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A quick DVD to VOB to MKV conversion guide

I won’t write a detailed guide because the process, although a bit tedious, is quite straightforward. If you’re new to this it may be not that trivial, but if you know the following concepts, it should be okay: a complete video file is made up of a container (such as AVI, MP4, MKV, VOB…), which encapsulates a least a video track (such as DivX, XviD, H.264…) and an audio track (such as AAC, AC3, MP3, Vorbis…). It can also encapsulate extra audio/video tracks, subtitles, chapters, and maybe other things that I forgot. To convert a DVD you need to think about each of those tracks (which one do you want to convert), and process them.

So, back to the guide.

1) DVD to VOB-on-your-hard-drive

The first step is to extra the VOB files, i.e. bypass the copy protection. Note that although it’s legal in some countries where making a private backup copy is a right, it’s also illegal in some countries where bypassing copy protection systems is illegal. So check your local laws before doing this step.
Basically, you can pick any tool on this list. My personal favorite if DVDFab HD Decrypter, because it can deal with pretty much every protection. The decrypter is freeware, but if you’re willing to pay they also provide a simple all-in-one DVD to MKV (or pretty much any video format) ripping solution (link).

2) VOB to uncompressed MKV

I added this extra step because unfortunately my favorite compression tool (Avidemux, see next step) doesn’t know how to open VOB files. So I use Handbrake, which is open source, to convert the VOB to an MKV file with lossless x264. To obtain lossless x264, in the Video tab set the Constant Quality to RF:0. Don’t forget to also configure the audio tracks. To avoid losing quality you can either use a passthru (=copy the original track without any processing) if appropriate, or you can compress straight to what you want (then in Avidemux you won’t process the audio track), or finally (that’s the solution I picked) you can also compress to AAC with the highest bitrate (320 kbps). Beware that the uncompressed file will be quite huge: for my 720×576 test video during 20 minutes, the size is over 5 GiB.
Note that if you want to save time and don’t mind the lack of x264 parameters (and if you don’t need to remove portions of the video or to combine several VOBs, which is actually rarely the case), you can use Handbrake to obtain your final, compressed MKV.

3) Uncompressed MKV to compressed MKV

For this I use Avidemux. Again quite simple: just load your uncompressed MKV(s), remove unwanted portions, etc, configure the video compression (NB: x264 is the same as MPEG-4 AVC) and the audio compression (unless you compressed it already with Handbrake) and you’re good to go. As a bonus, here are my x264 settings, which are what I think is a good size/quality tradeoff for a 720×576 video. As of Avidemux 2.5.x, this file goes into %appdata%/avidemux/x264. From the look of the 2.6 nightlies, in the next version those files will unfortunately have a completely different format :/ Note that those settings are very CPU-demanding, as I consider encoding time not to be a concern compared to getting the best possible quality/size ratio.

4) (optional) tweaking the MKV

Avidemux has a very (imo) annoying feature: it sets the video title to “Avidemux”! When opening the video in VLC, which displays the video title in a large font over the first few seconds, I find this a real nuisance. So I like to post-process my MKVs with mkvmerge, which is part of mkvtoolnix. The video title is in the “Global” tab (Global options => File/segment title). If you just want to remove the title, you can simply use the header editor (file=>header editor, or CTRL+E) to avoid remuxing. Otherwise, you may want to use the occasion to add chapters (can be useful to skip the opening credits, for instance) and optionally to resize the video if for some reason the pixel aspect ratio in the original video wasn’t 1:1: this tends to get lost in the conversion, but is easily modified in mkvmerge: select the video track in the “Input” tab, then go to “Format specific options” and either set the aspect ratio or the width and height (no recompression needed, all is done via the MKV container). You could also specify track languages, and so on. On the audio track, you might want to set Cues to “in all frames” in the extra options. This will cost a few extra kilobytes, but should give you a better audio-video sync. When you’re done just hit “Start muxing”. It’s very fast – about just as fast as your hard drive can go.
Important thing to note: as of mkvmerge 4.9.1, processing with mkvmerge an MKV which is itself an output of mkvmerge will most likely result in a bogus MKV. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is: I tried this a few times, and every time the MKV which had been processed twice by mkvmerge had, at some random point, a defect (in VLC it caused the player to end the video when hitting the defect, in Media Player Classic Home Cinema it caused the player to skip around 1-2 minutes of video just after the defect). I’m pretty confident that this bug comes from an issue with the way mkvmerge *reads* MKV, because otherwise I don’t see why the first output wouldn’t be bogus too, yet I can’t be sure. If I manage to stop being lazy, I’ll try to do mkvermege => Avidemux => mkmerge to see how it goes…

Posted in multimedia.

2 Responses

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  1. bestautumnn says

    Avdshare VideoGo is just the right MKV Compressor tool which helps to compress MKV file size with almost no loss of video and audio quality. It can shrink MKV video with either the method one or the method two.You find it at

    • patheticcockroach says

      Actually, handbrake kept getting better and better, it now has very decent x265 support and so is really good now to convert VOB to MKV, or also to shrink high quality, high resolution MKV into smaller ones (beware the inevitable loss of quality every time you recompress, though)

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