If you‘ve ever played a DVD on your computer, DVD player, or game console, you may have come across something called a VOB file. With so many different file formats to keep track of, it can be confusing to know what a VOB file is, what it contains, and how to use it. This comprehensive guide will fully explain VOB files – delving into their history, purpose, contents, and how to open, play, and convert them. We‘ll also look at the pros and cons of using VOB files versus other formats.
A Brief History of VOB Files
To understand what exactly VOB files are, it helps to first understand how digital video evolved and the key formats involved. In the early 1990s as home computers became more powerful, there was a need for a standard video format that could store full-length movies with high visual quality, CD-quality audio, and features like subtitles and chapter selections.
Out of this need the first major digital video disc format called Video CD or VCD was developed in 1993. It was based on the MPEG-1 video standard and could fit 74 minutes of video on a disc. However, VCDs had lower quality than VHS tapes and lacked a lot of features expected on DVDs.
So in 1995, a new disc format called DVD-Video was created, with the capacity for full-length movies at much higher video and audio quality. DVD-Video also incorporated advanced features like multiple camera angles, alternate audio tracks, and interactive menus.
To support all these features, the DVD-Video specification called for a container file format named VOB. VOB stands for Video OBject and is the container that can hold the video, audio, subtitles, menus, navigation, and other components that make up a DVD movie.
The first commercial DVD movies were released in the US in 1997, marking the debut of VOB files. But while we may not see them directly, VOBs are still used on DVDs and some Blu-ray discs to this day.
What‘s Inside a VOB File?
As a container format, a VOB file can contain multiple streams of data including:
- Video – The main movie video is stored in MPEG-2 format, allowing full DVD resolution and quality.
- Audio – DVDs support advanced multi-channel audio like Dolby Digital and DTS. VOBs can contain multiple audio tracks.
- Subtitles – VOBs store subtitle streams for different languages. Many DVDs have subtitles for 3-5 languages.
- Menus – Interactive DVD menus are stored as video, audio, and overlay assets within VOB files.
- Navigation – Information for navigating titles, chapters, and complex menu options is also stored.
- Other – Additional content like slideshows, commentary, featurettes may also be placed in VOBs.
So in summary, a VOB file contains everything needed to watch a full DVD movie – the video, sound, subtitles, and interactive navigation are all embedded within VOB container files.
VOB files contain video, audio, menus, subtitles – everything needed for a DVD movie. Image credit: yunava/Shutterstock
On a typical movie DVD, the VOB files are stored in a folder named VIDEO_TS. This contains the VOB files along with other DVD control files:
- VIDEO_TS.IFO – Stores information and settings for playing the DVD video
- VTS_01_0.IFO to VTS_xx_0.IFO – Title set information for each VOB file group
- VTS_01_0.VOB to VTS_xx_0.VOB – The VOB files containing the movie content
- VTS_01_1.VOB to VTS_xx_1.VOB – Additional VOBs if needed
The reason VOB became the standard format for DVD-Video is that it builds on an existing video transport stream format called MPEG program stream, with some DVD-specific extensions. The underlying technologies in VOB were already widely supported in software and hardware DVD players.
But VOB does more than just wrap MPEG video and audio in a container format. It provides features critical for an interactive movie-viewing experience:
- Navigation – VOB organizes video content into titles and chapters, allowing viewers to jump to any point in the movie.
- Subpicture – VOB supports subtitle overlays using a format called subpicture. Multiple subtitle tracks can be selected.
- Audio Standards – In addition to basic MPEG audio, VOB incorporates DVD features like multichannel AC3 and DTS audio.
- Encryption – VOB files on commercial DVDs are encrypted with CSS to prevent unauthorized copying.
By combining MPEG streams with DVD navigation, subtitles, enhanced audio, and encryption, the VOB format delivered the complete Hollywood-style movie experience that helped drive DVD‘s rapid mainstream popularity in the late 1990s and 2000s.
