iMovie ’08: importing VOB, DVD or MPEG2 video without losing quality

As ever, non-Mac users look away. This is just a bit of technical bumf, but it took me ages to work it out and I haven’t seen quite this elsewhere, so here it is in case it helps anybody. 

So, my family had jumped the gun by paying to have some old cine films converted to VHS video, and then throwing away the original films (groan). That resulted in a huge loss of quality and, worse still, the only way I had to convert the VHS to digital was via a very poor DVD recorder, resulting in further losses from re-encoding. I then copied the VOB files from the DVDs onto my Mac, so I was left with a bunch of VOB files in desperate need of editing.

FWSE it and you’ll find most people recommend converting the MPEG2 video (which is the underlying format for DVD/VOB) into DV for editing in iMovie. But converting means re-encoding, which means losing more quality, which I couldn’t afford to do with what had already become poor quality footage thanks to re-encoding.

For the past two years the VOB files have been sitting on a hard disk, and I’ve occasionally done a search for MPEG2 video editing solutions for the Mac. I had no luck until the much-maligned iMovie ’08 came out. This, apparently, can import MPEG2 for editing without re-encoding, as it’s intended to work with cameras that record to hard disks/DVD rather than just DV.

Trouble is, when I tried to trick iMovie into importing MPEG2 by using the create-a-disk-image-with-camera-like folder names mentioned in the above links, it just crashed. Then I discovered by accident that if you open iMovie when you have a non-commercial DVD in the computer, iMovie treats it like a camera and will offer to import it. This not-very-well-advertised feature came as a surprise to me, though of course many others are well aware of it.

So here’s the bit that I haven’t seen elsewhere: if you’ve just got video in VOB format, rather than as an actual DVD, you can get iMovie to import it by converting the VOBs back into a DVD image, using an application such as Toast. The trick, however, is to mount the disk image by control-clicking (right-clicking) and choosing Open with Diskimagemounter. I found that if the DVD disk image was mounted with Toast, it just crashes iMovie.

So that’s most of my problems solved, and I hope other people’s too.

The only remaining issue is that some of the VOB files seem to be corrupt, as there are some chunks that iMovie won’t import (thumbnails don’t load in the import dialogue panel and if you try to import them, iMovie crashes). Any solutions, anyone?


33 Responses to iMovie ’08: importing VOB, DVD or MPEG2 video without losing quality

  1. Enrico Lammers says:


    I have the same problem. If I try to import a non commercial DVD the way you and others describe, iMovie ’08 just crashes. The message about the camera detection is so fast that I cannpt read it.
    I tried different type of DVD’s, but were not succesful. Can you help me out on this?

    Thanks in advance

    Enrico Lammers
    The Netherlands

  2. johnfalla says:

    Try turning the DVD into a disk image and mounting it as described above

  3. Mickey says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have tried to find a way to import my Sony MiniDVDs (my wedding and honeymoon) into iMovie for almost 2 years. No luck until now. It works. I am importing right now… What can I do for you?

  4. Martin says:

    This isn’t working for me. I used Disk Utility to create a .dmg file of my non commercial DVD…when I double click it it Mounts…but nothing happens within IMovie ’08

  5. ed says:

    very well done people. been trying to do this for ages… was ready to give up. thanks

  6. johnfalla says:

    Martin, try right-clicking rather than double-clicking to make sure you’re opening it with Diskimagemounter. It’s which application opens the dmg that matters rather than which creates it

  7. johnfalla says:

    Mickey, just glad this was useful, but if you’re serious, please make a donation to Oxfam

  8. Mhairi says:

    Um I’ve been trying to import DVD for imovie to edit some film for an art project. I’ve tried all you said and got the the mounting bit with opening with diskimagemounter but then what? It just shows me a window of VOB and AUDIO files again.
    It wont let me import to imovie still. Is it because I have imovie HD, I really need to sort this out, please help!

    Thank you

  9. johnfalla says:

    Mhairi, yes, I’m afraid you need iMovie ’08, not iMovie HD

  10. V.K. says:

    Thanks for that great information! I used the Mac Disk Utility and it worked great. Can I clarify that the conversion is NOT losing any quality? As well, why is it that the audio is barely audible in imovie? When I view the DVD on my dvd player, the audio is normal (same volume as it was recorded) but on imovie I can barely hear it. I don’t want to go through all the effort of editing my movies only to find out that I can’t hear it when its done and burned back on a DVD for playing on my dvd player. Thanks!

    ps. I used the Sony VRD-MC5 to convert vhs and hi 8 tapes to DVD (burned it straight to a DVD disk). It makes .vob files and then I mounted the dvd as per your instructions using the Mac disk utility. Then I was able to import to imovie’08. It will also import via firewire for your mini-DV recorder and also SD Cards from your camera. (Composite, S Video, DV in, Compact Flash Card, SD Cards, and USB Inputs. )

  11. M.E. says:

    I created a movie through IMovie ’08, published it, then burned it to a DVD using IDVD. However, now I can not find this movie on my hard drive to open it back up to re-edit the original movie. I assume that when I published it using the media browser that I finalized this movie. So…now I am trying to import the movie from my DVD back into IMovie using the instructions above. When I imaged the movie using the disk utility I imaged it to the desk top using the .dmg format. Next, I right clicked on the .dmg file and opened it with the Diskimagemounter as instructed. However, all it provides me is a window with audio and video files. Unlike the post above with the similar problem, I have IMovie ’08 not IMovie HD. Any suggestions at this point would be greatly appreciated as I never anticipated when I first published this movie that I was losing the opportunity to go back in and keep editing.

