One of the challenges of traveling is having something to watch on the TV. Over-the-air stations are well enough, day time programming often leaves much to be desired and I’m currently too cheap to buy satellite TV like many of my RVing brethren. And, even with a 10gb cellular data plan, that would get eaten up pretty quick with streaming TV content. That means, my primary source of things to watch on the ole boob tube comes from DVDs. The problem is that DVDs are bulky.
I had often read of folks who “ripped their DVDs” and “just play them on the TV”. It seems that the ripping part is time consuming, but easy. The “just play them on the TV” is where things were always hazy to me. Each time I read something, it either sounded like a complicated setup with a dedicated computer or pulling together a bunch of software. I finally broke down and put together the bits and pieces to be able to take my DVDs, copy them to a hard drive and play them on TV.
The legality of this is murky at best- I am ripping my personal DVD collection of which I paid cash money for. I am not giving copies of these files away nor am I setting up public viewings (I mean, seriously- who would pay money to watch Dirty Dancing 15 years later). I do not do it myself nor do I condone or encourage anyone to pirate/steal/download movies that they haven’t paid for.
“Ripping” the DVDs
The first step is “ripping” the DVDs which means to copy them to your computer as electronic files. This is the source of much angst, arguments and woe as to the “best” format and settings. My goal is to be able to watch decent quality DVDs (that aren’t hi-def) on my TVs at home and in the camper; my second goal is to be able to play the videos on my phone/tablet devices. Note: my goal is not to play hi-def super awesome movies. Also note: these instructions are for Microsoft Windows; I don’t know Macs enough to provide any information.
Ripping Setup, acquiring/getting software installed
These steps only need to be performed one time to get your computer setup to prepare for ripping DVDs to files that can be played later on your various devices.
- Your DVDs have some kind of copy protection to keep people from making copies and sharing with their friends. This has to be cracked/overridden. There are many options out there. I opted for buying a piece of software called AnyDVD. The cost was about $50. The installation was straight-forward, just double-click the installer and let it rip. This program runs in the background and just does its thing. You don’t have to do anything with it after this.
- Download and install Handbrake. This program reads the DVD’s bits and bytes and copies them as a file to your computer.
- Purchased and installed MetaX for $10. This program is optional in the whole setup but allows you to easily add metadata about the movie to the movie files such as custom icon, movie name, genre(s), description, major actors, etc.
The process to ripping DVDs once you have the above software installed is fairly simple. You have to do the DVDs one by one. Here’s how:
- Load Handbrake
- Setup your Handbrake settings (you can make this a preset). I followed the suggested settings in step #6 of this forum post. I found that it gives me good quality without incredible file sizes.
- Insert the DVD into your drive. If it auto-plays, make sure to close it.
- Click the Source icon, then pick the DVD drive.
- Make change changes to the Destination File as appropriate.
- I personally have 2 main folders, one for TV Shows and the other for Movies.
- In each folder, I have a subfolder for the name of the show or movie.
- I then place the actual video files into that subfolder (this groups the TV shows together and keeps the movies neat and orderly).
- You may want to create folders based target audiences – e.g. “Kids Movies”, “Adult Movies”, etc. Don’t get nutty with organization, but keep it in mind.
- Note: for performance reasons, set the destination folder to be something on your computer and then copy the video file to your portable drive (talked about below) separately.
- If you are ripping TV Shows, you may have to change the selection in the “Title” drop down list to the corresponding title for that show. (This is the most confusing part- but essentially each show is a separate file on the DVD and this loosely corresponds to that.)
- Click Start.
- This will create the video file on your computer. For me, this takes about 1/3-1/2 the run-time of whatever I am ripping.
- OPTIONALLY- when complete, open MetaX and open the video file that you just created to “tag” the movie.
- When you open the file, it’ll ask you if it is a Movie or TV Show or something else. Click the radio option for the appropriate type and click OK.
- On the left side, click Search with the movie name in the search box. This will find various online sources that refer to the video.
- Click the online source that you like the most (best graphical icon, best description, etc.).
- Click the red orange at the top to save the file.
- Repeat with every DVD that you own.
It sounds complex, but I find that I can do a bunch of DVDs back to back. I prefer to leave my computer alone when ripping the DVDs.
After you rip your DVDs, make sure to copy them to your portable hard drive (drive discussed below).
Equipment for the Camper
So now that we have the ugliness away of actually ripping the DVDs and collecting them, we still have the magical part of watching them on TV. To accomplish this my way (there are lots of ways, this is just my way), you need 2 pieces of hardware:
Seagate Wireless Plus portable hard drive – this is a special portable hard in that it actually creates a WiFi network on its own. This WiFi network is important in two ways:
- It let’s the next device on our list (Roku) connect to it and stream movies to your TV.
- It let’s you access the movies while you’re in transit on portable devices such as phones, tablets and laptops. This is important because some of our drives are LONG.
Roku – this device connects to the WiFi network that the hard drive creates and plugs into your TV to show the videos onto it.
One-time Camper Setup
You do have to do a bit of setup in the camper- configuring the hard drive’s wireless, connecting the Roku to it and installing channel (aka app) on the Roku.
- Use the documentation for the Wireless Plus to establish the WiFi network (e.g. establish a decent name, assign a password, etc.).
- Setup the Roku to connect to your hard drive’s WiFi network (the first time you turn it on, it’ll walk you through on the screen- pro-tip, if you have a smart phone, use the remote app on that so you have a real keyboard for typing).
- Add the Roku Media Player channel/app to your Roku.
Watching Movies on TV
If you’ve followed along this far, you’ve ripped your movies, copied them to your hard drive, setup your WiFi and Roku. Now, it’s finally time to relax and watch some TV shows or movies!
- Turn on your TV.
- Using the Roku remote, go to the Roku Media Player app.
- Browse through the screens to get to your Movies folder.
- Click the movie/video that you want to watch.
- Use the Roku remote to fast forward, rewind, pause, etc.