Although it’s relatively straightforward to use HandBrake to convert a specific video file, I’ve found that there are further complications when it comes to dealing with a complete DVD. Very few of my DVDs have 1 single file; and many of them have 10 or more – some as many as 25+. A decision has to be made for each file as to whether or not to convert it. Unfortunately, each file is only identified by a number, though HandBrake does also provide 10 snapshot stills across each one together with its playing time. To identify what a file contains, you have to match this set of clues with the information provided on the DVD box and the DVD itself.
The ’Billy Elliot’ DVD provides a simple illustration of the elements of this challenge: the files were numbered 1 – 6 but HandBrake was only able to read 4 of them – files 4 and 5 were missing from HandBrake’s list. The file with the longest playing time – 1:45:49 – was obviously the film itself. From the HandBrake stills, I was able to see that the 2-minute file was probably a cinema trailer and the 14 second file was the Universal moving logo at the beginning of the film. The DVD box advertised the following Bonus Features: Breaking Free Featurette, Theatrical Trailer, Cast & Film Biographies, Interactual (whatever that means), and Production Notes. Since the remaining file read by Handbrake had a playing length of 00:21:36 I deduced that it was likely to be the featurette, and, sure enough, when I did the conversion, that’s what it turned out to be.
The Billy Elliot example was relatively simple. ‘Love Actually’, with 28 files being read by HandBrake was more difficult; and the Special Edition of ‘Titanic’ was like a Sherlock Holmes mystery with two Discs each containing 43 files (of which HandBrake read 41 and 38 respectively) and a DVD box specifying additional material including various commentaries, a spectacular alternative ending, and branching footage while watching the film. Of course, menus are the key navigation aids to all this material when you are watching using a DVD player; but HandBrake doesn’t pick up the menus. So, even if you converted all the files, you would still not be able to recreate the experience offered by playing the DVD. That just seems to be the hard-stop limitation of using a converter program like HandBrake. Of course, the full functionality of the DVD could be recreated if you were prepared to hand-craft code and integrate all the elements together. However, I’m certainly not prepared – or able – to do that.
There’s another factor to be take into account when deciding what files to convert: how much of this extra material is going to be looked at? I’m pretty sure I have never viewed all the extra material provided on each of the DVDs I’ve watched; and often I’ve never watched any of it. That might be a good indicator of whether I’ll ever want to view it in the future.
Given the complications of multiple unidentified files, and my lack of general interest in ‘bonus features’, I soon decided that I was only going to convert extra material if it was properly assembled and of particular interest. So, for example, for ‘Love Actually’ I converted an extra 37-minute piece of Richard Curtis introducing bits cut out of the film; and for ‘Cabaret’ I also converted the 1972 documentary ‘The re-creation of an era’, and the 1997 documentary ‘Cabaret – a Legend in the Making’. However, for the films ‘The Holiday’, and ‘The Full Monty’, I didn’t convert anything else.