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  1. Computer Skills
  2. Media
Computers

How to Import DVDs Into iTunes

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:

There was once a time when all the music we listened to was stored on 700 MB CDs. I still purchase these shiny bits of polycarbonate plastic to have physical copies of all my favorite albums, but things are definitely progressing into the digital age of the iTunes Store. That brings us to the topic of films, which very much in the same ship. Soon even Blu-Rays will be out of date, but there are still many DVDs laying around in the corners of your friends attic. Rummage through them now, because I’m going to show you how to import them all into your iTunes library.


The Necessary Tools

My generic Blu-RayDVDCD drive
My generic Blu-Ray/DVD/CD drive.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a costly venture. The only thing you might need to purchase (if you don’t already have one built-in) is a DVD drive. My recommendation is the AmazonBasics USB 2.0 external DVD Drive, because it’s simple, affordable, reliable, and easy to use. Alternatively, you can use the Remote Disc feature to share one Mac’s optical drive with another, but that’s only if you have an older iMac or MacBook Pro.

Three applications are required for this tutorial HandBrake MetaZ and VLC
Three applications are required for this tutorial: HandBrake, MetaZ, and VLC.

Once you’ve worked out what DVD drive you’ll be using, it’s time to get some software. For this tutorial, we’ll be using a combination of HandBrake (for transferring), VLC (for decoding), and MetaZ (for tagging). All three are freeware, though if you plan to do a lot of ripping I recommend making a donation to show the developers your thanks.

Also, since VLC 2.0 changed the code library it uses, you’ll need to download and manually install libdvdcss.pkg. HandBrake will prompt you to do so, but its link is incorrect and leads to a 404 page.


Insert the DVD and Open Handbrake

Inserting my copy of Pirates of Silicon Valley into my DVD drive
Inserting my copy of Pirates of Silicon Valley into my DVD drive.

Providing you have installed all the tools I recommend, it’s time to begin transferring your DVD collection to your computer. Insert the first DVD on your list. If you’re planning to add a whole TV series to iTunes, I suggest beginning with the first disc and going in order to keep things organized.

Selecting the correct DVD in HandBrake
Selecting the correct DVD in HandBrake.

When you insert a DVD, OS X automatically opens DVD Player. Quit that app and launch HandBrake. Right away the app will open a file browser. In the sidebar, select the DVD you’ve inserted and click Open. Wait a few seconds while HandBrake loads the chapters and prepares to read the files from the disc.


Adjust the Settings for Your Video

HandBrake’s main screen looks very complicated, but don’t let that scare you away. Technically, there are only a few things you need to know about the ripping settings.

Step 1: Check the Title

Selecting a title is especially important when ripping TV shows with multiple episodes on a disc
Selecting a title is especially important when ripping TV shows with multiple episodes on a disc.

Before you begin ripping a DVD, always make sure you have the correct chapter selected. This is especially important with TV shows since each episode is separate. With Pirates of Silicon Valley, the film I’m ripping today, the first title was automatically selected because it was the longest. However, with TV shows, discs store up to ten episodes at times, so things can get very complicated.

The Preview Window gives you an idea of what the encoded video will look like and it helps you identify what episode youre importing
The Preview Window gives you an idea of what the encoded video will look like, and it helps you identify what episode you're importing.

To make identifying an episode easier, select a title and click the Preview Window button in the top right corner of the app. If you’ve seen the episodes before, you’ll know exactly what they are by moving the slider to preview the scenes. Alternatively, you can click Live Preview in the Preview Window to generate an actual video. Beware that this will slow things down: it takes some time to render things with your presets in effect.

Step 2: Verify the Filename and Destination

Using the File field under the Destination section, give the video you’re ripping a title and store it somewhere safe. I personally use my 2 TB external hard drive because my MacBook Air doesn’t have enough space for all the films I own.

Step 3: Use the Presets

Presets will help you along by applying all the settings for you
Presets will help you along by applying all the settings for you.

If you’re adding a video to your iTunes library it’s probably because you want to transfer it to an iOS device. Should this be the case, open the Presets Drawer (CMD + T or Toggle Presets in the top right corner).

