Tutorial: Converting DVD Video to MP4 (Full Document)


  1. Introduction
    1. Copyrighted materials
    2. Tools used in this tutorial
    3. MP4 video
    4. Handbrake
  2. Step-by-step instructions
    1. Start the program
    2. Open the source video
    3. Select portion to be converted (optional)
    4. Choose destination and file name
    5. Select the ‘normal’ preset
    6. Add subtitles/captions (optional)
    7. Start encoding
    8. Verify output
  3. Next Steps
  4. Feedback


DVDs often include subtitles or captions—text tracks that are synchronized with the audio—that make their content more accessible to everyone. When DVDs do not include subtitles or captions, you may need to add them yourself, and the first step in that process is to convert the video to a format that can be edited. Similarly, if you want to embed a clip from the DVD in a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, you will need to convert the video.

The following illustrates the decision and production processes involved in captioning DVD video:

Figure 1

Figure 1:  Captioning video from a DVD

Does the DVD already contain captions or subtitles? If so, you may want to preserve them in the MP4 file. If not, you'll need to create them manually.

Copyrighted Materials

This tutorial has been prepared to assist in the conversion of non-commercial DVDs to a format that can be captioned.

Commercial DVDs are generally copy-protected, and copyright law prohibits the copying or converting of protected content. While instructional use of DVDs is generally permissible under the “fair use” exception of the copyright law, conversion of DVD content to another video format is not. Adding captions to copyrighted material is doubly complicated because it involves both conversion and alteration of the original work. Of course, there are no legal obstacles to captioning a video that was created by the institution or academic unit where the video will be used.

Tools used in this tutorial

  • Handbrake (version 0.9.5 at the time of this writing)
  • VLC Media Player or Windows Media Player (version 12 or later)
  • DVD

MP4 video

This tutorial will guide you through the process of converting DVD video to the MP4 video format. MP4 is recommended for many reasons:

  • MP4 video is highly compressed to save disk space, yet it preserves video quality.
  • MP4s can be played in a wide range of media players, including Windows Media Player (WMP) version 12, which was released with Windows 7. Support in WMP 12 means that MP4 videos can now be embedded in PowerPoint presentations! (Incidentally, QuickTime videos can now be embedded in PowerPoint, as well).
  • MP4s are supported by a wide range of Apple devices, like the iPad and iPhone.
  • The MP4 format supports embedded closed captions, which can be turned on or off in players such as the VLC Media Player and others (but not Windows Media Player at this time).


To convert DVD video to the MP4 format, use the free, open-source application called Handbrake. Handbrake is a video transcoder, which means it converts video from a variety of formats, including DVD, to the MP4 format. When captions and subtitles are available in the video source, Handbrake is able to preserve them in its saved output.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Follow these steps to convert DVD video to the MP4 format:

  1. Start the program

    Start Handbrake by selecting it from the Windows Start menu or by double-clicking on its desktop icon.

    Figure 2

    Figure 2:  Start Handbrake

    Handbrake converts video from a variety of formats, including DVD, to the MP4 format.

  1. Open the source video

    Open the DVD by clicking on Handbrake’s “Source” button, as shown below. The DVD name should appear after the drive letter:

    Figure 3

    Figure 3:  Select DVD from the Source menu

    Select the video source, which in this case is your DVD. The DVD name should appear after the drive letter (L:\ in the example).

  1. Select a portion of the video to be converted (optional)

    Handbrake allows you to convert only the portion of video you need; it is not necessary to convert the entire DVD.

    To paraphrase the Handbrake user guide, DVDs are typically divided into titles and chapters. Usually a title is a whole feature, like a movie or an episode, while chapters divide the movie into scenes. When you use your remote to jump from scene to scene, you are navigating the DVD by chapter.

    To determine a chapter or range of chapters, you may need to play the DVD from the beginning and count the number of chapters while skipping ahead. You can do this using either a set-top DVD player or a media player on your computer.

    For example, if you need only chapter 4 from the DVD, you would select Chapters 4 through 4 in Handbrake:

    Figure 4

    Figure 4:  Select one or more chapters for conversion

  1. Choose destination and file name

    To select a destination for the converted video, click on the Browse button. You may want to save the video to the computer desktop temporarily, or your network drive.

