Saved here for my own reference, and possibly others’ if they should stumble across it: the easiest workflow I’ve found yet for converting DVDs or Blu-Rays for personal use on macOS, including conversion of subtitles from either Closed Captions, VobSub (DVD), or PGS (Blu-Ray) format to text-based .srt files suitable for use as soft subtitles, either as a sidecar file or included in the final movie file. (Updated from my original 2015 post to account for software and process changes).

Rip the System Disk

DVD Subtitle Workflow 1

Use MakeMKV to rip the DVD or BluRay disc to .mkv files.

Since I’m archiving special features as well as the main program, I simply rip every title on the disk longer than 30 seconds, and then trash any that I don’t need (such as menus, studio promos, etc.). I do check to make sure that all English-language audio or subtitle tracks are selected; usually they are by default, but I’ve seen rare situations where they need to be manually checked.

Once all the .mkv files have been created, I go through and rename each one to be something more descriptive than title_t03.mkv.

Extract the Subtitles

DVD Subtitle Workflow 2

For each .mkv file, use Subler to extract the subtitles. This takes two passes through Subler to complete.

  1. First, drag the .mkv file onto Subler, and deselect everything but the subtitle track(s) that you want to convert.

    Subler Import

    Subler’s “Info” column will describe the subtitles as either VobSub, PGS, or Text. I used to convert them all so that I could choose which gave me the best results; now, I’ll ignore VobSub/PGS if Text is available (but it’s less common).

    VobSub or PGS: These are the most common subtitle types. They’re actually a series of image files (.png, I think) with attached timing information that media players layer over the video stream. The advantage is that font, color, size, placement, and even fancier graphics (sometimes used for “pop up trivia” style tracks) are all at the creator’s discretion; the disadvantage is that because they’re image files, the text has to be extracted through an OCR (optical character recognition) process that frequently leads to typos and garbage characters.

    Text: These are Closed Caption files. I’m not sure how they’re stored on the physical disks, but current versions of MakeMKV convert them to text during the process of ripping to .mkv. I’ve generally found these to have far fewer typos and oddities than OCR’d VobSub or PGS subtitles. However, it’s often a toss-up as to whether the captions are presented using standard captalization or in ALL CAPITALS, and they use varying numbers of space characters to manually place text centered or off-centered. Depending on how picky you are about the output, these factors can affect how much post-processing is needed.

    After choosing the subtitle tracks and clicking “Add” to create a new Subler document, you can either save the Subler document (fine if you’re only doing a single file) or use File > Send to Queue to create a batch queue (best if you’re converting multiple files). When the file is saved or the queue is run and all queued files are saved, Subler will either extract the Closed Caption text or OCR the subtitle images and output a small .mp4 file.

  2. Second run; drag the new .mp4 file back onto Subler, click on the subtitle track(s), and choose File > Export… to save the .srt file(s). The tiny .mp4 file can then be deleted.

    Subler Export

Correct the Subtitles

DVD Subtitle Workflow 3

As noted above, the exported .srt file(s) are virtually guaranteed to have some oddities; how many and how intrusive they are depends on the source. Caption files are often in ALL CAPS and have weird spacing used to force the text to a desired on-screen position. Subtitle files will contain OCR errors, but BluRay (PGS) subs seem to come out better than DVD (VobSub) subs (likely due to the higher resolution of the format giving better quality text for the OCR process to scan). Accuracy is also affected by the chosen font and whether or not italics were used.

For correction, I use a couple methods.

  1. For a quick-and-dirty “good enough most of the time” run, I use BBEdit (but just about any other text editor would work) to do a quick spellcheck, identifying common errors and using search-and-replace to fix them in batches.

    I’ve actually set up a few scripts to automate the most common search-and-replace steps to help with this process.

  2. For a real quality fix–or if I have the time to create subtitles from scratch for a file that doesn’t have any–I use Subtitle Edit Pro to go through line-by-line, comparing the text to the original audio, adding italics when appropriate, and so on. (I used to recommend Aegisub, but that project appears to have been abandoned a few years back. There doesn’t seem to be a big market for subtitle editing on macOS; Subtitle Edit Pro is the best option I’ve found since Aegisub stopped working consistently.)

Of course, these two processes can be combined, done at different times, or skipped entirely; if I don’t have time or energy to do the error correction, I can always go back and use Subler to extract the .srt files for cleanup later.

