Editors' note: In February 2004, a San Francisco federal judge ruled that this product is illegal because it circumvents antipiracy technology. Making personal backups of CDs and DVDs is a highly controversial topic that is still being tested in the courts. CNET does not encourage or condone the illegal copying of commercial discs.
If you've been looking for a way to back up your commercial DVD movies to DVD-R/RW without upping your geek factor, DVD X Copy may be for you. At $99, this program is expensive, but it's a bit easier to use and understand than public-domain alternatives such as SmartRipper or Flask MPEG. Alas, DVD X Copy places a digital watermark on copied discs to prevent further copying, meaning that if you lose your original disc, you can't copy your backup one. Neither will it let you burn copied videos to CD or video CD, and it can copy only movie files--it can't copy data DVDs (such as backup files or software). Though the public-domain alternatives may be more difficult to find and use, they're also more versatile, more flexible, and free. 321 Studios sells DVD X Copy as a download or as a boxed, single-CD retail package. Though no setup sheet is included, installation for either is a straightforward process that requires only reading a license agreement, choosing where to install the program, selecting OK, and rebooting. A full installation requires only about 11MB, but you'll need an additional 5GB of disk space for temporary files when copying DVD movies.
Each time you run DVD X Copy, you're confronted by a dialog warning you that the only legal use for the program is making a personal backup copy of a commercial DVD movie. Once you've agreed to the copyright notice, DVD X Copy searches for a DVD movie in your DVD-ROM or DVD-RW drive. If it doesn't find a movie disc, you must either insert one or exit the program--frustrating if you want to get a feel for the software before you dive in. DVD X Copy can't handle data DVDs, such as backup discs--something almost any DVD-authoring app can handle. Once you insert a movie disc, a dialog pops up telling you how many DVDs you'll need for the copy process.
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You must either insert a movie disc or exit; no exploring allowed.
If you don't understand the layout of a DVD movie disc, you'll find DVD X Copy's main interface intimidating, especially the list of items to be copied, such as Titlesets and Videomanager. A brief tutorial on the left side of the program window helps explain most options, but there's no standard Windows help file, Windows Tool Tips, or What Is? function. The tutorial also skips some important details; for example, a red-light icon next to the working directory means there's not enough room on the currently selected hard drive partition to copy a DVD. Despite the daunting number of options and information, however, it's usually easy to copy a movie--just click Copy Now and follow the prompts. The process involves a lot of disc-swapping, since DVD X Copy combines the copying and burning processes, but it's easy enough to follow. Though DVD X Copy works well within self-imposed limits, it lacks the versatility of public-domain programs such as SmartRipper. For example, DVD X Copy forced us to copy both the 4:3 pan-and-scan and 16:9 wide-screen versions of Tomorrow Never Dies, when we wanted only the wide-screen files. Also, unlike public-domain rippers, DVD X Copy leaves the Content Scrambling System (CSS) copy protection employed by commercial DVD movies intact, meaning you can't play movies from your hard drive or if you've burned them to DVD using another program.
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You can't make a copy of a watermarked DVD--only one copy is allowed.
Legally, that's probably a wise move on the company's part. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act specifically forbids breaking or removing the copy protection on digital media (something public-domain rippers do), although making a single copy for personal use of any media you purchase has long been thought of as a consumer's right.
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DVD X Copy's menu offers a lesson in fair use and some confusing menu options.
However, in its attempts to follow the letter of the law, DVD X Copy introduces its most annoying feature: a digital watermark on copied DVDs that says they were created using DVD X Copy. The watermark displays onscreen for 15 seconds every time you play a copied disc, and even worse, increases the size of your files slightly; movies that just barely fit on a 4.7GB DVD-R/RW suddenly require a second disc. The final insult: DVD X Copy will not copy a disc stamped with its watermark. If you ever lose your original disc, you lose the ability to back it up again.
Aside from the watermark issues, DVD X Copy performs as advertised. It successfully copied several commercial DVD movies using an HP DVD200i DVD+RW drive mounted in a 1.2GHz Athlon test bed. The program took about 10 minutes per 4.7GB to copy the files to the hard drive and about 20 minutes to burn each 4.7GB disc. Note: Copies of 9GB, dual-layer (DVD-9) commercial movies nearly always require two discs. Our biggest gripe about DVD X Copy's support is its total lack of paper documentation. No setup sheet, no manual, nothing. On the other hand, 321 Studios offers live telephone support 8 a.m. to 8 p.m CT, seven days a week, though it's a toll call. The company also provides &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Edvdxcopy%2Ecom%2Fsupport%2Fsupport%2Easp">online support by way of FAQs, e-mail to tech support, and downloadable program updates.