Replacing beloved DVDs is a bother, and even more so if one of those discs is no longer on sale. Fortunately, a variety of applications let you create digital copies that are playable on your Mac. We gathered some of the most popular apps and tested them in the hope of finding the best performers.

NOTE: At the end of 2011 The UK Government made it legal for us to make copies for personal use of our media, but that didn't mean it was legal for people to break the DRM that makes it difficult to rip DVDs. According to the  government report: "The supply and use of equipment to circumvent technological measures is therefore illegal in UK and European law in recognition of the damage it can cause." 

The applications
We tested the following applications: the 64-bit version of HandBrake 0.9.4 (free, www.handbrake.fr); MacTheRipper 4.0 (donation requested, www.ripdifferent.com); The Little App Factory’s $20 (£12) RipIt 1.4.3 (www.thelittleappfactory.com); DVDSuki Softwares’ $10 (£6) Mac DVDRipper Pro 1.5.5 (www.macdvdripperpro.com); and iSkysoft Studio’s $39 (£25) iSkysoft DVD Ripper 1.9.8 (www.iskysoft.com). 

HandBrake and iSkysoft DVD Ripper not only strip commercial DVDs of their copy protection (HandBrake can do this only if the VLC media player is installed on your Mac), but they also convert the resulting videos to other formats – ones compatible with an iPod, iPhone, iPad or Apple TV, for example. MacTheRipper and Mac DVDRipper Pro simply create decrypted archives playable on your Mac with Apple’s DVD Player application or another one capable of playing content housed in VIDEO_TS folders. RipIt similarly creates decrypted archives, but version 1.4 introduced a beta compress feature, which allows you to also create movies at one of five settings – High Quality MP4, Apple TV, iPhone/Touch, XBox260, and PS3.

We tested the five applications with two DVDs – Disney/Pixar’s Wall.E and disc one of the first season of HBO’s Six Feet Under. We chose Wall.E because Disney uses a copy-protection scheme that makes it hard for a ripping tool (or user) to identify the main feature. The Six Feet Under disc contains multiple episodes and we wanted to see which of the applications could extract individual episodes. We conducted the tests on a quad-core 2.66GHz Mac Pro with 8GB of RAM, running Snow Leopard.

Basics and beyond
The range of capabilities of these applications is fairly broad. On the Incredibly Simple end, you find RipIt, which provides just two interface options – Rip and Compress. Mac DVDRipper Pro is similarly simple. It rips only the entire disc. It can rip a disc either as a DVD Player archive or as a .iso image file. 

MacTheRipper lets you remove region coding and can seek out a DVD’s main feature and chapters. It shows you all available features and lets you select the one you want. But it doesn’t allow you to add multiple episodes to a queue. iSkysoft DVD Ripper can’t perform a full-disc extraction that results in a VIDEO_TS folder. Rather, you must choose to extract and convert just the main feature, combine all of the DVD’s movies into a single video, or extract individual movies from the DVD. 

HandBrake is also designed to extract and convert a disc’s features and episodes rather than the entire DVD. It offers far fewer conversion presets than does the iSkysoft application. But you can tweak each preset and manipulate the quality. You can also add episodes to a queue, making it easy to rip a disc’s worth of TV shows with one click rather than ripping each episode individually.

Of the decrypting tools, RipIt has the advantage in that it’s simple to use and can rip just about any disc. Of the apps that can also convert DVD video to other formats, HandBrake is the winner. It’s free, provides more advanced options and better-looking results, even when you use its default settings. Just remember that ripping a DVD – even if it’s simply to watch on your iPad or iPhone – isn’t entirely legal.