PERFECT PE ENCODING
Convert C your videos to run on every device
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,