Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tech Column: Put Your DVDs on Your Computer

by Bill Adler

If you're wondering what to do today as you come down from your post-Halloween sugar high, let me suggest putting your DVD collection on your computer. I know that it may seem like it was was just last year that you replaced your favorite movie VHS cassettes with DVDs, but the time has come to relegate your optical discs to the same sad corner of your home that your VHS tapes inhabit.

It won't be long before it's hard to find a computer that comes with an optical drive. And as for DVD players, let's be frank: they are a pain. You have to slog though an FBI warning that everyone knows by heart in English and French. (And thanks to the motion picture industry for making all of us at least partially
bilingual.) If the power goes out or the DVD gets ejected, you lose your place. And don't get me started on DVD remotes: I can never find the eject button, except for when I press it accidentally.

In addition to not having to deal with the joys of a technology that favors cleverness over utility (do we really like movie chapters written in unreadable fonts?), there are many other good reasons to put your movie collection on your PC. With your entire movie collection in one place you don't have to hunt down
the disc containing that one film you're dying to watch. Picking a movie to watch becomes as easy as it already is to select a song. Remember when you had to find a CD and load it onto your CD player to listen to a song? If you're still doing the equivalent with movies, then it's time to stop.

DVDs and DVD boxes are like sock pairs in laundry machines, too -- always being separated.

Once you've ripped your movies, you can stream them to any computer or tablet in your house -- or anywhere in the world that you happen to be, for that matter. (I don't want to get ahead of myself, but one app that lets you stream your movie collection to an iPad is Air Video).

Copying your DVD to a PC and then backing it up means that you no longer have to worry about DVDs themselves getting ruined or lost: You'll be able to watch your movies tomorrow and twenty years from tomorrow.

If you still have a laptop with a DVD drive, you'll find that movies played from your hard drive consume a lot less power than movies played from a DVD. It's kind of a drag to be watching a film while flying cross country and have your laptop's battery peter out over Phoenix.

I've noodled around with a number of paid and free programs to copy my DVD collection to my computer and the one that I've settled on as the best is DVDFab DVD Ripper, which costs $60. I haven't met a DVD yet that DVDFab can't digest. DVDFab has several preset defaults for converting into formats compatible with various gizmos such as an iPad, Xbox 360, Sony Play Station, and TV. DVDFab is easy to use. But it's also a powerful program and you can tweak its settings to get the maximum resolution (and corresponding file size) for any particular format. Once you find a screen size, audio payback quality, frame rate combination you like, you can save that as a preset.

(For Macs, Mac the Ripper gets high marks, but I haven't tried it.)

As for those old DVDs themselves: We can all use more coasters and stuff for kids' art projects.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," .

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