Creating a Virtual Movie Library

Pharmaceutical companies will soon rule the world if we keep letting them believe that we are a happy, functional society so long as all the women are on Prozac, all children on Ritalin, and all men on Viagra.
Polanyi, John C.

I’m a bit ruthless when it comes to digitization — mostly because I want full access to the content I buy. When I buy a book, I want to be able to extract information, even full passages, for future reference and scientific use. I do not want any company dictate what I can or cannot extract for personal use. After all, what happens if that company folds and I cannot renew the license when I get a new device? It’s of no matter for the company now, because it won’t exist then, but it deeply affects me.

And what’s the desired model of distributors here? The book decomposes/deletes itself after reading and you automatically forget it, so you have to buy it again and read it again? Amazon not only deletes books, it fries connections between your brain cells? That would make stockholder happy, but it would negate everything reading stands for and be the opposite to the love of knowledge that reading can mean. So, I detest DRM and the like and create my own virtual library for personal use (see Creating a Virtual Library, or 109 scanned books later …).

I follow the same strategy with movies. Yes, there is something to be said for iTunes and immediate access to great series like “Doctor Who” — but seriously? After installing Mavericks on my Notebook, I realized just how fragile this solution is. I could not watch the downloaded episodes of the series without registering iTunes with Apple again. I had the files, but they were unusable.

Sure, Apple won’t fold within the next years, but why do I have to ask Apple for permission? And what about in 15 or 30 years? Is Apple still around then? And what about the DVDs I buy, who says that DVDs will still work in the future. A paper book can be read in 100 years, but a DVD? I grew up with 5 1/4″ floppy disks (anyone remember those? Or 3 1/2″ floppy disks?). I want access to the content, not only possess a disc. So I digitize those as well.

Unfortunately, many companies make this hard. Unfortunately, because as this strip nicely illustrates, it’s a futile endeavor. No matter how good the protection is, some people will bypass it. And it’s a classic smart cow phenomenon — once someone found out how to do it, it can be automated for the masses. In the worst case, just use the ways it’s displayed to the user.

So, the whole copy protection mechanism just make digitization inconvenient as hell for user, but not impossible. Currently, the solution that works for me — although I don’t know whether these softwares come with any Trojan Horses or other potentially devastating security or other issues — is by using Handbrake. I use the default settings and embedding the English subtitles — but optional, not as “burned in” as I only use them when I have problems with the English dialect. It needs (and I think it did ask for) libdvdcss for copy-protected discs, but vlc (my favorite video player) also has a copy online (I think I used this one). The only two cases where it does not work for me are:

  • When Handbrake cannot identify the right movie. It displays 99 titles, each of the same length and only one really works. In this case, opening the DVD in vlc (using “File”, then “Open Disc”) and playing the movie, then selecting “Playback” and “Title” reveals the correct number (the one with the check-mark).
  • When Handbrake displays only one or two titles, neither one containing the movie. In this case, makemkv worked well for me to extract the DVD content onto my harddisc and access that folder with handbrake to create the movie.
  • Update (2014-03-19):
    There is also the issue when the DVD tricks makemkv into believing there are a couple of tracks that are each well over 4 GB. The whole DVD cannot contain more than 4,5 GB. Thankfully, the tracks had different amounts of chapters and opening the DVD in vlc did show the number of chapters (Playback – Chapters). Then it became a matter of selecting the one track with this amount of chapters.
    All that copy-protection crap is so super-annoying when all you want is a backup in case your apartment burns down.

But like written, I do not know whether this software comes with Trojan horses or other problems. Personally, I like this solution for personal use with DVDs I own and actually have bought and don’t resell. After all, I watch movies not only on my MacBook Pro, but also on my iPhone and iPad, and I have no use for WiFi transmission of data. I want a file I can simply put in vlc or GoodReader on my iOS devices and Handbrake proves me with this file. I also want backups and redundancy, and Handbrake also allows for this. Not to mention the ability to do screenshots on my Mac (easy with vlc, on Mac cmd + alt + s) and iOS devices (via pressing the “on/off button” and the “home button” at the same time).

But who knows how long this will work and what comes next.

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