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Thanks to the recent inclusion of USB ports and computer-to-TV data streaming in modern devices, I’ve discovered it’s a whole lot easier to store every video I’ve ever recorded on a couple hard drives instead of on hundreds and hundreds of DVD-Rs. It’s just more convenient to have it all accessible via one menu screen, and it saves a lot of space. (Also, people are less likely to think you’re crazy if your video archive collection consists of two or three black boxes instead of room-filling shelves and shelves of Sharpie-labeled material). So, this summer, I’ve been undergoing the massive task of transferring every DVD-R I have into the commonly accepted MPEG file format.

If progress continues marching forward, sooner or later you’ll have to do this as well. And when you do, it’s inevitable that you’ll run across this problem: you’ll put a disc into the computer and find said computer thinks there’s nothing on it. You know very well there’s something on it — you can see the data grooves etched on the other side! It worked fine the last time you checked it — why not now?

What most likely happened was that you forgot to finalize that disc. This was the big flaw with rewritable DVD formats: they needed to have extra code written on them after the video files to make them playable on other machines. It was easy to forget to do this because they played just fine on THAT ONE player without finalizing. If you’re lucky, you’ll still have the old machine you used to record the disc with, and can finalize it there. But most DVD recorders have a lifespan of around three years before they wear down…and you may not have that one anymore. Most DVD-Rs can only be finalized by the player they were recorded with. Is your poor disc a lost cause?

Until recently, I thought so. I’ve Googled this dilemma before and come up with nothing. I’ve downloaded what they told me to download, followed the incomprehensible directions, and came up disappointed every time. Today I took another whirl at it — and the first solution I found worked like a charm. Unfinished DVDs can now be rescued and turned into MPEGs! Here’s how!

The first thing you need is the semi-freeware program ISOBUSTER, which can read and dump the data of any DVD no matter what.

Run Isobuster and use the menu on the top left side (not the “File” one, the one below it) to select your DVD drive. If the DVD is still salvagable, stuff should appear. A pop-up will ask you to “find missing files and folders,” which you don’t need, so cancel that out.

What you REALLY want to do is right-click all tracks containing video and Extract User Data. You will know which tracks contain video because they’ll be significantly larger than the tracks containing menu data (Gigabytes(GBs) vs kilobytes (KBs)).

Once Isobuster extracts the data, you’re done with it, so shut it off. You should now have the videos in .tao format, which your computer can’t read. Keep a note of where you have them saved, then download these two simple programs, which are SO simple they don’t even need to be installed. Just click the .exe files and you can use them.

Download two simple programs

You want to use VOBEdit first. Open the first .tao file. You will get incomprehensible gibberish. Next select “Demux.” We’ll be using this dialogue box twice. First with “MPEG Stream” selected, which translates the video into computer-recognized formats. Then do it a second time with an audio stream selected. Most DVDs use AC3, so try that first.

Both the audio and video have now been rescued — but they’re separate. Use the second program to bring them together.

ImagoMPEG-Muxer, which sounds like the Swedish Chef named it, will merge the video and audio files automatically once selected. And once that’s done…

PRESTO! You have a resuscitated DVD video, with no loss in quality, that will play on any computer or digital player device!

Check this out. When the 80’s movie Lost in America aired on Ion Television on October 15, 2006, they used an old pay-per-view version but didn’t cut the opening warning screen off. Here is the bizarre occurrance of a 1980s legal screen meant for HBO but plastered with modern-day ratings symbols and network logos. And just think — if not for this handy guide, strange moments like this might have been lost forever.

If you still haven’t thrown out those old DVDs, they can still be saved. Happy converting!

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