But a free option works nearly as well: perennial favorite HandBrake. It, too, converts DVDs, though it needs a little help to remove copy protection. After installing the program, you have to obtain a file called libdvdcss-2.dll, which you can download from this public archive site.
After downloading libdvdcss-2.dll, copy it to the folder where you installed HandBrake—usually C:\Program Files\Handbrake. That should do the trick. On my system, adding that file enabled HandBrake to read all of the DVDs I tested, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Despicable Me.
Now you're ready to migrate your movies into the all-digital future. Load up HandBrake, and insert one of your DVDs into the PC. Then click the Source button, and choose the location of your disc—on my PC it's the D: drive. Be patient—it may take a few minutes for HandBrake to read the contents of the DVD.
When HandBrake has completed its preliminary work, the Source field should display the name of the movie, and the Title field should list something with a runtime that matches the movie's length. If the runtime seems way too short, open the Title drop-down menu and look for an entry that has an appropriately movie-length runtime. Now select Browse, and choose a destination and filename for the video file you're about to create—a file named with the film's original title in the Windows Videos folder would be the obvious choice.
Finally, choose a preset for the conversion. If you plan to watch the movie mostly on mobile devices, select the formatting option that best matches what you have—or opt for Universal if you want something that can play just about anywhere. Click Start, and then be prepared to wait: The ripping and conversion process can take some time.
Once HandBrake finishes doing its thing, play back the final product to confirm that it looks okay. Then remove that DVD from your PC and park it in storage somewhere—you won't need it in the foreseeable future.
Once you've liberated your movie library, you'll want to make it available for viewing anytime, anywhere—not just on the PC that houses the files. You have a couple options at this point: You can upload everything to a remote-storage service like Dropbox or SugarSync, and then stream movies on demand to whatever devices support that service; or you can turn your PC into a media server and effectively host your own "cloud."
Using a cloud service affords you a built-in remote backup of your movie library and lets you stream videos via the service's mobile app—a nice option when you're traveling. However, a free account on Dropbox or SugarSync nets you only a few gigabytes of space, so plan to pay a monthly fee for storage if you need lots of space. What's more, it takes time to upload a big batch of movies, and you won't be able to stream them to set-top boxes. The limitations aren't terrible, but I think most people would be better off setting up a personal media server with free streaming software.
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