Here you will find preconfigured settings for many Apple devices, and even two Android options. Note that there are not currently options for the iPhone 5 or Retina iPads. For these, I recommend using the Universal preset at the top of the Devices section. It uses loose encoding for across the board application.

Another good preset is Normal, which will look good on any device — Apple, HTC, Roku, etc. Last, is High Profile. You should only use this if you don’t mind waiting a few hours for a significantly larger file. The quality is noticeably different when converting a 720p or 1080p video, but not a standard DVD.

For Apple TV users, there are presets available for each generation of the device. If you’ll be playing the video on just an Apple TV, use the applicable preset as it will be the best available option for the hardware. Universal also works well.


Start Ripping; Using the Queue

The transfer is in progress
The transfer is in progress.

Once you have all your video’s data configured, it’s time to start transferring the file. Click the Start button in the top left corner and wait for the disc to spin up, then you’re off! On average, a two-hour film took my computer 45 minutes to transfer so don’t panic if things are taking a while.

The queue will keep things going automatically when youre away
The queue will keep things going automatically when you're away.

While you’re waiting for HandBrake to rip your DVD, you may want to add more to the queue. If you are ripping a TV show, select the next title (episode) on the disc, name it, and then click the Add to Queue button. You can then check the progress of things with the Show Queue button.

Lastly, if you’re an advanced user who likes to see what’s going on behind the user interface, click the Activity Window button to display a live log of what HandBrake is doing. It will also help you if there’s an error (scratch on the disc).


Add Metadata with MetaZ

Now that you have a video file on your hard drive, it’s time to give it some sorting information. MetaZ is an updated version of MetaX, an app that’s no longer in development. Sadly, that that doesn’t mean it is without bugs. In fact, the app can be very confusing at times. I’ll try to go over everything you need to know.

Step 1: Open All the Videos in MetaZ

MetaZ asks what type of file this is
MetaZ asks what type of file this is.

If you’ve ripped a lot of different videos, open them all in MetaZ by clicking the + button in the bottom right corner or by using the CMD + O keyboard shortcut. Hold the Command key and clicking each video you wish to import. Upon clicking Open in the file browser, you’ll be asked what type of video file you’re adding tags to. Select whichever is applicable to continue.

Step 2: Add Tags

Some fancy options for the videos info These will affect the way it appears in iTunes
Some fancy options for the video's info. These will affect the way it appears in iTunes.

MetaZ uses tagChimp and The TVDB to locate metadata for your videos. Once you import them, the app will search this database for a match and show the results in a list to the left. On the right you will find your list of files. Select whichever one you wish to modify and either manually input the metadata into the fields in the center of the app or find a matching search result. To apply a tag from the Internet, select it and make sure things are correct, then double click it and all the data will be imported. Alternatively, you can check the boxes to add each item individually.

Step 3: Write the Tags and Add to iTunes

Switch on Add to iTunes plugin for automatic importing
Switch on Add to iTunes plugin for automatic importing.

Now that all the tagging business is taken care of, it’s time to save your changes to the video files so the metadata is visible to iTunes. Before proceeding, I recommend heading to the Preferences window, clicking the Plug-ins tab, and checking the box beside Add to iTunes. This will automatically import the videos you are writing tags to.

Writing options in the top left corner and some search results for an episode of MASH
Writing options in the top left corner and some search results for an episode of M*A*S*H.

You have two options for writing tags: Write, which saves the tags only on the file currently selected or “Write all”, which saves changes to all the files in your queue. Once you select either of the options, a progress bar at the bottom of the screen will appear and your changes will be saved. Please allow a few moments for this to complete and do not panic if the artwork doesn’t show up immediately — it takes an extra few seconds.


Do You Have Some Tips For Us?

The end result in iTunes
The end result in iTunes.

And that, folks, is how you import a DVD into iTunes. It is by no means simple, but I hope my explanation aided you in completing the task in a decent amount of time. With practice, it can all be done much faster. One could even write a script to do all of this automatically, but I don’t have the coding talent for that.

What are your tips for us on ripping DVDs? Is there something you do differently? How is it better?

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