You should back up your Blu-rays and DVDs before they break

This free program will help you move data from discs to a safe place.
A person putting a DVD or Blu-ray disc into a black laptop, potentially to back it up.
Time's running out to back up your collection. racorn / Depositphotos

Entropy is, sadly, our reality. Everything eventually breaks down; everything eventually stops working. That includes your Blu-ray and DVD collection.

Sure, in a well-maintained archive, a Blu-ray is a great long-term option, but your shelves (or worse, haphazardly packed box) aren’t a well-maintained archive, sorry. Whether by natural disaster, kids finding and deciding to play with your discs, or just good old-fashioned wear-and-tear, all of your Blu-rays will stop working someday. Back them up now before they do.

If nothing else, take some time to save any home videos you only have on Blu-ray or DVD—a wedding recording, say, or anything else you wouldn’t be able to replace. But even things you can replace, like movies, are frustrating to buy again just because a disk got scratched. This is why I like to back up my discs to a computer hard drive—so I have a redundant copy.

To back up a Blu-ray or DVD, you will need a Blu-ray drive for your computer and enough hard drive space to store your collection.

Just a reminder: ripping TV shows or movies from protected discs may be a copyright violation, depending on where you live, and it’s almost certainly not legal if you intend to share the files with others.

How to rip Blu-ray to video files

The MakeMKV beta interface.
MakeMKV can help you rip DVDs and Blu-rays onto a hard drive. Justin Pot

The simplest tool for copying Blu-rays is MakeMKV, which is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. It’s relatively simple to use, and it’s free. OK, it’s only free while it’s in beta, but it’s been in beta for over a decade and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change anytime soon. The company posts working license keys on the forum every month. Just copy this code, click Help, hit Register, and paste the code to register the application. Keep that link handy: the beta codes expire every couple of months.

With MakeMKV open, insert your DVD or Blu-ray and click the big button that looks like a disc drive. The program will scan the disc and give you a list of video files. Check the boxes next to the videos you want to rip. You sadly can’t preview the files, but you can see how long they are—this should help you determine which video is which. For a movie, the longest video will generally be the feature presentation, while shorter ones tend to be special features. For discs containing TV shows, the episodes will generally be in order. This can all vary, though, so be sure to check your videos afterward just to make sure.

[Related: How to back up and protect all your precious data]

Note that you can select which audio tracks you want to rip—commentary tracks, for example, or dubbed audio for other languages. By default, the program grabs all of them, but you can uncheck any track you don’t want.

Finally, pick a folder where you’d like your ripped files to end up. After everything looks right, click the large MakeMKV button. Note that, in some cases, a disc that plays fine may fail to rip—this is fairly standard. A Blu-ray or DVD player simply skips over dirt or scratches; ripping software can’t do that for various reasons. If this happens, clean the disc with a microfiber cloth and try again—in most cases that should work.

A note on UHD (4K) Blu-rays

For DVDs and most Blu-rays, the above is all you need to know. For newer, ultra-HD Blu-rays, however, things get more complicated because of the copy protection. To oversimplify, only certain drives will work for actually ripping the files, and you may need to install custom firmware. You can find a list of supported drives on the MakeMKV forum. The post also includes instructions for flashing your drive (replacing its firmware), if necessary.

How to play MKV files

MakeMKV, as its name suggests, turns ripped video files into MKV files. The simplest way to play this format is to install VLC, a free media player that runs on every major operating system. You can also stream your MKV files from anywhere using Plex or Jellyfin.

If there’s a particular player you prefer, however, and it doesn’t support MKV files, you can always convert your files from MKV to another video format using Handbrake, which has the added benefit of producing smaller files. Just point the application to your MKV files, decide which format you’d like to convert them to, and let Handbrake do the work.