price!” is not a call anyone’s likely to make.

Once on disc, once in digital.

2. If you intend to view your digital videos on various devices, you’ll need to study up on video codecs so you’ll know the best conversion settings to use in your converter program. You may have to Google [device name] + “video codec” or + “video codec” to get the correct settings.

3. Follow your program’s user guide to set up and run the conversion job.

4. Wait 1.5 – 2 hours for the conversion to run, checking on it frequently so you can start it over if it fails at any point.

5. Locate and sideload a video player program/app that can play your digital video file on the target device. Google “sideload to [target device name]” to get full details on how to sideload.

6. If applicable, repeat steps #2 – 5 for each different target device.

7. Six hours later, with only 2-3 videos converted, wonder why you didn’t just buy licensed digital copies instead.


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