Embed the Subtitles

DVD Subtitle Workflow 4

Use HandBrake to re-encode and convert the .mkv file (which at this point will be fairly large, straight off the source media) to a smaller .m4v file. Include the subtitle file by choosing Tracks > Add External Subtitles Track… in HandBrake’s Subtitles tab.

Handbrake Subtitles

Or, if you’re already working with an .m4v file, you can use Subler to add .srt files to into the .m4v: Drag the .m4v file from HandBrake on to Subler, drag the .srt file(s) into the window that opens, and then save the file.

Finito!

And that’s it. Now, you should have a .m4v file with embedded text-based soft subtitles.

TWOK Subtitles Example

You can also just store the .srt file(s) in the same directory and with the same name as the .m4v file for apps that don’t read embedded .srt files but will read sidecar files.

NOTE: This post should be considered deprecated in favor of this update for 2021. I’m leaving this here, but the new post is the preferred version.


Saved here for my own reference, and possibly others’ if they should stumble across it: the easiest workflow I’ve found yet for converting DVDs or Blu-Rays (if you have a Blu-Ray reader, of course) for personal use on OS X, including OCR conversion of subtitles in either VOBSUB (DVD) or PGS (Blu-Ray) format to text-based .srt files suitable for use as soft subtitles, either as a sidecar file or included in the final movie file.

Movie Rip Workflow

The flow diagram to the right gives an overview of the process I’ve landed on. Here’s a slightly more detailed breakdown.

  1. Use MakeMKV to rip the DVD or BluRay disc to an .mkv file (if I run into a stubborn DVD, or one with a lot of multiplexing, I’ll use RipIt to create a disk image first, then run that image through MakeMKV). To save space, you can select only the primary audio track for inclusion, or you can select others if you want other languages or commentary tracks archived as well (though this will require more storage space). I also select all available English-language subtitle tracks, as some discs will include both standard subtitles and subtitles for the hearing impaired or closed captions, which include some extra information on who is speaking and background sounds, or occasionally even transcriptions of commentary tracks.
  2. Use Subler to OCR and export the subtitle files. This takes two runs through Subler to complete.
    1. First run; drag the .mkv file onto Subler, and only select the subtitle track(s). Pop that into the export queue, and after a few minutes of processing (this is when the OCR process happens) Subler will output a tiny .m4v file.
    2. Second run; drag that file back onto Subler, click on the subtitle track, and choose File > Export… to save the .srt file(s). The tiny .m4v file can then be deleted.

    Now, the OCR process is not perfect, and the resulting .srt file(s) are virtually guaranteed to have some errors. How many and how intrusive they are depends on the source. BluRay subs seem to come out better than DVD subs (likely due to the higher resolution of the format giving better quality text for the OCR process to scan), DVD subs are also affected by the chosen font and whether or not italics were used. For correction, I use one of two methods.

    1. For a quick-and-dirty “good enough for now” run, I use BBEdit (but just about any other text editor would work) to do a quick spellcheck, identifying common errors and using search-and-replace to fix them in batches.
    2. For a real quality fix, I use Aegisub to go through line-by-line, comparing the text to the original audio, adding italics when appropriate, and so on.

    Of course, these two processes can be combined, done at different times, or skipped entirely; right now, I’m just living with the OCR errors, because I can always go back and use Subler to extract the .srt files for cleanup later on when I have more time.

  3. Use HandBrake to re-encode and convert the .mkv file (which at this point will be fairly large, straight off the source media) to a smaller .m4v file. You can either embed the .srt files at this point, under HandBrake’s ‘Subtitles’ tab, or if you prefer…
  4. …you can use Subler to .srt files into into the .m4v: Drag the .m4v file from HandBrake on to Subler, drag the .srt file(s) into the window that opens, and then drop that into the queue for final remuxing (optionally, before adding the files to the queue, use Subler’s metadata search tools to add the description, artwork, and other metadata). Then run the queue to output the final file.

And that’s it. Now, you should have a .m4v file with embedded text-based soft subtitles for programs that support that (VLC, Plex, etc.), or you can just use the .srt file(s) created by Subler earlier as a sidecar file for programs that don’t read the embedded .srt.

