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Search for a DVD Ripper

Linux App Finder's first multi-page article is now available. Check out Search for a DVD Ripper for reviews of some of the top GNU/Linux alternatives. The goal was finding the best app for converting the main movie of a DVD to a single file playable on any computer. As a bonus I threw in a few apps targeted at creating DVD ISO's for burning back to a rewritable disk.

Search for a DVD Ripper

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DVD Rip-O-Matic

DVD Rip-O-Matic is the first of the Qt based apps in my round-up. It aims to be a simple wizard thats easy to use. It some areas it succeeds very well, but in others it falls flat. I used version 0.94 which was the latest downloadable from the website. Binary deb and rpm packages are not available so DVD Rip-O-Matic must be installed from the command line.

Fortunately, DVD Rip-O-Matic offers multiple ways to get started. Start by decompressing the tar.bz2 archive. You can then either install the program by running Installer.kmdr or you can run it immediately by running DVDRipOMatic.kmdr. I did the later by right clicking on the file and opening it with Kommander Executor.

Finishing as one of the slower apps we'll review today, DVD Rip-O-Matic took more than 4.5 hrs to complete.

DVD Rip-O-Matic Material Selection

Select the desired title and soundtrack from the DVD.

Step-by-step (with default file size and options):

  1. Click Next on the intro page and then Scan DVD.
  2. Pick the Title and Soundtrack you want to encode and select Next.
  3. Select Next if you through the Cropping, Storage, Quality, Splitting Points, and Movie Properties pages.
  4. Press Start to execute.
  5. A console will popup and do some calculations. It will then notify you of the estimated time to completion. Hit OK to continue and wait for it to finish.
DVD Rip-O-Matic Storage

Choose file size.

When you first start to run through DVD Rip-O-Matic you expect a simple process, but it quickly spins out of control. The one configuration per screen idea is fine if you are going to keep it simple, but it starts to get frustrating when more advanced features are implemented that way. There are 10 next clicks that have to be made, regardless of whether you want to actually change any setting or not. Clearly a case of simplicity taking away from useability.

I also ran into frustrations when changing the file sizes. Resolution is automatically adjusted based on the file size and audio quality suggested instead of simply changing the bit rate. That's fine if the selection is understandable, but you don't find out what the resolution will be until you hit Next. 640x480 was the max I could get, and whenever the settings stayed with that resolution the program would tell me my bit rate was too high.

My final nitpicks are with the encoding process itself. I mentioned the console that appears during the step-by-step instructions. After hitting OK for actually execute the rip and transcode, a console reappears for the remainder of the time. It is difficult to gather any useful information from it, particularly how much progress has been made. For a polished looking wizard dropping back to a console when doing the real work is a strange departure from the rest of the interface.

For my taste, DVD Rip-O-Matic gets a 3 rating and falls behind AcidRip for apps that I would use. Despite the nice wizard interface, there are too many clicks to get where I want to go.

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OGMRip

I found OGMRip late, but included it here to provide one more option. I didn't actually run the program myself so I can't give it a rating, but the website gives a good overview and a number of screenshots so you should be able to get a good feel for what it can do. The main downside to this one for me is the lack of any deb package. Of course it can be installed from the command line, but I prefer to stick to the Debian packaging system wherever possible so I can more easily manage updates.

Thoggen

Thoggen has promise, but it's currently still in beta and it shows. I used version 0.4.2-2.

Like K9Copy, Thoggen aims to provide a very simple interface that still gets the job done. But unlike K9Copy, it supports transcode to a single file. Thoggen currently only supports the Ogg Theora format, but it is based on GStreamer and the website indicates other formats are likely to be added in the future.

Thoggen Encode

Thoggen's progress while ripping a DVD.

Once complete, Thoggen will likely rival K3b, but for now it is very slow (the developer acknowledges this) and I could not get the rip to finish. As time passes and bugs are fixed it will definitely be worth reconsideration, especially if you are a Gnome user. Because of the beta status I will decline to provide a rating at this time. Hopefully you will have more success with it than I did.

Search for a DVD Ripper

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Conclusion

While I've given away the ratings already, I thought it would be useful to summarize my final thoughts. What I found over the course of writing this article is that while there is no one clear app for everyone, Linux offers many useful tools to do the job. And it's an easier job than you might expect.

The keys areas for most apps to improve is in creating a single click rip and transcode, better default settings that don't have to be changed by most users, and fixing the known bugs. If more work is put into these three areas then GNU/Linux DVD rippers will finally reach their potential.

I chose K3b as the best DVD ripper because of its clear and attractive interface and its ability to get the job done quickly with minimal fuss and configuration. dvd::rip adds the subtitle feature that is missing from K3b, but goes a step farther to be the only app I found that includes a cluster mode to harness the power of multiple machines on your home network.

