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Best Free Windows 7 DVD Decoders: Handbrake

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 7/24/2010

A DVD decoder, also known as a decrypter, is a program that counter-acts the copy protection that is on every DVD. This is required in order to rip a DVD to your computer's hard drive so you can watch it without having the disk in. Let's take a look at how to use Handbrake, a popular free DVD decode

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    Best Free DVD Decoder

    You've bought the DVD, right? So it follows you should be able to do what you'd like with it - such as back it up to your hard drive either to save a copy of the DVD or to integrate your DVD collection with your media devices.

    Ah, if only it were so simple. Although creating a copy is generally covered under "fair use" rules, the programs that make it possible for you to create a copy stand on shaky legal grounds, because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits "circumvention measures" that can defeat copy protection - which is exactly what a DVD decrypter has to do in order to burn your DVD to your hard drive.

    That brings some bad news - the available freeware DVD decrypters for Windows are a hodge-podge of programs in various states of development. But here is the good news - there is still a competent program, called Handbrake, that operates under a general public license and (so far) has not been taken down by cease-and-desist letters.

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    Decoding and Burning DVDs with Handbrake

    Handbrake Handbrake is a fairly comprehensive program and it can be used for more than just burning DVDs. However, as is often the case with comprehensive freeware programs, the interface can be a bit of a head-scratcher when you first open it up. Let's take a look at the steps required to decrypt and burn a DVD to your hard drive.

    The first step is, of course, to place a DVD in your DVD drive. Give the drive a moment to spin up and detect the DVD. Once the DVD has been detected - you'll usually know because Autoplay begin - open Handbrake. In the upper left hand corner of the program you will see the Source menu option. When you click on it, a drop-down menu opens and your DVD drive will be one of the selections. Click on the DVD drive. Handbrake will take a moment to scan the disk.

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    Scan Complete

    DVD Decoder: Handbrake Once the scanning is completed the text "Scan Completed" will appear in the lower left hand corner of Handbrake. The title of the DVD, the length and the number of "chapters' will be displayed just under the Source label. If you wish, you can choose to only decrypt and burn selection portions of the DVD by changing the chapters that are burned. You can also edit excessive advertisements out of the DVD intro this way.

    The Destination section will let you change where you want the file to be placed on your hard drive. This is entirely up to you, although you will probably want the file to be placed in your Movies folder or some other familiar media folder.

    One step down, you will find the Output Settings section. This controls the file settings of the file the DVD will be decrypted and burned to. You can also change Using Handbrake to Decode DVDs settings by using the Presets section at the right of the window. These presets will create a file compatible with certain devices, such as iPods or iPhones.

    When you are ready to begin decrypting and burning the DVD to your hard drive click Start at the top of the window. This will begin the process. It can take quite some time depending on the abilities of your processor. Older computers may require almost two hours to complete this task.

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    Enjoy Your Decoded DVD

    Now that you DVD has been decrypted and burned to your hard drive, you can play it using your media player of choice or you can send to a media device, such as an iPhone or a home theater computer. Having a digital copy of your DVD is wonderfully useful - your real DVDs may just end up collecting dust in your closet.