How to Back Up your DVDs

You want to get rid of all those DVDs and plastic cases to free up space. But how do you save your DVD collection to your computer? Tech Talker to the rescue!

Eric Escobar
4-minute read
Episode #26

How to Back Up your DVDs

In my past few episodes, I talked about backing up your analog videos to your computer. Listener Chad wrote in asking how he could backup his DVD movie collection to his computer. This is a great question Chad, because now that people are consuming media on their smartphones, iPods, tablets, and a zillion other places, it only makes sense that the movies you purchased should be available wherever you want to watch them!

Media companies are moving to a sort of “buy once, play anywhere” approach called Ultraviolet. This basically gives you a digital copy of a movie when you buy a physical copy. I think this is a great idea, but it’s just not very widespread, and may not make it as an industry standard in the years to come. With this in mind, I’m going to tell you how you can easily back up your DVDs to a computer-friendly format.

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Why Should You Back Up Your DVDs?

First though, let’s talk about why you’d want to do this. One reason I found is if you have young children in your household, they tend to be very rough on your collection of assorted Pixar movies. The kids often insist on setting up and playing the movies on their own, which leads to the disks becoming scratched beyond repair after a very short time. This leads to the family repurchasing the same movie, and sometimes even several copies!

Besides being wasteful, this can get expensive, so my solution for this problem is a simple program called HandBrake. This program is free, and works for just about every operating system you can imagine. You just pop the DVD into your computer, select the format and hit “convert.” The other great thing about HandBrake is that it also works with custom DVDs that many camcorders record to. Just remember: if you are going to do this on your entire DVD collection, I would strongly suggest checking out my episode on storing large amounts of data. It will help you make this process smoother and faster.

The only downside to HandBrake is that it only captures the main movie from the DVD. This may be fine for most people, but there are others out there I’m sure who want to preserve your DVD’s special features and director commentary, as well as the DVD menus. For you, I suggest a free program called DVDShrink. This program is not nearly as versatile as Handbrake, but it will get the job done. If you want more options for preserving menus, then I recommend AnyDVD and CloneDVD. These two programs aren’t free, but they are definitely worth the money. They combine a ton of HandBrake’s features and allow you many of the options that DVDShrink lacks.

Quick and Dirty Tip: Many of these paid DVD storage programs offer you a 30-day free trial. So if you want to save money, simply store all of your DVDs before the trial ends and then cancel the subscription.

How to Rescue Damaged DVDs

Let’s say Junior already got his hands on a bunch of your DVDs and they now have a ton of scratches. Don’t worry, all is not lost! I have a few secret methods that I use to restore my DVDs. All you need is a few common household products. The Domestic CEO would be proud!

The first and most favorite of these techniques is toothpaste. I know this may sound crazy, but trust me it’s worked on many of my personal DVDs! All you do is put a dab of toothpaste on your DVD or CD and then spread the toothpaste around gently in small circles with a soft, moist tissue or napkin. Make sure to cover the areas that are most scratched on the disk. Then, using another very soft, clean napkin or tissue, wipe the toothpaste off completely. I’ve tried a lot of different things to rescue my scratched DVDs, with varying degrees of success, but toothpaste is by far the best. Why? Tough to say. I’ve heard that microscopic particles in the toothpaste fill in the parts of the scratches that allow the laser to pass over the damaged area. I have no evidence to back this up, aside from the fact that it works. Not to mention that it’s cheap and everyone has access to toothpaste!

If the toothpaste trick doesn’t work for you, you can also try petroleum jelly, car wax, or car polish. If your disks aren’t badly scratched but you’ve never cleaned them before, run a soft cloth over them to remove very light scratches and fingerprints that occur with normal use. This can make a world of difference when the time comes to watch your movie!

Here are your 3 Quick and Dirty Tips to backing up and maintaining your DVD collection:

  1. If you are having trouble playing a DVD or CD, try using toothpaste to get rid of the scratches.

  2. If you want just the main event from your DVDs, use HandBrake to store them all in your computer’s library.

  3. If you want the menus and special features preserved in your back-up, use DVDShrink or AnyDVD.

If you think I missed something while covering this topic or want to talk about your experiences with storing DVDs, then head on over to the Tech Talker Facebook page! Or send me an email at techtalker@quickanddirtytips.com.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

DVDs image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.