Are you looking to liberate the movies in your DVD collection, so you can enjoy them on your iPhone, iPod, iPad and Apple TV? Well look no further – all you need to do is get your hands on some free software and follow these simple steps…

Step 1:  Installation

To rip a DVD with HandBrake, you will first need to download the software – free from www.handbrake.fr. If you have a Mac with a Core 2 Duo or better processor, make sure that you get the 64-bit version of the program to speed up the time it takes to rip a disc.

HandBrake no longer includes the libraries needed to decrypt commercial DVDs (you should only rip DVDs you own), so you’ll also need to install the VLC media player – available for free from www.videolan.org.

The free app includes presets for all of Apple’s devices, but it also lets you tweak settings to save disk space, improve video quality, and more.

Step 2:  Pick What to Rip

Now insert your DVD into your Mac’s disc drive and launch HandBrake. By default, it will prompt you to select the DVD mounted on your Mac – choose it and click Open. HandBrake will then scan the disc. Once this has finished, click the box next to Title and, from the pop-up menu that appears, choose the title with the longest time.

If you encounter a DVD with 99 titles of almost the same length, you’ve run into copy-protection. In that case, launch Apple’s DVD Player, go to the main feature, choose Go > Title from the menu bar, and find the title with a check mark next to it. Choose this in HandBrake and continue.

If there are several items you want to convert – all the episodes on a TV show’s DVD, for example – you can select one, give it a unique name in the File area, click the Add To Queue button, and then repeat the process for each item until they’ve been added to the encoding queue.

You should note that HandBrake won’t work with every DVD, and you may need to purchase other software to get better results (see macworld.com/6990).

Step 3:  Choose a Preset

Although you can tweak every aspect of encoding, HandBrake includes useful presets that make things much easier. If the Presets Drawer isn’t already open, click on the Toggle Presets button at the top of the HandBrake window (or press Command-T). In the drawer, you’ll see an Apple section. Here you’ll find Universal, iPod, iPhone and iPod Touch, iPhone 4, iPad, AppleTV, and AppleTV 2.

If you want to watch your movie on the latest iPhone, for example, choose iPhone 4 for the best-quality settings that will work on that handset. The same goes for other devices. The Universal preset is helpful if you want a file that will work on all current Apple devices. If you’re ripping multiple items from a DVD, you’ll need to pick your settings for each file before adding it to the queue.

HandBrake allows you to see what your video will look like with particular settings before you spend lots of time encoding.

Step 4:  Tweaking the Settings

There are a few settings you might want to pay extra attention to.

Deinterlacing  Many TV shows are interlaced – that is, shot as a series of half frames of even and odd lines. This can lead to jagged video when viewed on a computer or portable device. To overcome this, HandBrake can deinterlace the disc to smooth out the video.

To do so, click the Picture Settings button. Next, click the Filters tab, and make sure that the slider between Decomb and Deinterlace is set to the right. In the drop-down menu next to Deinterlace, choose Fast (that’s often good enough to fix the problem).

Audio  Altering or removing audio tracks is a great way to reduce the size of your finished file. Click on the Audio tab and look at the audio tracks your preset has selected to include. If your Apple TV isn’t connected to a surround-sound audio system, you may want to remove a 5.1-channel audio track, for example.

Subtitles  If your movie is in a foreign language, or you have a hearing impairment and need to read closed-captioning, HandBrake’s Subtitles tab is a useful addition. There you can find whatever subtitle or captioning data comes on your DVD and decide which ones you want to include in your ripped file. Typically, subtitles must be ‘burned into’ your file, meaning that you can’t turn them on or off, whereas closed-captioning data is added as a separate text track that you can choose while watching in QuickTime, for example.

When you’re all ready, click the Start button and then leave your machine to rip the disc – depending on the length of the files and the speed of your computer, transcoding may take a while.

Step 5:  Add Metadata

While this last step is optional, adding cover art, cast, summaries, and the like will make your movies or TV shows look and act a lot more like those you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store.

There are several applications that can look up metadata online and add it to your files. Rodney Kerstetter’s free MetaX (www.kerstetter.net) is designed specifically for that purpose, but Chris Marrin’s free Video Monkey (videomonkey.sourceforge.net) and iFlicks, priced £11.99 from the App Store, are video-encoding applications that you can use to include metadata. Once you’re done, add the movie to your iTunes library and you’re all set.