    Give the video a descriptive title and a file extension of .mp4:

    Figure 5

    Figure 5:  Select a destination and file type

    Note: Handbrake has an annoying habit of changing the file extension to .m4v. Hopefully, this will be fixed in a future version. For now, simply change the file type back to .mp4 before encoding the video.

  1. Select the ‘normal’ preset

    Presets are a collection of video conversion settings that yield optimal results for specific playback devices. Handbrake has a number of presets, corresponding mostly to various Apple technologies—iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. The “Normal” preset, however, is applicable to all devices; it saves the video at its original dimensions.

    Click on the Normal preset:

    Figure 6

    Figure 6:  Select the ‘Normal’ preset

    The Normal preset is a collection of size and compression settings that yield good results with most videos.

  1. Add subtitles/captions (optional)

    Handbrake can preserve subtitles and captions on the DVD. Remember that captions, which are designed with accessibility in mind, are often more descriptive than subtitles. Good captions include things like speaker identification and contextual cues related to music, song lyrics and environmental sounds. However, subtitles may be an attractive option because Handbrake can “burn” them onto the video, effectively creating “open captions”—that is, captions that are always visible. We recommend open captions for universal access (see Notes below to help you choose between subtitles and captions)

    If your DVD contains subtitles or closed captions that you wish to preserve, click on the Subtitles tab:

    Figure 7

    Figure 7:  Handbrake can preserve DVD subtitles and captions

    Select the subtitle or closed captions track from the “Track” drop-down menu. In the example above, the English language subtitle track (identified by the term “VobSub,” which is a technical term for DVD subtitles) has been selected. To preserve subtitles as open captions, select the “Burned In” checkbox, as shown in the examples above and below (also see Notes below). If the subtitle or caption track does not appear in the Track list near the bottom of the window, click the Add button:

    Figure 8

    Figure 8:  Add a subtitle track

    Handbrake allows you to view all available text tracks on the DVD, add and remove tracks, or add a subtitle track from a caption file. See Handbrake documentation for more information.


    • Captions that are always visible are known as “open captions.” By contrast, closed captions can be turned on or off at will, provided the media player supports this feature. Windows Media Player supports closed captions when playing the DVD, but not when playing MP4 videos created by Handbrake. Unfortunately, this means closed captions are not supported in videos embedded in PowerPoint. This is another reason why we recommend open captions.
    • Although captions are generally more descriptive than subtitles, Handbrake’s “burn in” feature does not work with captions. Only subtitles can be “burned in.” Thus, unless the subtitles are very descriptive, manual transcription and captioning may still be required.
  1. Start encoding

    Once the previous steps have been completed, click the “Start” button:

    Figure 9

    Figure 9:  Start encoding

    Progress will be indicated along the bottom of the program window:

    Figure 10

    Figure 10:  Handbrake Save progress indicator

    Note: The program does not make a sound to indicate when conversion is complete. Also, there may be a few moments at the end of conversion when the status bar shows 100%, but the file is not completely saved. To know when the work is truly complete, look for these indicators:

    • The “Stop” button will change back to “Start” when conversion is complete:
      Figure 11

      Figure 11:  Indicator of completion: the Stop button changes back to Start

    • The status bar will display “encoding finished”:
      Figure 12

      Figure 12:  Encoding Finished indicator

  1. Verify Output

    Once Handbrake has finished saving the video, you’ll want to verify that it contains all of the desired content, along with any subtitles or captions that were selected. If you saved subtitles with the “burned in” option (open captions), or you chose not to save subtitles or captions, you should be able to open the saved video in any media player. If you elected to preserve closed captions or subtitles without the “burned in” option, you will need to use the VLC Media Player to test the video:

    • Locate the saved video and open it in the VLC Media Player.
    • During video playback, choose Video > Subtitles Track, then select the desired track. For example:
      Figure 13

      Figure 13:  View subtitle tracks in the VLC Player

      To view alternative text tracks in the VLC Player, choose Subtitles Tracks from the Video menu, and select the desired track.

Next Steps

If the video you just saved has open captions: congratulations, you’re done!

If, however, the video contains closed captions, you’ll need a media player like the VLC Player to show the captions during playback.

If the video is not captioned, you’re now ready to move on to Camtasia Studio, where you will combine the video you just saved with a transcript, synchronize the transcript text with the video, and save a new captioned video (See Adding Captions in Camtasia Studio).

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Converting DVD Video to MP4
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