If copying a DVD from one physical disk to another is your method of choice then I would look no further than K9Copy. It's simple, easy, and effective.

My final app mention is Thoggen. Its beta status clearly showed during my tests, but the idea and organization of the program makes it a strong future candidate, particularly if you are a Gnome user.

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DVD's are great and I've spent more money than I care to count on them, but if you are like me and have more movies than you can remember, a few TV series spread out over too many discs, or a desire to watch in whatever way is most convenient, you start to wish for a better way to watch. For many of us that means moving our DVD's to hard drives so we can watch them where and when we want. It sounds reasonable and should be straight-forward, but for many it's still a mystical art that takes knowledge and patience.

Today makes the first full length review on Linux App Finder, and I'm please to report that ripping a DVD to your hard drive has never been easier, and you if you are a KDE user you might already have one of these programs installed and not even know it. Eights apps were compared on their ability to rip and transcode a DVD, with a special focus on ease of use. A ninth, Drip, was originally going to be included in the review, but it had missing dependencies in Debian unstable and I was unable to install it.

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dvd::rip

dvd::rip is another ripper with a Gtk based GUI, however it still hasn't made the transition to Gtk2 in the stable release. Fortunately the website lists that the unstable release addresses this deficiency, however, I tested with the 0.52.7 version that is the most recent in the Marillat repository, so I was unable to evaluate the new interface.

A two step program, dvd::rip took slightly more than 5 minutes to rip my DVD and roughly 3.5 hrs to complete the transcode which ranks it as the second fastest in my round-up. It's worthwhile to note that the two quickest apps both used transcode for their back-end.

Other than the GUI, one of the first thing you'll notice is the need to set Preferences prior to ripping a DVD. I'm not sure why it doesn't default to the user's home directory, but it doesn't so you need to set it manually. The developers really should change this so the default is at least usable. Another feather in dvd::rip's cap is that it is very easy to determine if the needed support programs are installed and/or correctly configured. Each tab in the Preferences window also displays the status of any helper programs that are needed. Installing all of the Suggested and Recommended programs in Debian should have you covered.

One really cool sounding feature is Cluster Mode. I did not take the time to set it up for my test, but it is definitely worth looking into if you have a lot of DVD's to transcode or need to do them quickly once you start. For an activity as compute intensive as ripping and transcoding video, having the ability to use multiple computers on your home network can drastically improve your performance. Couple that with dvd::rip already being one of the fastest with just a single computer and you have a real speed demon on your hands.

As with AcidRip, I'll do the step-by-step assuming default settings. I had to make a couple adjustments on my system though. DivX4 is the default codec, but it did not run so I switched to DivX5 instead. I also notice some slight clipping of the file so I set the presets to No Modifications on the Clip & Zoom tab.

dvd::rip RIP Tab

Select the desired title from the DVD and rip it.

Step-by-step (with default file size and options):

  1. Set Preferences.
  2. After completing the Preferences, select New Project from the File menu.
  3. Type in a Project Name in the Storage tab.
  4. Select Read DVD table of contents from the RIP Title tab.
  5. Select RIP selected title(s)/charter(s).
  6. Switch to the Transcode tab.
  7. Click Transcode in the Operate section at the bottom of the window and wait for it to complete.
dvd::rip Transcode Tab

Choose video codec, file size, and audio preferences.

As you can see, there are a few more steps that are needed than with AcidRip. Along with the better default preferences that I mentioned above, a one click button that rips and transcodes would be useful and would dramatically simplify the ripping process.

Despite my dislike for dvd::rip's current appearance, it has the right combination of features, ease of use, and performance. Because of this I decided to give dvd::rip a break and not count it's GUI against it because of the impending redesign. The plan to update to Gtk2 is enough to solidify it's number two position with a four star rating and a second place finish.

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K3b

If you are like me, you didn't even realize K3b was capable of transcoding. I knew that you could rip an iso image for burning, but I never suspected I could create an AVI as well. Being a featured KDE app, K3b uses the Qt toolkit for its GUI. I used version 0.12.15-2. Since K3b is such a widely distributed app, it should be available from any distro's packaging system, and you may have it installed already.

How was the performance you ask? Very fast I'd say. In my test K3b was the fastest of them all, coming in under 3 hrs for the transcode.

Step-by-step (with default file size and options):

  1. Select your DVD drive from the folder tree on the left. The longest movie sequence will be automatically selected. This is usually the main movie, however you can change it if you wish.
  2. Right click the selected title and choose Copy.
  3. Choose your destination directory and click Start. It took about 6 minutes to complete on my computer.
  4. After the ripping stage is complete select Encode Video from the Tools menu.
  5. Select the DVD ripping file you just created and a filename for your movie. I left everything else as defaults.
  6. Click Encode and wait for the transcode to complete.
K3b encoding video

K3b encoding video.

