Encoding DVDs into small files for watching on Asus Eee netbook

Q I am enjoying my Eee a great deal. One thing I would like to do with my Eee is use it to watch my DVD movies when travelling. I know I could attach an external DVD drive, but this defeats the purpose of an ultra-portable system, so I would prefer to copy my DVDs to one or more SD cards. Do I need to use a 4GB SD card for each DVD or is it possible to reduce them in size?

A The normal way to do this is to copy the main film from the DVD to a video file, which you can copy on to an SD card and watch with the Eee's video player, SMPlayer. The only disadvantage of this is that you lose any DVD extras like angles, subtitles and alternate audio tracks. While it is possible to rip a DVD on the Eee, with the addition of an external DVD drive, transcoding video like this uses a lot of CPU horsepower and memory and would take quite a while on the Eee. This task is best done on a more powerful desktop or laptop system. There are a number of programs available for ripping DVDs to video files, one of the best being DVD Rip, which is almost certainly in your distro's repositories. The program presents a lot of options, most of which can be left at the defaults.

The main decision for you to make is the format and bitrate of the video file you create. The format decision is fairly cut and dried - go for Xvid, as it gives good-quality, small files without requiring a lot of CPU power for playback. Bitrate determines the size and quality of the file you produce. The lower the bitrate, the smaller the file and the worse the quality. DVD Rip lets you specify the bitrate, and shows you the size of file it will produce, or you can tell it how much space you want to use and let it work out the bitrate for you. While DVD Rip has a convenient point-and-click interface, this becomes less convenient when you want to rip a number of DVDs. This is when the command line comes into its own. Mencoder is part of the MPlayer package, and can encode anything that MPlayer can play including DVDs. Mencoder has a huge number of options, making its man page one of the longest around.

An easier approach is to use AcidRip (http://untrepid.com/acidrip), which lets you choose settings from a GUI and then calls Mencoder. Once you have everything set up as you like in Mencoder, click on the Export button in the Queue panel to generate a shell script, acidrip.sh, that calls Mencoder with the correct options. You can reuse this script for each DVD you wish to rip, just changing the track number and output filename for each one. The track number is given after dvd:// on each call to Mencoder. You could even edit the script to take the track number and output filename as arguments. Replace each instance ofthe track number (once for each pass, and Mencoder works better with two passes) with $1 and the output filename with $2. Then you can run it with

sh acidrip.sh 1 mydvd.avi

$1 is replaced by the first argument after the script name and $2 by the second, so this rips the first track to mydvd.avi in the current directory. Now you can copy the files to your SD card ready for viewing anywhere.

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