    Thank you for your help.

  12. JWD says:

    iMovie 08 is weird in that you don’t always hear what you are importing through the computer speakers. I was downloading a VHS movie through a DV camcorder and had to use the camcorder’s speakers. I know, it is ridiculous. The sound is fine when you play it back, however.

    It is there somewhere. Do a Spotlight search. Check iTunes folder, Movie folder. I have had the opposite problem-things get copied in too many places…

  13. phd says:

    First let me say that I am computer literate. So much so that these frequent posts for this problem of importing using an “image” has created a huge amount of frustration. If you are going to post this problem, please post a clear solution. Step by step. clear as crystal. Too many comments appear with the same problem.

    So where is the problem?

    The problem is that imovie ’08 does not recognize the image! And crashes! So how do I import without crashing? Is there a size limit? How big is the file you are importing?

    – Confused and frustrated.

  14. S.S says:

    Hi, I just want to thank you for your information! This really helped me a lot!

  15. Anonymous says:

    look at . It worked for me!

  16. Ben says:

    awesome, thanks so much

  17. Anonymous says:

    how would you lose quality if you retrieve it as DV from DVD ?

    • johnfalla says:

      DVD movies are encoded in MPEG-2 format, which is a completely different, more highly compressed format to DV tapes. So you can’t “retrieve” DV from DVD, you can only convert DVD to DV.

      Bloody complicated, isn’t it?

      • Andrew says:

        Which is exactly Anons point. The DV format does not re-compress the video, so you are left with your original MPEG-2 quality. You are correct in that it won’t be DV quality, but it won’t be any worse than the MPEG-2 original.

        There will be NO quality loss going from MPEG-2 to DV, and since that is easier than this complicated error-prone import process it is the better option.

  18. Peter Lawrence says:

    I have tried to import into imovie from a disc image by mounting with discimagemounter as above. When I then open imovie I see a flash of “camera recognised…” then imovie quits rapidly. (Exactly the same as double clicking to mount).

    Does anyone have a solution or do I have to convert to MPEG4?

  19. Elisabeth Tyroler says:

    This was enormously helpful. I wish I had found it sooner- I spent so many hours trying to figure out the easiest way to do this. Thank you for sharing your discovery.

  20. Pawel says:

    no, this is not working. When iMovie is importing and is at the stage of creating thumbnails it crashes.

  21. Predrag says:

    One thing needs to be cleared up. The process you described is STILL CONVERTING your MPEG-2 video (from those VOB files). It is NOT just copying/re-wrapping it into iMovie; it is creating new, different files. Check the size of original files, then check the size of new video files (inside your home directory/Movies/iMovie Events/).

    What we need it a tool to re-wrap VOB into MOV, without changing ANY data. Some folks seem to imply that QuickTime can open VOB with MPEG-2 Playback component (costs money). I haven’t tried this yet. If I do, I’ll report back if this solves the problem correctly.

  22. Sam says:

    I am also having the same problem as Peter Lawrence. I am using iMovie 08.

    Have been searching on the net for a week now, tried every suggestion that I found, without luck.

    One site suggested uninstalling Perian (which also does not work for me).

    I have found a work around, by creating disc image (ISO) with DVD Shrink on my PC and then copying the resulting ISO to my Mac it seems to work, but this is a time consuming process and I would prefer to use only Mac.

    I have a DVD recorder that I use to record DVDs from old VHS tapes.

  23. David says:

    For those of you who were having problems with imovie recognizing the image – i was having the same problem. I had to quit imovie then mount the image (created with disk utility) and then start iMovie – it recognized the image and i was able to import to imovie

  24. chloeo says:

    I used mac imedia converter to convert the VOB file from a dvd to .dv, then imported into imovie. I using mac imedia converter reading off the DVD so I first ripped the episode I wanted with it.

  25. Walter Taylor says:

    My problem is that I have been converting VOB files from mini disc using Bigasoft software and while some have then imported successfully to I movies many have not. Those that did not appeared to convert fully but on import only a small portion of footage imported. The footage plays okay on the camera so it is there but it does not import even after conversion.


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  28. healthybaby says:

    The following will show a step by step guide on how to convert, edit and import VOB files to iMovie ’11, ’09, ’08, or HD with the help of the powerful VOB to iMovie Converter at

  29. grownpeterwhite says:

    I recommend Bigasoft iMovie Converter which is just the right VOB to iMovie conversion software. It can easily convert VOB files from DVD disc or Camcorder Mini DVD disc to iMovie supported MPEG-4 or DV format. Then it is just easy to import VOB to iMovie for editing.

    Besides, it also helps to convert and import other video formats like AVI, MKV, AVCHD, WMV, MPG, MXF, YouTube, FLV, F4V, ASF, SWF, MTS, M2TS, M2T, TS, TOD, MOD, OGM, OGV, 3GP and etc to iMovie.

    Just google search Step by step guide at How to Import VOB to iMovie, you will find it.

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