Backing up DVDs

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Disclaimer: This information is provided only to help you make backup copies of DVDs that you legitimately own (or have created yourself). You are solely responsible to abide by your local laws in this aspect.


  • It is assumed that you have Roxio Toast or a similar application to burn DVDs (mainly to have more options in burning a DVD, as compared to burning from Disk Utility).
  • All price references use the US dollar and US prices as of November 2005.


Copying Commercial DVDs

Making a backup copy of commercial movie DVDs is complicated by two factors:

  1. Encryption/protection
  2. Disk size


Commercial DVDs that use encryption use a scheme called CSS (Content Scrambling System), which makes them impossible to copy using applications like Disk Utility or Toast. The reason this is impossible is not because the encryption is strong (no, this was a very simple encryption that was broken by a single line of Perl code; of course, it was not something everybody could do) - it's impossible because the content manufacturers have managed to force the Government and commercial software makers to not allow this! Of course, the DVD Player application that comes with Mac OS X does know how to decrypt your DVDs - otherwise you wouldn't be able to watch those movies on your Mac! Protection of DVDs is used in combination with encryption to make it difficult to copy the DVD. Protection is of different types - RCE protection is used to mark a DVD as belonging to a particular geographical region (so DVD players from other regions would refuse to play the DVD, unless the player is a "region free device"); structure protection is used to fool any normal "file reading" application into believing that the data is either not found or is incomplete.

Breaking encryption/protection

To decrypt encrypted DVDs and to break the RCE/structure protection, download either RipIt or MacTheRipper to extract the DVD to your hard disk. Note that it is illegal to break such encryption in the USA (due to the DMCA) and in Europe.

Disk size

Many commercial DVDs are actually dual layer DVDs that can hold up to 8.5GB of data. As of this writing (November 2005), although dual layer DVD writers are available for $30 upwards, dual layer DVD media still cost a lot (compare around $2+ for one dual layer disc vs. around 30 cents for a single layer disc). So if you want to make a backup of that dual layer DVD without having to use expensive dual layer media, then you need to "shrink" the data on the dual layer DVD so that it can fit on a single layer disc (that can hold up to 4.7GB). On the Mac, you can use commercial applications like DVD Remaster or DVD2OneX to do this (there are no free applications). If you have access to a Windows PC, you can use a free application called DVDShrink to do the same. Note that shrinking DVDs means losing out, to some extent, on the quality of the picture and sound. Use one of these applications to create a DVD folder that's smaller than 4.7GB. The application you use would be able to provide you the right compression level to make the contents fit on a single layer disc.

Burning the disc

Once you have compressed the DVD you can burn it using either the free Disk Utility that came with your Mac, Toast or Popcorn (Note that Popcorn is included in the latest Toast version 7). You can also use Toast or Popcorn to copy a single layer DVD (that has no encryption or protection) or to burn a DVD from a folder on the hard disk, This makes burning DVDs simple (and error free because of the buffer under-run protection it provides), although the application is not free.

Copying DVDs onto your hard drive

If you don't want to have an exact copy of your DVD on another DVD but rather take it with you on your HD, while you travel for example, then just stop after ripping the DVD to your hard disk with MacTheRipper. This though will result in a fairly big file, depending on the DVD. If you want to get smaller files and don't care too much about the quality, then rip your DVDs to your hard drive using Handbrake, which will reduce the files to something around a gigabyte depending on the options and the movie.