Tuesday, 11 April, 2006

Watching a DVD movie from the hard drive

I've been wanting to copy DVD movies from the distribution disks and save them on my hard drive.  The idea is to back up the movies on my big 150 GB USB hard drive and then copy two or three of them to my laptop's hard drive whenever I'm going on a trip.  I don't often get so bored that I need to watch a movie to stay entertained, but sometimes it's nice.

For some reason I thought the burner software that came with my system (Sonic RecordNow Plus Version 7.3) would rip the DVD to an ISO.  No dice.  It seems that this software only does stuff with CDs.  I guess Dell figured that since the drive won't write DVDs, there's no reason to give me software that would rip a DVD to an ISO.  Why that's not a part of the base operating system, by the way, is beyond me.  You'd think that the ability to do a low-level media copy would be expected.  But I digress.

Jeff Duntemann pointed me at DVD Shrink, which seems to work well.  At first I tried to rip the individual pieces of the DVD and eliminate some un-needed stuff like the French and Spanish language tracks.  The problem was that I didn't have a piece of software that would then play the resulting .IFO, .VOB, or whatever files.  So I ripped the entire image to a .ISO (the option is there, but you have to hunt it down).

That was only half the problem solved.  Now, with an ISO, how do I watch the movie?  The CyberLink PowerDVD software that came with my machine only knows how to play what's in the drive.  I suspect that there's a free DVD player out there somewhere that understands ISO files, but I didn't want to go look for it.  Instead, I found Daemon Tools, a free virtual cd/dvd emulator.  Daemon Tools installs a virtual DVD drive on which I can mount my movie ISO.  And then PowerDVD can play it.

[Note 04/19: A helpful reader wrote to say that DVD Shrink will play the ISO.  All you have to do is load the disk image and then click on the play button in the lower left part of the window.  I didn't even see that feature.  DVD Shrink doesn't have all of the VCR controls, but you can play and pause, and use a slider to move around in the movie.]

It's a terrible kludge, I know, but it's kind of impressive that I was able to get this to work using the tools that came with the computer and just a little bit of time surfing the Internet looking for stuff.  Ultimately I'd like to get something that can play the .IFO, .VOB, or whatever files so that I don't have to install Daemon Tools.  I like Daemon just fine, but anything that fiddles with my operating system at kernel level makes me a little nervous.

By the way, the NTSC region coding of DVDs is one of the worst "copy protection" schemes I can imagine.  I bought a couple of DVDs in Japan and hadn't watched them because I didn't have a player with the right region.  I found out that the DVD player in my laptop will let me change the region four or six times before it's locked in.  So I changed the region to copy the DVDs.  I think I need to buy a region-free DVD player from eBay, or find a player for which there is a DVD hack to make it play all regions.

If the region thing is intended to prevent copying, it's not very effective.  All it does is discourage people like me from buying DVDs when visiting in a foreign country.  Any DVD burning software can copy an ISO and burn a new DVD that is region free.  The region encoding stuff doesn't prevent pirates from making and selling illegal copies.  All it does is make it harder and more expensive for me to obtain, watch, and make backup copies of the movies that I want to enjoy.  Fortunately, I can get a region free DVD player and won't have to worry about it any more.

[Note 04/19: Michael Covington wrote to tell me that the region coding on DVDs was intended to reflect the economics of motion picture distribution that existed when DVDs were introduced.  Basically, it prevented a company from being unjustly accused of trying to distribute movies outside the region in which it has rights.  It's very common, for example, for one company to have North American distribution rights, and another to have Asian rights.  More information available here.]