Converting DVD audio to MP3 revisited

In a previous post, I mentioned converting audio from a DVD to MP3 format for use on an iPod.  Then I made an interesting discovery–the iPod will play the audio portion of a video if the type of the video file is set to Music Video, and play it as a video if selected through the Videos->Music Videos menu.  Therefore, encoding it as a video lets you play the audio under normal and shuffle modes, and you can watch the actual footage if you like!

Pros of converting from DVD to video:

  • It’s a video that you can watch as well as a track that you can play (um, do I really have to point this out?).
  • There are more obvious conversion paths from DVD to iPod video, both commercial and non-commercial.
  • Plays as both a music track and a video.

Pros of converting from DVD to MP3:

  • Wider format support for MP3 music files than MP4/H.264 video.
  • Better quality audio; the maximum audio stream bitrate for iPod videos is 160 kbps.
  • Smaller file size.
  • Support gapless playback (see end of article).

No huge make or break issues there, for me anyway.  I prefer 192 kbps for music, but listening at 160 or 128 doesn’t destroy the experience–I largely notice that the 192k track has more “presence” (for lack of a better word) than lower bitrate rather than thinking the lower bitrate one is inferior.  While I’m down to only 15GB free on an 80GB iPod, I’ve ripped virtually everything that I plan to rip (and in case you hadn’t noticed, hot new classical music releases are a little few and far between, so it’s not like I’m putting 20 new CDs a month on it).

I determined my requirements for a video converter (single-product or solution) to be these:

  • Must support direct conversion from either DVD itself or the DVD file structure (VOB files)–no conversion to AVI (or whatever) and then conversion to iPod format (or at least do it in a manner where I never have to see the intermediary file).
  • Must support batching of videos for conversion (it seems to be a lengthy process); shutdown upon completion is a nice feature for leaving it running overnight.
  • Must be able to extract video as a single file or as chapters.
  • Must be able to make properly-formatted iPod video regardless of input aspect ratio (no squishing or cropping to fit it on the iPod screen).

I looked first for commercial products, and downloaded demo versions of several.  The clear winner was Cucusoft’s DVD to iPod converter ($29.95).  It was easy to install and use, and could easily split into chapters or rip the whole title as one track.  It required little understanding of DVD structure (you just have to pick which title you’d like to convert) but had the power to select a specific language/audio track or subtitles.  It supports high-complexity H.264 video (640 x 480 video for 30GB/80GB iPods).

If I were not a cheapskate or I had more than two DVDs that I cared about converting, I’d buy Cucusoft’s product in a heartbeat.  If discussion of VOBs, IFOs, and stream processing bother you, don’t read any farther, spend $30 and get to ripping!

Ah, you continued on–as did my conversion search.  Once again, I downloaded an array of products before settling on one: the Videora iPod Converter (free), in conjunction with DVD Decrypter to allow access to the DVD.  Videora gives an excellent guide to converting using this method, and it worked well for me.

Step 4 of their guide is important because Videora will not merge VOBs on the fly, and VOBs are typically split at 1GB.

To do the conversion by chapters, before Step 5 you should select the chapter(s) that you want on the lower left of the Input tab.  If you’re doing chapters separately, you should select one at a time, decrypt, and rename the resultant VOB file (it’ll probably be something like VTS_01_1.VOB) so that it’s not overwritten when you convert the next chapter.  (It’s OK to overwrite the IFO file produced by the decryption.)

You can queue up several VOB files for processing by repeating steps 7 and 8 while a file is processing.  Check Shutdown PC upon completion if you want the computer to shut off by itself when it finishes at 3 am.

A coworker introduced me to open-source, Mac/Linux/Windows-compatible, straight-from-DVD Handbrake this morning; I’ll try it out tonight and post a followup if it’s worthy.  It appears to not like Vista (which I can certainly relate to), so I’ll use my XP machine for it.

My file sizes seem to be about 6.5-7.0 MB/minute of video using this method.

Then I learned some important lessons on importing the videos into iTunes:

  • By default, iTunes takes the new videos and puts them under the Movies category.  Right-click on the file, choose Get Info, go to the Video tab and change the type to Music Video.  Then the video will disappear from the Movies screen and reappear under Music.
  • For some inexplicable reason, that option isn’t settable by selecting multiple files and choosing Get Info–so you have to do it one at a time (using Next and Previous in the single-file Get Info box makes it a little quicker, but it’s still a pain).
  • Once you’ve gotten them into the Music library, if you’d like them to act like your other music files, do Get Info (multiple tracks are OK here) again and set Remember Position to No.  Otherwise, if you skip a track, the next time the iPod plays it you’ll start at the point where you skipped, and it makes it more difficult to skip backwards.
  • Videos either don’t honor or don’t technically support gapless playback.  It’s grayed out on the single-file Get Info screen (but settable through the multiple-track one).  The iPod seems to pause a bit before it starts playing the track.

Once again, don’t steal music; the DVD you’re ripping is significantly cheaper than your computer or your iPod, and purchasing the DVD lets the makers know (in the most tangible way possible) that you’d like to see more from them.

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