The Robservatory

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Podcast appearance: The Next Track

This week, I made a rare appearance on a podcast other than our own The Committed podcast. I was a guest on The Next Track, a podcast about music and related things, hosted by iTunes AppleScript guru Doug Adams and my regular The Committed podcast cohost Kirk McElhearn.

We spent 30 minutes discussing ripping Blu-rays and DVDs to the Mac. I know, a real stretch topic for me, given I’ve never written about it!

Anyway, it was a fun show, so if you’d like to hear the voice behind these words, give it a listen.

A deep dive into HandBrake and Video Transcoding

An obvious interest area of mine is in ripping (and watching) movies using my Mac. I’ve talked about everything from installing the tools I use to how I rip to how to make sure I update the ripping tools. And though I’ve included some comparison pictures in the how-I-rip article, I’ve never done a deep dive into the various ripping options and how they compare on three key fronts:

  • Speed: Faster is better; measured in minutes required to rip.
  • Size: Smaller is better; measured in MB of drive space used.
  • Quality: Higher is better; the closer the image quality is to the original, the better.

An ideal rip would be one that happens in seconds, saves into a 10KB file, and has quality matching the original. The reality, though, is far from the ideal. Ripping a movie involves making trade-offs between those three competing measures: Maximizing any one measure requires some sort of tradeoff with one or both of the other measures.

After ripping so many DVDs and Blu-rays over the years, I was curious about how HandBrake and Don Melton’s Video Transcoding tools handle those tradeoffs, so I decided to do some testing.

If you’d like to see what I discovered about ripping time, file sizes, and—with lots and lots of frame grabs—image quality, keep reading…


Semi-automatic Homebrew and video-transcode updates

As I’ve written about in the past, I use Don Melton’s video transcoding tools to rip Blu-Ray discs. I also use Homebrew to install some of the transcode video dependencies, as well as other Unix tools.

Keeping these tools current isn’t overly difficult; it only requires a few commands in Terminal:

$ brew update
$ brew upgrade
$ sudo gem update video_transcoding

My problem is that I often forget to do this, because—unlike most GUI Mac apps and the Mac App Store—there’s no built-in “hey, there’s an update!” system. Suddenly, two months and many revisions later, I finally remember (usually when I see a tweet about a new version of something.) So I thought I’d try to write my own simple update reminder.

I didn’t really want a scheduled task, like a launchd agent—it’s not like these tools need to stay current on a daily basis. (And one of them needs to run with admin privileges, which complicates things.) I just wanted something that would remind me if it’d been a while since I last checked for updates, and then install the updates if I wanted it to do so.

After mulling it over, I came up with a script that runs each time I open a Terminal window (which I do daily). The referenced script looks at the date on a check file, and asks me if I’d like to check for updates if that date is more than a week older than today’s date. This is perfect for my needs: The reminder is automatic, but I can choose when to install the updates based on what I’m doing at the time. If it’s been under a week since I last checked, nothing at all is different about my Terminal launch.

Read on for the script and implementation details. (Note: This is not written for a Terminal beginner, as it assumes some knowledge about how the shell works in macOS.)


One possible solution for ripping stubborn discs

While writing up this week’s Watch It selection (The Stunt Man), I was rewatching the movie on my TV, and wanted to switch over to the computer. I own a many-years-old DVD version, so I popped it into my iMac, fired up HandBrake and set to ripping it. But I got nothing—HandBrake ripped a 4KB file, then claimed it was done. Not a good start.

A glance at HandBrake’s activity window showed this error:

libdvdread: CHECK_VALUE failed in ifo_read -- error message

Searching on that error message pointed to an error in dvdnav, and some suggested ways of working around it, including installing a patched version. There were also other errors, and searching on those indicated something about the copy protection was causing a read error with the disc.

I also tried RipIt’s built-in rip-and-compress, but it also failed. After mucking about with those two apps, and nearly every other video-related app I own, here’s how I finally managed to rip my legally-purchased version of The Stunt Man:

  1. Used RipIt to copy the DVD to my hard drive. (No settings to worry about here at all.)
  2. Used MakeMKV to make an MKV from the ripped file. I pointed it at the folder from step one, and clicked the Make MVK button. The end result was a number of files, with the longest one being the movie itself.
  3. Used HandBrake to convert the longest MKV file to an m4v file. I just left the settings at the default (high quality), and the end result was a nice quality 1.9GB movie (down from a 7GB MKV file) that plays on all my devices.

I’m posting this here mainly so I remember what I did, but perhaps it’ll help with your stubborn discs as well.

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