RealNetworks’ Legal DVD Ripping Will Cost You

Today at DEMO, RealNetworks launched its own DVD “storage” service that allows a user to rip a DVD he owns onto his computer, an external hard drive or a flash drive. For $29.99 Windows users (Mac software will launch next year) can copy DVDs and watch them on their PCs. There is a free 30-day trial period as well. Unlike competing services such as HandBrake or Mac the Ripper, Real’s product is legal. But being above board is going to cost users in both dollars and storage.

There are three reasons the service is legal, according to RealNetworks VP Jeff Chasen, who showed the product. It doesn’t change the change the content of the DVD at all. No compression, no DRM cracking or sharing, but it does add an extra layer of 128-bit encryption to the stored file. In all, it means you need to have a heckuva lot of storage to store your DVD library (and even more for Blu-Ray), but with fancy terabyte drives in the sub-$500 range, that’s not a huge kicker. Second, you have to pay for the Real software for every computer you’re going to watch the movies on (the added Real encryption tracks this.) Chasen says a user can put the software on up to five computers to manage a single library of movies, and there will be discounts for buying multiple copies.

Finally, the courtroom defeat of industry players suing Kaliedescape, a startup that stored DVDs onto a hard drive, four years ago paved the way for a legit DVD storage service, Chasen says. That doesn’t address the issue of copying a Netflix DVD onto my computer, but so far RealDVD software has protected itself with a handy little statement that appears when trying to watch or rip a device. It reads, “RealDVD is for saving a DVD you own. If you do not own this DVD, select play.”

With cheaper storage and a way to make sure every DVD-watcher has a license to the software, the technology may be ready, but I doubt people’s scruples are.