Much like the K3b's primary existance as a CD/DVD writer, it's ripping and transcoding modes are very easy to use. I did run across a bug during the video ripping stage, but it didn't appear to cause any problems with the end result. When preprocessing the DVD, the calculation for percent complete is off and results in the percentage running significantly over 100% (i.e. >10,000%). One caution on this app is a message that appear saying K3b is currently looking for a maintainer, so it is unclear whether bugs like these are actually being fixed right now. If you are interested in this kind of work yourself and want to be involved in a great project it looks like a good time to contact the team and see if they still have an opening.

K3b default file size is a single 700MB file. A handful of other options are available from a drop down list. Many of the other rippers work in a similar fashion. The only reason I mention it here is to note that you can select whatever file size you want, even if it isn't on the list, but you might not realize it at first glance. Choosing --- from the CDs dropdown box will allow you to manually enter a custom file size. This option should really be marked with something more intuitive.

Another feature of note is K3b's support for an AC3 pass-through mode in case you want to maintain surround sound audio. The default is using MP3 compression, but AC3 mode is a good option if you really want Dolby Digital output. Hopefully we'll see an MPEG surround sound standard soon, but until that comes, keeping the AC3 track is the way to go.

K3B is my new favorite DVD ripper and the one I'll be using from now on. The one feature it is missing is support for subtitles. If you don't care about that though, K3b is the easiest and fastest of all the apps I tested. I rate it at 4 stars for DVD ripping, although I consider it a 5 star program for CD/DVD writing. Only its bug during the DVD ripping stage and lack of subtitle support kept it from being a 5. It would also be nice if the rip and transcode pieces could be combined where all of the options are selected up front.

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DVD Copiers

I included K9Copy and xDVDShrink in the chart above even though they don't transcode because I wanted to point out some options for maintaining a full DVD structure and truly copying a DVD (for personal use only of course). K3b also contains this functionality. This section does not contain full reviews, but should provide enough information to get you started.

If you already use K3b, it's likely you'll just want to stick with it, but if you want a single function app that easy to use then K9Copy should be right up your alley. There's not much you can do to mess up this one. Three steps are all you need.

K9Copy Title Selection

Select the desired title and soundtrack from the DVD.

Step-by-step (with default file size and options):

  1. Open the DVD
  2. Select the tracks to copy
  3. Start the copy
K9Copy ripping DVD

K9Copy ripping the DVD.

That's it. It doesn't get much easier. If you do want to burn the iso back to a DVD then what do you use? Why K3b of course. K9Copy has an option to integrate with K3b for the burning process.

xDVDShrink is a little more involved, which is why I prefer both K9Copy and K3b over it. In addition to a standard preferences page, xDVDShrink makes you enter options into a console at runtime. I'm not clear why these settings needed to be separate, but it's very annoying.

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AcidRip

AcidRip is a solid program that uses the Gtk toolkit, and therefore may appeal more to Gnome users. I tested with version 0.14-0.2. My rip of WarGames took about 4.25 hrs to complete, which places it in the bottom half, but comparable to other MEncoder based apps.

It is a full-featured program with room for a lot of tweaking, however, this flexibility comes at the price of a cluttered interface that could be intimidating to novices. My biggest issue with this program is that progress status was not properly reported. The correct window popped up, but none of the statistics ever updated. Not knowing that the encode is working or having any way to estimate how much work is left can be very annoying.

On the plus side, one of the biggest advantages of AcidRip is a single step that rips and then transcodes. I'm not sure why more apps aren't doing this. It seems like a simple addition that pays off in usability. AcidRip also supports more advanced features like subtitle support.

Even with the multitude of options, AcidRip can still be easy to use if you ignore the features you don't need. Follow along as I show just how simple it is to shrink the a DVD down to a 700MB AVI file. AcidRip defaults to the LAVC codec.

AcidRip General Tab

Set file name, file size, audio, and subtitle options.

Step-by-step (with default file size and options):

  1. Click Load at the top right of the Window read the DVD.
  2. Pick a Track title that will be applied to the filename. I chose WarGames.
  3. Switch to the Queue tab and select the Queue button near the bottom of the window.
  4. Press start and wait for it to finish.
AcidRip Video Tab

Choose video codec, cropping, and scaling preferences.

I'm not going to go through each of the options right now because it is beyond the scope of this review, but I can do that later if there is a need. Please ask any questions or add comments in the forums. There is a link to the discussion at the end of the article.

If you want more than just a default rip and really need to tweak every aspect of your movie then AcidRip is definitely a contender, but for basic ripping I prefer a little more polish. I rate it as 3 stars. It would have received a four star rating if the progress reporting worked.

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