For Christmas this year, Prairie and I have decided to treat ourselves and upgrade our TV set from the one I bought when I moved to Seattle seven and a half years ago (!!!!!). It’s a nice enough TV (a Sony Wega 27-inch), but it’s huge, heavy, and while still in good shape, it’s old tech. The original plan was to wait until it died, but between Sony’s generally good longevity (my parents had a little Sony 13″ TV that went for almost thirty years) and my geeky techno-lust, Prairie surprised me by suggesting that we go ahead and upgrade to the new hotness.

So, the hunt is in progress. At this point, I’m pretty much decided on a 32″ Samsung, most likely either the LN32A550 or the LN32A650, depending on where prices land in the weeks between Black Friday and Christmas.

Of course, with the jump to an HDTV comes the jump to HD programming. Day-to-day entertainment will come courtesy of Comcast — we’re already getting our cable through them, so we’ll just upgrade that to the minimum possible digital/HD package. For movies, though, we’re doing a bit of back-and-forth (though, to be honest, Prairie’s on the “back” — that is, staying with what we have — while I’m on the “forth” side of the discussion).

My movie-loving, technology-geeking little heart tends to go all a-pitter-pat at upgrading to Blu-Ray. I jumped onto the DVD bandwagon as soon as it dropped into the realm of affordability, loved the jump in video and audio quality from my old VHS tapes, and have been looking forward to the next step forward.

Prairie, however, doesn’t really see what all the fuss is about, and her approach is one that I’m having an amusingly tough time arguing against: if we can see the show and enjoy the story, than what’s the big deal? She never saw a big difference between VHS and DVD, doesn’t really care about surround sound (a moot point at the moment, as living in an apartment building means that standard stereo at reasonable levels is far more realistic than full surround and gut-thumping subwoofers — something we really wish our neighbors would realize…), and just doesn’t see the point in adding another piece of electronics and another remote to the stack we have to keep track of already.

I’ve gotta admit, it’s hard to really say, “But…it’s better!” without realizing just how foolish that sounds.

Not that I don’t try. I’d have my geek card revoked if I didn’t at least try.

(And on a not-unrelated-at-all side note, I think it works wonderfully that our respective geek levels generally balance out into reasonable end results. I don’t know how couples made of dual übergeeks can manage!)

In any case, I think part of the conversation is simply the fact that we don’t really know how much of a change we’re going to see when we upgrade. Sure, I’ve looked at all the numbers and can see the mathmatical difference between SD 640×480 and FullHD 1920×1080, I’ve done simple little experiments looking at resolution increases, and I’ve been working with digital photography long enough that I can get a feel for the difference betweeen a .3 megapixel image and a 2 megapixel image (the approximate difference between SD and FullHD). But running numbers and reading webpages is no substitute for actually seeing what happens when we plug it all together.

So I tried a little experiment today, and tossed out two questions on Twitter…

You who’ve moved from “old school” TV to a new HDTV (pref. w/some form of HD feed): is it really that big of a difference? Turned up to 11?

Same question, part 2: Along the same lines, how about the DVD to Blu-Ray transition? Again, is it that much visibly better?

…and got the following responses:

  • axsdeny: DVD to Blu-Ray: yes. If you have even a 720p TV you can tell the difference. It’s beautiful.
  • lyracole: i don’t notice the difference between my standard and hd, but sir does. also, fuck blu-ray.
  • stoppableforce: w/r/t the difference between SDTV and HDTV: YES. YES. DEAR GOD YES. The difference in clarity is A-FUCKIN’-MAZING.
  • stoppableforce: w/r/t the DVD-to-Blu-Ray thing: Not so much. We’ve got both, Blu-Ray looks slightly better, not enough to make me buy a PS3 yet.
  • mellzah: I hate to admit it, but blu-ray looks great. DVDs don’t look sharp on my TV– non-HD projection 50ish inch–but Blu-Ray movies do!
  • skyler: Huge difference. I attribute most of it to HDMI, actually. Clearer interference free signal. Xbox 360 + 1080p is great w/DVDs.
  • antifuse: short answer? Yes. Longer answer? Depends what you watch. Plain DVDs upscaled by Blu ray look fab, and many shows look great too.
  • wnalyd: Finally answering your HDTV question: Heck yeah there’s a difference bwtn HD + SD. Turned up to 17. Wouldn’t go back.

