Full Speed Ahead with Handbrake

See how Handbrake, a powerful and easy-to-use video conversion program, can help you enjoy your favorite TV shows or films while at your computer, whether you're at home or away from home.
Picture

This is the default pane shown when Handbrake is launched. When the desired video or DVD to convert from is loaded into Handbrake, a preview scene from the video is displayed, along with information on the video's dimensions, including cropping and scaling. Click on the Picture Settings button in the top bar to adjust the final video's cropping and scaling settings manually, as well as the detelecine settings (which are mostly used when converting TV programs from DVD).

I generally leave the dimensions settings alone, along with keeping decombing turned on when converting TV programs (and off when converting movies, although turning it off isn't necessary).

The Picture Settings window also can play a brief preview of what the final converted film will look like, based on the current settings.

Video

From the Video pane, two drop-down menus offer settings for the video codec and framerate. Video codec choices include H.264, MPEG-4 and Theora. There's also an option to turn on two-pass encoding (a setting that scans the video source twice to ensure a higher-quality result), as well as radio buttons offering a choice of converting based on either the bitrate, a specific targeted file size or a constant quality rate.

Figure 4. Video Pane

I generally keep H.264 selected (Handbrake's default setting) and leave the constant quality setting as is, unless I need a specific bitrate or file size. If so, I also turn on two-pass encoding and select Turbo First Pass, a setting that speeds up the rate of the first pass. If adjusting the bitrate manually, I usually choose a figure between 1,000–1,500kbps (though I lean toward the conservative side).

Audio

In the Audio pane, depending on the video source or the preset chosen, one or several audio tracks may be displayed. The number of tracks may be added to or subtracted from using the + or - buttons shown. This is useful if you want to include, for instance, the director's commentary track from a movie or alternate languages (a potentially popular feature for, say, Japanese anime fans).

Figure 5. Audio Pane

To adjust the tracks even further, drop-down menus are displayed: Track, Codec, Bitrate, Sample Rate, Mix and a button for DRC (Dynamic Range Compression). Track provides the option of choosing which audio track(s) to encode, including foreign-language tracks or director's commentary. Codec allows you to choose to which audio codec to encode (depending on which video container is chosen): AAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis or AC3 (the default audio on a DVD). Bitrate and Sample Rates allow you to set to which bitrate and sampling rates, respectively, to encode. Mix allows you to select output mixes: mono, stereo, Dolby Surround, Dolby Pro Logic II and 6-channel discrete. Finally, DRC allows (if activated) you to adjust the limits of compressing the dynamic range of the audio output. This setting would be used for audio with very loud or very quiet portions by altering the resulting audio to increase the sound on very soft portions and reducing the sound on very loud portions.

For the purposes of encoding my X-Men movie, I'd choose at least one track (in English, the only language I fluently speak or read), encoded to AAC with a bitrate of 160kbps, with a mix of either stereo (my very basic audio setup at home consists of just a pair of speakers) or one of the surround sound settings. I leave DRC and Sample Rate alone. If I opt for a second track (say, to include a separate track for surround sound if I ever upgrade my home audio setup), I'd choose AC3, which would encode the audio as is from the video source. I also might decide to include a third audio track for the director's commentary (so I can hear Bryan Singer expand upon some of the film's plot points). Keep in mind that adding extra audio tracks, depending on the settings, may make the resulting file larger.

Subtitles

The Subtitles pane allows you to include subtitles and closed captions in the output file, either from the original video source or from an external file. Although I very infrequently use closed captioning (not having hearing difficulties and very rarely watching non-English-language material), this option would be highly useful for someone converting a subtitled video source.

Figure 6. Subtitles Pane

The options in this pane include selecting one or more tracks (via the + Subtitle, + Import SRT and - buttons), then choosing a language for each track. Forced Only should be checked if you want the subtitles displayed only when the video demands it (say, when a scene has someone speaking a foreign language that must be translated and displayed on-screen for plot purposes). For this option, choose Foreign Audio Search from the track drop-down menu. Burned In usually will be chosen automatically if it's a subtitle track, placing the subtitles on the movie with no way of turning them off. Closed captioning, meanwhile, doesn't use this feature, and it can be turned on or off in the resulting file's video player. There's also the option of choosing which track is the default (via the Default radio button). If you've chosen + Import SRT, then a different set of options will be presented, allowing you to choose which external file to use to import subtitles.

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