Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to: Rip a Blu-Ray disc (or DVD) to your Nexus 7 using free software

This is one of those posts borne out of frustration. I wrote in my Nexus 7 review that it was unnecessarily difficult to get video that I already own onto my new tablet, and that's doubly true if you're talking stuff you have on Blu-Ray. Do a Google search for "rip Blu-ray to nexus 7" and all the results you'll get are spam results from commercial software developers trying to sell you their generic ripping software. (Well, hopefully not anymore!)

But you can do it just as well (probably better) with two free tools. Here's what you need:

1. MakeMKV
This tool does the actual ripping, and it strips the decryption and region protections. This is really the key to the whole thing, although just the first step. MakeMKV is the only free tool I know of that can rip a copy-protected Blu-Ray disc.

Use it the default way and you'll end up with a bit-perfect mkv file of your disc's video and audio streams.

2. Handbrake
Handbrake is your transcoder - now that you have this giant mkv file, you need to turn it into something your tablet can realistically store and play.

That means:

Frame size: 1280 x 720 for Blu-Ray rips
Format: h.264
File size: as small as possible!

Click for a larger view of the picture settings

The Nexus 7 only has 8GB or 16GB of storage, so you need to find a balance of size vs. quality. Obviously you're probably going to have to compromise a bit - you're not going to get full Blu-Ray quality out of your final file unless you only want one video on your tablet... and nothing else.

Click for a larger view of the video settings

I did several tests with a fast-moving video with lots of color and motion (if you must know, it was Scandal's "Love Survive", which just happens to be chapter 1 on a Blu-Ray disc I was trying to transcode). Sometimes it's best to use a constant bit rate, which makes it easier to predict the ending file size, but often using a quality setting works best. It just depends on the video.

The Handbrake developers recommend a quality setting of 22 for Blu-Ray quality (lower quality setting numbers are better). The default is 20 - better than 22 - so I tried that first for reference. This video is 3:47 long, so you can consider that when looking at the file sizes below. Here are some screenshots of the lovely Rina from the same frame in that video - you can click them for a larger view:

Quality 20 - the reference. Pretty much indistinguishable from the original Blu-Ray, just with a smaller frame size for the Nexus 7. 205MB.
Quality 30. Not too bad; definitely some jagged edges and a little macroblocking, but remember, this is a fast-motion scene. It's hard to notice any issues at 30fps, and on a 7" screen. On the flipside, this file was about 1/3 the size of the quality 20 file. 78MB.
Quality 40. Clearly getting a bit crap at this point. 33.8MB.

1000kbps. Thoroughly unacceptable. 37.6MB.
1300kbps. Still completely unacceptable. The tests continue! 45.6MB.
1500kbps. Starting to get better, but still nowhere near the quality of the reference quality 30 file, let alone the quality 20. 51MB.
2000kbps. Now almost to the point of the quality 30 file. 64.5MB.
I went with quality 30 for the full BD. The 2000kbps file looked decent and was a bit smaller, but I'd rather err a bit on the side of keeping a constant look to the video than shaving a few bits here and there but potentially screwing up certain scenes. I have done one other BD so far that turned out surprisingly well at 1000kbps, though, so it really does depend a bit on the content of the video. You might have to do your own tests... if only more tablets had memory card slots so we wouldn't need to worry about this! It's barbaric.

After you've got the final file transcoded, you need to get it onto your Nexus 7. Connect the cable that came with your tablet to your computer, and it'll show up as a device under "My Computer". Open it, then open the "Movies" folder and drag your file in there. Once it's done copying, you can open your "Movies" app, select "Personal Videos" and voila - your file should be there.

Obviously, this entire process isn't something you're going to sit down and do in the few spare minutes you have after packing and before your taxi arrives to take you to the airport for a flight. In fact, depending on your computer, this may be something you leave running overnight. For me, it's only really worth it for stuff I know I'll rewatch over and over - mostly music and concert videos that aren't available any other way. For movies, it's probably going to be better to just hope Netflix has something, or pay Google the rental fee.

The nice thing is that once you learn Handbrake, you can also use it for videos you download and want to transfer to your Nexus. You can even make your default Nexus settings a preset.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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