Playing and Using VOB Files
If you want to play the VOB files from a DVD you own, the simplest way is to just insert the DVD into a desktop/laptop DVD drive, game console, or home DVD player. These devices will automatically read the contents of the VIDEO_TS folder and play the VOB files as a movie.
Advanced DVD players and software like PowerDVD have additional features for controlling playback, selecting subtitle languages, and jumping through chapters and titles.
However, there are some cases where you may want to access the VOB files directly without the original DVD disc:
- Playback on other devices – If you want to watch your DVD on a phone, tablet or computer without a disc drive, you‘ll need to copy or convert the VOBs first.
- Archive or backup – You can copy VOBs to store a backup of your DVD movies on a hard drive or NAS.
- Editing – While difficult with encrypted VOBs, you can potentially edit or modify VOB files using video editing programs.
- Conversion – To convert DVD content to more editable and portable formats, you first need to extract the VOB files.
- Sharing – To share short DVD clips or highlights online, it helps to have the VOB files available on your hard drive for conversion.
So in some scenarios access to the raw VOB files is necessary, which requires copying or "ripping" them off the DVD. Here are some ways to get VOB files from a DVD:
- DVD ripping software – Programs like Handbrake, MakeMKV, AVS Video Converter, and DVDFab can copy or convert VOB file contents from inserted DVD discs.
- DVD decryption – Most commercial DVDs have encrypted VOB files. So you may need a DVD decryption tool to access the content.
- ISO disc image – Software like ImgBurn can create an ISO disc image, allowing you to copy the entire DVD folder structure including VOBs to your computer.
- File explorer – On some homebrew or unencrypted DVDs, you may be able to directly access and copy VOB files through your operating system‘s file explorer.
Once you‘ve obtained the VOB files, here are some ways to play them:
- VLC Media Player – The free cross-platform VLC app can play most video formats including VOBs. Just open the file directly in VLC.
- DVD player apps – Apps like PowerDVD, WinDVD, KM Player have more advanced DVD features and can directly play copied VOB files.
- Plex – You can set up Plex Media Server to provide an interface similar to Netflix for your collection of VOB and other video files.
Do keep in mind that copying commercial encrypted DVDs may be prohibited in your country if you don‘t own the copyrights. So check your local laws before decrypting or copying VOB files from purchased DVDs.
Converting VOB Files to Other Formats
There are a couple cases where you may want to convert your VOB files to other video formats:
Portability – VOB files are large and not compatible with many tablets, phones, streaming devices, and online platforms. Converting them makes DVD content easier to watch anywhere.
Editing – VOB files can‘t directly be imported into video editors like Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro. Converting them to editable formats is required for any modifications.
Online sharing – If you want to put up clips or highlights from a DVD on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook etc, you need to convert the VOBs to a web-friendly format first.
Compression – Converting VOBs to H.264 or HEVC results in much smaller files, allowing you to save storage space.
There are many software options for converting VOB files to other formats. Here are some top tools:
- Handbrake – Open source converter for Windows, Mac, Linux. Supports VOB to MP4, MKV, AVI and more.
- VLC Media Player – Has basic conversion features to convert VOBs to formats like MP4 or audio files.
- DVDFab – Full featured shareware converter for Windows. Converts VOBs to mobile, web, and editing formats.
- WinX DVD Ripper – Fast ripper/converter for Windows specialized for DVD/VOB to MP4, MKV, MOV conversion.
- Adobe Media Encoder – Can directly import and convert VOB to MP4, MOV, ProRes as part of Creative Cloud apps.
- FFmpeg – Cross-platform command line tool for converting or direct format transcoding of VOB files.
The most common target formats when converting VOB files are:
- MP4 – The MP4 format provides great portability and online sharing thanks to broad hardware support and efficient H.264 video compression.
- MKV – MKV is also a popular container format. It supports advanced features like multiple audio tracks and subtitle tracks.
