PER­FECT PE EN­COD­ING

Con­vert C your videos to run on every de­vice

Maximum PC - - FRONT PAGE - –JOHN KNIGHT

AC­CORD­ING TO ITS WEB­SITE, “Hand­Brake is a tool for con­vert­ing video from nearly any for­mat to a se­lec­tion of mod­ern, widely sup­ported codecs.” Al­though it’s cer­tainly worth ex­plor­ing, we should state that Hand­Brake is not easy to un­der­stand if you’re a novice—the pro­gram is clearly de­signed with the power user in mind. Nev­er­the­less, with some tu­to­rial sce­nar­ios, we can hope­fully break it down into some­thing more eas­ily di­gestible, and make the in­ter­face less in­tim­i­dat­ing.

Hand­Brake’s in­ter­face is slightly un­con­ven­tional and can be con­fus­ing at first, but stick with it, as some parts func­tion beau­ti­fully and re­ally make Hand­Brake stand out from the pack. We don’t have space to cover the en­tire pro­gram, but hope­fully we can take you through enough of the in­ter­face for you to be able to start en­cod­ing your own videos com­fort­ably and con­fi­dently.

1 INTO THE GUI To break things down into some­thing more eas­ily di­gestible, we’ll run through some sim­ple sce­nar­ios to get a feel for the GUI. We’ll start with sin­gle-file sce­nar­ios of low com­plex­ity, then move on to mul­ti­ple files in a queue, af­ter which we’ll add more ad­vanced op­tions to achieve some gen­uinely high-qual­ity rips. Let’s start by turn­ing some­thing big into some­thing lit­tle.

H.265 is set to be­come the new stan­dard in on­line video, with its dras­ti­cally re­duced file size over its H.264 pre­de­ces­sor. There­fore, it seems fit­ting to shrink an H.264 video down into a much smaller H.265 video. So please get a big H.264 file ready (these are usu­ally called .mkv), and we’ll make it mini.

If your com­puter is suf­fi­ciently beefy to han­dle H.265, please fol­low along, oth­er­wise try sub­sti­tut­ing these codecs with your own ex­am­ple of an older source be­ing com­pressed with a newer codec.

To en­code a sin­gle file, the process is pretty easy: Click the “Source” but­ton, and choose your file or disc. Choose your for­mat­ting and codec out­put op­tions. Click “Start.”

The GUI, codecs, and file for­mat­ting may take some ex­plain­ing. Start by click­ing the big “Source” but­ton at the top-left, and pick your large H.264 source file. Next, choose the des­ti­na­tion for the en­coded video. By de­fault, Hand­Brake out­puts any files into the Videos folder of your home di­rec­tory. If you would pre­fer another out­put folder, you can change that by ac­cess­ing the drop-down box un­der the “Des­ti­na­tion” head­ing.

You now have to choose your for­mat, which is also un­der the “Des­ti­na­tion” head­ing. There’s a choice of MPEG-4 or Ma­troska: If your video is for some­thing like so­cial me­dia, choose MPEG-4, but if your video is a full-length movie, choose Ma­troska. Dif­fer­ent soft­ware and dif­fer­ent au­di­ences ex­pect one for­mat or the other, so choose the one that’s most suit­able for the task.

To choose the video codec, click the “Video” tab be­low. From the “Video En­coder” menu, choose the H.265 codec. If H.265 isn’t avail­able in this menu, the codec may not be in­stalled on your sys­tem, in which case, you need to find it on­line, and in­stall it.

From here, we won’t change any other op­tions—we’ll just leave the de­faults alone and ex­am­ine the out­put. To get the rip­ping started, just click that big green “Start” but­ton. Your es­ti­mated time ap­pears be­low—brace your­self, as this may take a while. Af­ter the rip is com­pleted, check out the re­sult­ing file that’s been saved into your Videos folder.

Us­ing the de­fault set­tings, we shrunk a 16.6GB H.264 video into a 2.3GB video with ex­cel­lent im­age qual­ity. But be­fore you get too ex­cited, there was still some in­evitable pic­ture degra­da­tion, and that au­dio is down-mixed from DTS sur­round into stereo. Those are still pleas­ing re­sults for ca­sual view­ing, but we’ll re-ex­plore these is­sues later.

