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Issue #704: January 17-23, 2021

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Q: I have old DVDs containing videos I took over the years of my daughter and grandchildren. I want to save them on my iMac hard drive to a) preserve them and b) enable viewing on my TV. via my Apple TV device. Currently, I have my Apple TV set up so that I can view all of my photos, saved & uploaded iPhone videos and music on my TV.  I Googled my question and followed the instructions to use Disk Utilities to create a non-encrypted DVD Master file on my desktop. However, it is a .cdr file and I cannot copy/drag it into Photos or iTunes and, therefore, cannot play it on Apple TV. Can you help? Thank you in advance.

– Nancy B.
Destin, Florida

A:  I think that this question is far more complex than it appears.  For example, you say that these old DVDs contain videos that were originally taken by you.  How did they get onto the DVDs in the first place?  Do you have copies of the original media, before they were burned to DVD?  If so, you should be working with the originals, rather than trying to get the ones off of the DVD.  Maybe these DVDs came from one of those services that digitize old tapes and movies?  Regardless, let’s just say that what you’re trying to do now is a good lesson in why one should never get rid of the master copies of any media.

You also said that one of your goals is to preserve the content.  If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you might remember me saying that hard drives are not a reliable medium for archival storage.  Every hard drive ever manufactured will eventually fail in one way or another.  Whether the contents of the drive can be recovered at that point, and the cost of doing so, is anybody’s guess.  What you might not realize is that typically (and I can’t emphasize that word enough) DVDs actually last far longer than hard drives.  A spinning magnetic drive has an expected lifespan of under 10 years, where properly cared-for DVDs can last 30 to as much as 100 years.  Regardless, as I’ve stated in the past, the storage medium has yet to be invented that is completely reliable over time.  The best you can do is create redundant backups, and replace that media over time.

DVDs are a complex storage medium.  Unlike most mass storage, which includes writable DVDs, a classic DVD is meant to be played in a DVD player rather than accessed for its data files.  The videos contained on a DVD are encoded in ways that software and other equipment – such as your Apple TV – cannot play them, even though their whole purpose in life is to play video files.  To further complicate matters, there may or may not be copy protection encoded on your DVD which would make what you’re trying to do even more difficult, if not impossible.

The process of freeing the video content from a DVD is called ripping.  The method you used was not ripping in the classic sense.  It basically made a copy of the DVD on your hard drive, resulting in the .cdr file that seems to be giving you trouble.  I’m well-known to not be a Mac user, but the reading I’ve done on this subject suggests you might try a few different free tools that might provide better results.  One such option is called Cisdem Video Converter, which claims it can rip DVDs into many common formats (such as the ubiquitous .mp4) which can then be added to your iTunes library.  You can read-up on this option at TinyURL.com/IGTM-0704 or do further research of your own by Googling “Rip DVD on Mac”.

Having said all that, let me add that everything that I read says that you should indeed be able to manipulate .cdr files with iTunes, and hence, with ApplePlay.  Perhaps, rather than try to drag them into the software you need to use iTunes to open or play them?  But if I were you, at this point I wouldn’t even bother with those files.  My advice is to start from scratch, and use a tool that’s designed to actually rip the DVD – that is, unlock and convert the playable DVD format into actual, manipulable video files.  And once you get this working, don’t forget to protect your precious content with a good back-up scheme.

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