TV Ripping Workflow

If, like me, you have both an unassailable dedication to physical media for your video (and music) and yet you wish to play them on your iThings then there’s a fair chance you spend some of your time ripping stuff from the shiny disks and encoding it on hard drives.

My workflow for ripping TV shows in particular has developed over the years, both to speed things up and to enhance the results (e.g. preserving subtitles) so I thought it worth writing down – this may be quite a technical post and not for everyone, but I know at least @lone_locust will appreciate it!

I used to just rip with MakeMKV and encode with Handbrake. (I ripped DVDs with MakeMKV even though Handbrake could do both because ripping is fast and then you can leave Handbrake to encode overnight – otherwise you have to be on hand to change discs.) I still use both of these brilliant pieces of software, but I found myself spending a lot of time copying and pasting file names and such (which need to be in a Show Name – sXXeXX format for the likes of iFlicks or Plex to fetch you metadata). So I found an app that did that automatically, discovered a long-standing (but unknown to me) batch add option in Handbrakes, and as a finishing touch found there is a queue feature in Subler to both add the metadata and OCR the subtitle files (which are bitmaps on DVD, and thus unsupported by iThings which only allow optional subtitles to be stored as text).

So now I use four pieces of software:

And here’s the process I use for both DVD and Bluray, based on doing a season of a TV show at a time:

  1. Rip each disc to its own folder using MakeMKV – titles are not re-encoded but dumped into an MKV file – so one for each episode.
  2. Add all the files to NameChanger app in sequence, and in the Sequence Name box type “Show Name – sXXe” before digits. Number of digits: 02, Starting at: 1. (And before you hit the “Rename” button it’s worth going to Preferences and ticking the “Hide extensions by default” box or you’ll get persistently nagged about this.
  3. Now all of your files have unique names, you can stick them in the same folder.
  4. Go to Handbrake, click “Open Source” and select this combined folder.
  5. Choose (or create) a preset that outputs H.264 video in an MKV wrapper, with all of the subtitles. (We’re going with MKV rather than m4v here because the former supports bitmap subtitles and the latter doesn’t – but we’ll be converting to m4v further down the line – and without support for the subtitles tracks we’d have to ditch them or burn them in, losing the ability to turn them on and off). I only have a 720p projector so I don’t bother with full HD, I set set the quality rather than the bitrate to constant at RF24. I pass-through the AC3 audio for my Apple TV and add a second audio track in AAC format for viewing on the phone, and any and all of the subtitle tracks because once they’re text they will use next to no disk space, so why not? In the subtitle tab, hit ‘selection behaviour’ and choose “Track Selection Behaviour: All Matching Selected Languages” and “Languages: (Any)”. Or just download my preset for all the above settings.
  6. Go to File > Add Titles to Queue and then add all the episodes to the queue in one click!
    Add Titles to Queue
  7. Click start, and go and have your 8 hours of shuteye while Handbrake does its stuff.
  8. Open Subler and open the queue (Window > Queue). Click on the cog to check your settings – you can choose where the metadata comes from (e.g. TheTVDB) where to output the file and the file type (e.g. m4v).
    Subler queue options
  9. Drag the MKV files that Handbrake produced onto the queue and click the start button. This isn’t instant, but it’s a lot faster than the Handbrake stage (step 7) because there’s no encoding going on here, it’s just remuxing the streams. But it’s also adding in the metadata and OCRing any bitmap subtitles.
    Subler queue
  10. That’s it! All done! You can delete all the MKV files you created along the way, and dump the final m4v files into your Plex folders (or other chosen media player).

If you want to do more than one season, or indeed more than one show at a time, you can do them all at once –  you just need to apply step 2 to each season separately. Likewise you can adapt step 2 if you’re just doing part of a season by changing the “starting at” value.

Happy viewing!

Update 7/6/19: added some additional detail on subtitles in Handbrake – thanks to @lone_locust for testing and feedback!

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See for more...

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