We’ve shrunk some­thing down for a bet­ter file size, but what about re­vers­ing the process? That might sound crazy, but H.265 is very pro­ces­sor-in­ten­sive and may be sim­ply too much for older ma­chines to play prop­erly. Though rel­a­tively beefy, this ma­chine is a few years old now, and when we tried to play an LG 4K tech demo in H.265, it al­most brought the ma­chine to a halt.

By us­ing an older codec, you can guar­an­tee more com­pat­i­bil­ity with older ma­chines. So, what if we con­verted the 4K video into H.264—would it play?

Fol­low­ing the same steps as be­fore, we chose LG’s tech demo as our source, and Ma­troska as the for­mat, but this time un­der the “Video” tab we used H.264—the sys­tem de­fault. And how did it run? Per­fectly [ Im­age A].

H.265 may not have worked prop­erly in 4K, but 4K is al­ready a big ask of any sys­tem. What about H.265 in a res­o­lu­tion that’s more re­al­is­tic, such as 1080p?

With the 4K demo loaded, we went back to the “Video” tab, and changed “Video En­coder” to H.265, but to change res­o­lu­tion, you must open the “Pic­ture” tab. The con­trols un­der “Stor­age Geom­e­try” ad­just width and height.

When you hear some­one speak about 1080p, 720p, or 480p, they’re re­fer­ring to the height. So, to scale up or

down, just ad­just the height con­trol, and the width ad­justs with it. For ref­er­ence’s sake, in 16:9 for­mat, 1080p is 1920x1080, 720p is 1280x720, and 480p is 854x480.

How did the ma­chine per­form in 1080p in­stead of 4K? It was great [ Im­age B]. Which begs the ques­tion: Do con­sumers re­ally need 4K? Or is it a mar­ket­ing wheeze rus­tled up by TV man­u­fac­tur­ers?

2 MANY FILES, LIGHT WORK Now, this is where Hand­Brake re­ally comes into its own. The Queue fea­ture en­ables you to com­plete a list of jobs in­stead of just one, which is per­fect for run­ning a bunch of en­cod­ing jobs while you’re away from the com­puter—es­pe­cially overnight.

Once you get used to which but­ton does what, the process for mul­ti­ple files is pretty easy: Click the “Source” but­ton, and choose file or disc. Choose your for­mat­ting/out­put op­tions. Click “En­queue,” which puts an en­cod­ing job in the list. Re­peat with another file, and “En­queue.” Press “Queue” to browse your ex­ist­ing jobs; click the “Edit” but­ton (the icon with the pen­cil) if you want to make any changes. Click “Start.”

If you find that all your set­tings have dis­ap­peared, and you want to make changes, the GUI is still in Queue mode—just hit the but­ton again. We par­tic­u­larly like that each “Queued” video has its own set­tings, and changes made to one video don’t ap­ply to another.

If you need to can­cel some­thing for any rea­son, we like the four op­tions you get when you hit the big red “Stop” but­ton: “Can­cel Cur­rent and Stop”; “Can­cel Cur­rent, Start Next”; “Fin­ish Cur­rent, then Stop”; and “Con­tinue En­cod­ing.” It might be a small touch, but it’s a thought­ful one that might save you hours of lost work.

3 TWEAK­ING FOR QUAL­ITY This is what sorts new users from the veter­ans—where you re­ally get down to the nitty-gritty of video en­cod­ing. While our pre­vi­ous rips have all been sub­stan­tially smaller than their source, they’re all still rel­a­tively large, be­ing at least sev­eral gi­ga­bytes each. What if you want to make the rips smaller still?

The first place to try is bi­trate. Open the “Video” tab, and you’ll see a slider, a check­box for “Con­stant Qual­ity,” and another for “Bi­trate (kbps).” The “Con­stant Qual­ity” op­tion uses the slider: The fur­ther the slider is to the left, the higher the qual­ity and file size; and the fur­ther to the right it is, the smaller the file, but the lower the qual­ity. That’s the easy way to do it. If you pre­fer more con­trol, use the “Bi­trate (kbps)” op­tion. The de­fault is set to 2,500, but we thought we’d try our luck squeez­ing it down to 1,000kb/s. With a com­bi­na­tion of the lower bi­trate, a low­ered res­o­lu­tion of 720p, and stereo sound, we man­aged a file that had shrunk from 16.6GB to just over 1GB.

Ob­vi­ously, it was nowhere near the qual­ity of the orig­i­nal, and im­age degra­da­tion from the com­pres­sion was start­ing to show, but for a ca­sual viewer, the qual­ity would have been ac­cept­able. Things needn’t stop there,

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