Editor's Note: Some of the products reviewed here allow you to circumvent copy encryptions contained on commercial discs, an act that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) forbids, even for personal use. Top Ten Reviews does not endorse piracy or any other illegal activity. Some consumer advocates are actively seeking exceptions to the act's provision for personal use of copyrighted material purchased by consumers. There's no evidence that any consumer has been prosecuted or sued for circumventing copy protections for personal use.
The top performers in our review are DVD Cloner, the Gold Award winner; Xilisoft DVD Copy, the Silver Award winner; and 123 Copy DVD Gold, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing software to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 applications.
You've invested a lot of money in your DVD collection. When you bought them, DVDs were the king of home entertainment. Now they're being replaced by more advanced high-definition discs like Blu-ray, streaming sites like Netflix, and on-demand download services like iTunes and Amazon. So you have a choice on whether to rebuy your favorite movies and TV shows or get as much life out of your DVD collection as possible.
The most obvious benefit of DVD copy software is that it duplicates the discs in your library. Like any piece of physical technology, DVDs won't last forever. Plastic gets scratched and broken, rendering your discs unusable. You can protect your DVD library against destruction by saving the disc images (ISO file) to your computer. This allows you to burn a new copy of your DVD without the need of the original disc, and it plays the same way a disc would in your computer's DVD player software.
Even if you take excellent care of your physical discs, there will be times that you need multiple copies of the same disc. For example, if your children have a favorite movie they like to watch over and over again, there's a good chance that disc will become scratched or otherwise damaged over time. You can protect against this by making a copy of the movie for them to use without having to worry about damage to the original disc. This is a great idea if you have a playroom or a car with a DVD player.
Another advantage of DVD copy software is that it allows you to duplicate homemade DVDs. This is useful if you have created a disc of personal memories such as a wedding, school play or sporting event. These programs allow you to burn as many copies as you wish to share with friends and family. This is also valuable for certain types of professionals, like actors, filmmakers and musicians. You can use the software to burn demo reels to share with agents, producers and other potential employers.
How It Works
Every DVD contains what is known as an ISO file (or ISO image). These files are essentially the blueprints for a disc. They contain everything a DVD drive needs to recognize and play a disc on a computer or a television. DVD copy software scans this file, copies it onto your hard drive and then burns it onto a new disc. This creates an exact copy of the original disc, complete with the movie, menus, audio tracks and bonus materials.
Before a DVD copy program can make a new disc, it first must bypass the copy encryptions found on almost all DVDs sold by major entertainment companies. These protections are intended to stop illegal piracy. The best DVD copy software circumvent these encryptions so you can back up, archive and make personal copies of the movies and TV shows you've already paid for.
There are two types of blank discs you can copy your DVDs to: DVD-9 and DVD-5. DVD-9s have about 9GB of storage space and DVD-5s about 5GB. This is important because nearly all commercial DVD movies are sold on DVD-9s, and the most common and less expensive blank discs are DVD-5s. The best DVD copy software allows you to compress the content on a DVD-9 to fit onto a blank DVD-5.
Keep in mind that if you choose to compress your DVD copy, you'll notice significant quality loss on the new disc. This is the nature of video compression, and even the best DVD copy software can't get around it. This includes pixelation, compression artifact and motion blur. If you want an exact copy of a disc, you should purchase and use the more expensive blank DVD-9s, which will yield you a copy with no quality loss whatsoever.
An alternative to compressing your DVD movies onto smaller discs is to create custom copies that require little to no compression. Most of the DVD copiers in our review allow you to only copy the main feature on a disc and leave off things like menus, alternate audio tracks and bonus materials. In most cases, the main feature from a commercial disc will fit onto a DVD-5 with no compression. The best DVD copy software even allows you to pick which tracks and content make it onto your new disc.
One other way to avoid quality loss due to compression is to split the content from a DVD-9 onto two DVD-5s with the main feature on one disc and everything else on the other. The best products in our lineup have this feature as one of their main tools.
Another important attribute for any DVD copy program is the ability to save the disc's ISO file onto your hard drive. If you're using these programs for archiving purposes or have a large DVD library, this is a must-have tool. When you save an ISO file, you're essentially saving a virtual DVD onto your hard drive. These files act the exact same way as physical discs. You can play them through DVD player software and even burn new copies without the original disc on hand.