- MOV – QuickTime MOV files can be imported into video editors. MOV supports high quality formats like ProRes for minimal generational loss.
- AVI – The AVI format is older but still widely compatible and can be imported by most editing software.
- WMV – Windows Media Video is another legacy format that retains DVD resolution and audio quality.
- MP3 – You can extract and convert just the audio from a VOB file to MP3 format.
When converting VOB files, you want to preserve as much visual quality as possible. So it‘s best to use lossless formats like MOV ProRes or minimally compressed options like H.264 at high bitrates. Avoid excessive re-encoding that degrades quality.
The Pros and Cons of VOB Files
Like any file format, VOB comes with both advantages and disadvantageous compared to alternatives like MP4 videos. Here‘s a look at the main pros and cons of using the VOB format:
Pros of VOB Files
High visual quality – VOB offers full DVD resolution, along with pristine video and audio if files aren‘t re-encoded. This results in superior viewing experience compared to highly compressed formats.
Interactive navigation – Menus, titles, chapters, angles, and subtitles are built right in to VOBs, providing a dynamic movie watching environment.
Bonus content support – VOB container has room for extra content like deleted scenes, making-ofs, commentary tracks that enrich the overall DVD.
Wide device support – Any DVD player or drive can directly use VOB files. VOB is a mature container format still used on millions of DVDs and Blu-rays.
Cons of VOB Files
Large file size – Uncompressed VOB files take up a lot of storage space. A 2-hour movie can need 4-8 GB. Not ideal for online sharing or mobile devices.
Limited playback support – Computer media players often lack DVD navigation features needed for full VOB playback. May require specialized DVD software.
Online sharing not possible – Websites and social media don‘t support uploading large VOB files. Must be converted to share clips.
Hard to edit – VOB wasn‘t designed for editing. Software lacks full timeline editing features, though clips can be exported.
Encrypted data – DRM encryption on commercial DVDs prevents unauthorized copying or conversion of protected VOB files.
So in summary, VOB‘s strengths are quality and the complete DVD experience, while the weaknesses relate to portability, editing, and use outside of DVD playback. Whether the pros outweigh the cons depends on your priorities – quality or convenience.
Best Practices for Working with VOB Files
Here are some tips to follow when dealing with VOB files for best results:
- If you simply need to play a store-bought DVD, leave it as VOB. Don‘t re-encode to save quality.
- For backup or archival, make ISO disc images rather than converting VOBs. This preserves all data.
- To watch DVDs on other devices, convert VOBs to MP4 or MKV using high quality settings, like H.264 @ 5-10 Mbps.
- For online sharing, a more compressed MP4 @ 1-2 Mbps is reasonable. Go lower if needed.
- Edit in ProRes or DNxHD for any projects needing VOB conversion. Avoid generation loss from repeated compression.
- Know your local laws! It may be illegal to copy or convert copyrighted encrypted VOB files without permission.
- If you only need the audio, extract it to MP3 format instead of video conversion to preserve quality and save space.
- For playback issues, try updating your DVD playback software, video drivers, and decryption tools if needed.
Following these tips will ensure you get the most out of your VOB files while avoiding quality loss or illegal use of protected content.
VOB files provide a convenient container format for packing all the components of a DVD movie into a set of synchronized video objects. While newer formats have replaced VOB for Blu-ray and streaming, it continues to deliver high quality movie experiences on the millions of DVDs still in circulation.
Understanding what VOB files contain and how to access them opens up options for playback beyond just DVDs. And converting VOBs makes it possible to bring DVD content to modern devices and platforms. Just be mindful of legal restrictions on protected content.
Overall VOB strikes a good balance between quality, features, and compatibility that helped drive the initial success of DVDs. And it remains the format preserving a vast library of movies from the early 2000s back. So while we may not see them directly, VOBs quietly continue doing their job delivering Hollywood entertainment to our screens.