So the final consensus (admittedly, since I used Twitter, drawing from a very weighted sample of at least somewhat geeky-type people), while not clear-cut across the board, seems to be that yes, there is a difference, ranging from “better” to “A-FUCKIN’-MAZING”. We’ll just have to wait and see where we fall along that spectrum with the equipment we have (we’ll have the HDTV and HD cable from Comcast for the pretty pretty pixels, and a non-upconverting DVD/VHS combo deck for movies), and maybe see if I can find anyone with a Blu-Ray player for us to borrow for a night to help us decide if we want to add that piece, too (of course, if the Blu-Ray players don’t drop into affordability, that’ll make the whole point moot as well).

Did I miss anything?

Today marked the release day for one of my personal most-anticipated discs — the Star Trek: The Motion Picture — The Director’s Edition. I picked it up at lunch, then made it through the rest of the day until I could get home and watch it.

Part of the reason I’d been awaiting this release of the first film in the Star Trek series is that for the first time, we are being shown the completed film. Usually when a film is being made, the director assembles a rough cut which is shown to test audiences. Their reactions, coupled with anything the director might notice as he watches the rough cut, serve to guide the director and editor in assembling the final cut of the film. Unfortunately, the schedule for ST:TMP was so tight that that crucial final step was never taken — the film had to be done by a certain date, and so the final edit was never performed. Also due to time and budget constraints of the time, many of the special effects sequences had not been completed. Essentially, what we’ve seen for the past 22 years has been no more than a rough cut that director Robert Wise was not happy with, but it was all there was time for.

In 1998, Robert Wise was approached by Paramount to see if he was interested in finally revisiting and finishing the film. After some initial trepidation he agreed, and after months of curiosity and speculation, the final result is finally available on DVD. Not just a new edit of the film, a team of restoration artists and CGI artists have worked with the director to carefully enhance some effect sequences, complete others, and create an entirely new 5.1 sound mix utilizing the original source elements from the film.

The end result is, quite simply, incredible. While the new cut incorporates new effects sequences and some scenes that had previously been inserted for the television version, Mr. Wise has also taken out some scenes and tightened others to create a new version that is just slightly longer than the original, but has a much more finished feel to it. The effects shots are doubly impressive, in part because they’re so seamlessly integrated into the body of the film, that I didn’t even notice many of them until they were pointed out in a documentary! The artists working on the new effects sequences worked very hard to match the style of the original effects, only creating sequences that could have been created in 1979 had there been time, and even working from the original storyboards rather than dreaming up ideas that might be ‘cool’, but not true to the original vision. Suffice to say, I was not merely impressed by this new version of a film I’ve been watching for years, but flat-out floored. I’ve never harbored the disdain for this film that many other fans have, but it’s always been obvious that it had some serious problems. Now, however, it has finally been completed, and we can leave the dubious honor of being the worst of the series to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

In addition to the outstanding work done on the film itself, Paramount has finally released a true Special Edition DVD, rather than the movie-only editions for the rest of the series. The movie disc contains two feature-length commentaries. The first is an audio commentary with director Robert Wise and others, and the second is a text commentary (presented in the form of yellow subtitles) written by Michael Okuda, long-time graphic artist for the series and Trek-tech geek extraordinaire. Both commentaries are packed with information, but the text commentary is my personal favorite. You need to be a bit quick to read some of it, but there’s a great sense of humor permeating the track that makes it a lot of fun (my personal favorite bit — as Kirk is explaining to Scotty that there is something approaching Earth and the Enterprise is the only ship within reach, the commentary pops up with, “This seems to happen a lot — it almost makes one wonder if the other ships stay away when the Enterprise is in town, in case something happens!”).

The second disc contains three documentaries ranging from about 15 minutes to about half an hour. The first covers the road from the initial concept for the series ‘Star Trek — Phase II’ that was to be the flagship show for a Paramount based TV network (years before UPN appeared) to the beginning of production on ST:TMP. The second covers the production of the film, and the third explores the work done to create the new Director’s Edition. It’s a bit of a bummer that little time is given to the problems that led to the unfinished film being released and the subsequent reactions, but the three documentaries still cover a lot of ground, and are well worth watching. All of the theater and television trailers are included on the disc, as well as a huge collection of deleted scenes (documenting scenes deleted from the original cut, scenes that were included in the television cut, and one section that collects all the pieces that were trimmed in the making of the new cut).

All in all, an absolutely incredible set, and one that does the die hard Trek geek in me proud.