How To HTPC Windows Media Center

Ripping DVDs for Windows Media Center

We’ve been through, what seems like, about 497 million different options for ripping a DVD collection for use in a home theater PC.  DVDs are one form of media that we thought this community had really started to move away from as Blu-ray and streaming media has really taken off over the last few years, but we’ve received a lot of feedback from readers lately looking for a good solution. We’ve been recommending using the same approach that we recommend for ripping Blu-rays, but it turns out that approach doesn’t really work.

First, let’s talk about why we chose the approach that we’re presenting here. First, this is focused on getting ripped DVD movies working within Windows Media Center and effortlessly on Windows Media Center Extenders, primarily the Xbox 360. The goal here is to have a single file per movie that plays on the HTPC and Extenders, and still supports fast-forward, rewind, and resume. Another benefit to this method is that we’ll only be ripping the main movie content. Extras won’t be included. If you want extras you’ll need a different solution. This method also doesn’t compress the video, so each movie will consume anywhere from 3-6GB on your hard drive. If you’re hoping to also use these files on a Mac or an iOS device you’ll be out of luck. Sorry, Apple’s devices apparently don’t support m2ts files, which is the file format we’ll end up with at the end of this process. If you want to compress the files, and/or make them usable on Apple devices, you could replace Step 2 in this guide. Instead of turning the MKV into an m2ts file, you could use Handbrake to easily compress into an Apple-compatible format. I won’t go into details on that in this post, but it’s a pretty simple process once you’ve completed Step 1 in this guide.

Step 1 – Rip the DVD to MKV

Ripping DVDs for Windows Media Center
Make MKV

First we’ll start by ripping the movie from the disc using one of our favorite programs, MakeMKV. The free version supports ripping DVDs forever, but it’s limited to only ripping Blu-rays for the first 30 days. MakeMKV is a very easy to application to use. In most case you won’t even need to modify any of the settings, but it’s still fun to take a look through them. Once the settings are all set, just click the big button that shows a DVD with an arrow pointing at a hard drive. It will take a couple of minutes to scan the drive and find all the different videos on the disc that makeup the movie. After that it will display all of the different “Titles” available on the disc. Typically the first one is what you’re looking for. What should make it easier to determine is that the main movie will have the most chapters and make the biggest file. If the disc has a lot of titles you can save yourself the hassle of unchecking every single option. Instead, right click on the option at the very top, DVD disc, and click on “Unselect all”. Then you’ll only need to check the main title. Again, it’s the largest one. For a DVD it should be somewhere between 3 and 7 GB. You can then expand the tree to select different audio and subtitle streams to include. Subtitles won’t work, so just select the main audio feed that you’re looking for, and then click the button with the green arrow pointing down at a hard drive. Another pointer in selecting audio tracks: typically you’re looking for the one labeled as ” DD 3/2+1 English”. That track will provide surround sound in English. Obviously if you would prefer a different language you can select that instead. After clicking the “Make MKV” buttonAbout 30 minutes later you’ll have a complete MKV. For more detailed help with MakeMKV check out their help page.

Step 2 – Convert the MKV to M2TS

Ripping DVDs for Windows Media Center

The second, and final, step in this process is to convert the MKV file to an m2ts file. MKV files require extra software to get them to work with Media Center, and even more to get them to work with Media Center Extenders. On the other hand, m2ts files are completely supported by Media Center and Extenders. There is one exception. Fast Forward won’t typically work. Fortunately, the skip forward and reverse buttons on the remote still work. Also, if you’re looking to go forward or back by a specific interval you can use the shortcuts we’ve discussed in the past.

To convert the file you’ll need another free program called tsMuxer. It doesn’t even need to be installed. Just unzip it and open the tsMuxer GUI. The interface for tsMuxer looks daunting, but to be honest, there is very little that you actually need to do. Click the “add” button near the top right, and browse to the location of the MKV file you created in step one. Then just ensure that you’ve selected the “M2TS muxing” option under “Output”, and that you’ve supplied an output file name, then click the “Start muxing” button at the bottom of the screen. The conversion process should take less than five minutes as it doesn’t actually have to re-encode the audio or video. This process is simply taking the audio and video streams out of the MKV container, and putting them into an m2ts container. For more details on configuring tsMuxer, see the image gallery below.

That’s all there is to it! In an upcoming post we’ll discuss ways to bring rich metadata into Windows Media Center to improve the experience even more.


About the author

Josh Pollard

Josh has been writing software since his parents brought home their first computer. His love for gadgets and technology eventually spurred a passion for home theater technology. After starting the DMZ, he received Microsoft’s MVP award for Windows Media Center. Even though the beloved home theater PC platform is all but dead he continues to tinker with consumer entertainment technology. He’s a life-long gamer and DIY smart home enthusiast. He co-hosts the Entertainment 2.0 podcast with Richard Gunther and the DMZ’s gaming podcast, Story Players, with Joe DeStazio.