CSS Decoding Tools

by Tim Hesse
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Developed by the DVD Copy Control Association, CSS, or the Content-Scramble System, is a digital rights management tool used for encrypting DVDs to prevent piracy. Though initial interpretations of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act barred end users from using CSS decoder tools to copy DVDs, the Library of Congress announced an exception in 2010 that allows DVD owners to make copies for personal or educational purposes under fair use.


DVDx is a free, open-source, cross-platform software title built on top of FFMpeg and MEncoder. DVDx allows Windows, OS X and Linux users to make DVDs into disc images for personal backup or decode CSS streams to prepare video for transcoding. DVDx can write to a variety of digital video formats, including VCD, H.264, FLV, Ogg Theora, QuickTime, MPEG-4, DiVX and Xvid. In addition to supporting specific video codecs, DVDx has a number of presets for optimizing video for smartphones and other non-DVD playback devices.


AnyDVD is a free CSS decoder for Windows. In addition to CSS, AnyDVD also bypasses Rovi's proprietary Macrovision DVD protection technology. Unlike the other tools discussed in this article, AnyDVD can decode CSS in real time, which allows users to play commercial DVDs from all regions without the need to copy and transcode them first. AnyDVD can also rip DVDs to make fair-use copies for personal backup.


Handbrake is a free and open-source utility capable of transcoding DVD video to a variety of digital video formats, including MKV, Ogg Theora, H.264 and MPEG-4. Handbrake supports PAL and NTSC, and works with a variety of frame-rates, including video encoded at 23.976, 24, 29.976 and 30 frames per second. Handbrake can also save subtitles and copy DVD structure including menus and chapter markers. Though Handbrake's developers call it a "transcoder" rather than a "ripper," Handbrake can copy some commercial, CSS-encoded DVDs. Handbrake is available for Windows, OS X and Linux.

Avisynth with DGMPGDec

DGMPGDec is an MPEG decoder for Windows created to address frame-dropping problems with the open-source decoding utilities MPEG2Dec and DVD2AVI. Rather than working as a stand-alone application, DGMPGDec runs as a script with the free and open-source frame-server, Avisynth. Avisynth runs as a series of executable, text-based scripts. As Avisynth has no graphical user interface, using it with DGMPGDec for CSS decoding may be a poor choice for users without previous computer programming experience.

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