A great way to back up your DVD library is to get an external hard drive and back up each disc's ISO file. You'll never have to worry about a disc being lost, damaged or broken, because you'll always have that backup ISO file to make a new copy. The best DVD copy programs allow you to load an ISO into the interface and burn a new copy the same way you would if you had the original disc.
During our evaluation of DVD copy software on the market, we subjected each product on our lineup to a series of tests to determine which performed the best.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of the average consumer. We obtained the programs in our comparison by purchasing each of the products on our side-by-side comparison chart. The manufacturer had no input or influence over our testing methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to manufacturers in advance of publication.
We made at least two new copies of our test disc with each program we reviewed, one compressed and one uncompressed. Our video experts then examined each copy and compared it against the original, searching for quality loss such as compression artifact, pixelation and distortion.
We found that all the products on our lineup can make an identical copy of a DVD if they are uncompressed and burned onto a blank DVD-9. There were no exceptions to this. If you want a perfect copy of a DVD movie, bonus features and all, you can choose any of the products on our lineup to get it.
However, when we evaluated the quality of the compressed discs, we found wide variations among the software. They all had noticeable quality loss, but some were much worse than others. Our video experts compared the compressed discs against each other and the original disc and gave each program a letter grade (A-F) depending on the quality of the video.
When we tested the DVD copy programs on our lineups, we timed how long each program took to complete a full copy of our test disc, both compressed and uncompressed. These copies had everything contained on the disc, including a full-length feature film, menus, audio tracks and all the other bonus features.
We found that the average time to make an exact copy of our test disc to a blank DVD-9 is a little less than an hour. Some products take as little 40 minutes on the low end and nearly an hour and a half on the high end. If you only have a single disc you want to copy, these variations don't matter much. However, if you have a large DVD library you want to back up, even a few minutes can make a huge difference in how long you have to dedicate to the task.
Making a compressed copy takes considerably less time than an uncompressed copy. With one exception, the products on our lineup took about half an hour to compress the contents on our test disc and burn them onto a DVD-5.
Ease of Use Tests
All the products on our lineup are based around the same concept. Many of the programs also have very similar interfaces. We evaluated how easy it is to access and use the common features of each product. We took into account how many clicks it takes to begin a conversion, load an ISO file and access each application's customization tools. We also tracked how many times all the programs crashed during testing and how many unusable discs they created.
We found that all the programs we reviewed are relatively easy to use. No application scored less than 90 percent in our ease of use tests. We also found that the creation of bad discs was a fairly common experience. Of the 30 copies we created, seven of them wouldn't work in our DVD player. This means you would do well to check your copied discs to make sure they work.
At the end of our evaluation, we determined that the following products are the best DVD copy programs you can buy.
DVD Cloner – This program has topped our review of DVD copy software for more than a decade, and for good reason: It is the fastest DVD copier on our lineup. You can compress a commercial disc onto a DVD-5 in less than half an hour and an exact copy to a DVD-9 in about 40 minutes. Additionally, the quality of the compressed copy was the best of all the products on our lineup.
Xilisoft DVD Copy – This program also creates an excellent compressed copy, nearly as good as DVD Cloner's. It takes about 40 minutes to make both a compressed and uncompressed copy. However, it's missing some of the customization tools we look for, like the ability to split a commercial disc onto two separate DVD-5s.
123 Copy DVD Gold - This program does far more than make rote copies of a disc. It is a multifunctional disc utility program. Not only can you use it to duplicate your DVD movies, but you can also build a new DVD from scratch and convert the content on a disc into a video file that you can play on computers, mobile devices and gaming systems. This is an excellent choice for a more comprehensive DVD toolbox.
DVD copy software allows you to duplicate, back up, customize and archive your DVD movies. All the programs on our lineup are quite easy to use. The biggest differentiator between the applications is how long it takes them to complete a copy and the quality of a commercial disc compressed to fit onto a smaller-capacity blank disc. For more information consult our informative articles about DVD copy software to help you make an informed decision.