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Looking for a way to back up your old DVDs onto your hard drive? Want to watch your purchased DVD movies on your iPod? You’re certainly not the only one. For some reason however, developers are not very keen on developing tools that do this. Luckily, HandBrake has stepped up to the plate with a free tool that lets you take control of your media.

When starting HandBrake for the first time, you might get a little overwhelmed by all the knobs and buttons, especially if you’re not familiar with the audio/video codec lingo. Don’t worry, HandBrake has got your back. It comes with a truckload of presets, each of which with its own purpose. By using these, you don’t have to mess with video settings as long as you know what you want to do with your video. For example, you can convert your DVD to video formats that work with gaming consoles (Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP), the Apple TV and the iPod/iPhone. There’s also a “Classic” preset in case you have no idea which preset you should pick. Keep an eye on your hard drive though, because some of these presets can quickly make your videos take up a lot of space. In my test, the Classic preset used about 40MB for a five-minute video.

HandBrake also gives you the option to rip the DVD subtitles (if available) and embed them into your video. If you’re in the market for this feature, check the Audio/Subtitles tab.

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There’s one more thing you want to pay close attention to: the aspect ratio. Unless you know for sure that the DVD you want to rip is entirely in widescreen (16:9), you have to intervene before you let HandBrake have a go at your DVD. Otherwise, it will cut off the top and bottom border of the screen when encountering 4:3 video. Depending on your OS, you have to take a different approach to tackle this issue.

  • Windows users – On the Picture Settings tab, look for the section called Crop and set the Top and Bottom to 0.
  • Linux users – Click on the preview image at the bottom of the window. In the window that opens, look for the cropping options and set Top and Bottom to 0.
  • Mac users – Same as with Linux, but instead of clicking a preview image you have to look for a ‘Picture settings’ button.

Once you get that out of the way, you can hit the Start button and go grab a cup of coffee. The ripping process may take a while depending on the speed of your DVD player and the horsepower in your PC/Mac.

Also, remember that you should only use HandBrake for backup purposes or to exercise your personal use rights. Keep it legal, kids. ;)

HandBrake Homepage (Windows, Mac, Linux; Freeware)