Using HandBrake

HandBrake is an open source DVD to MPEG-4 converter. I find it particularly useful for encoding VOB/BUP/IFO files extracted from a DVD into a format that’s more useful on a computer.

On Linux, use your distribution’s package manager.

On Windows, download Handbrake from the project site and install as usual.

HandBrake comes out of the box with reasonable default settings. If you’re fussy, however, you can change them as desired (in Linux, File – Preferences; in Windows, Tools – Options). For example, I like to change:

  • General – Automatically check for updates: On Linux, never, because your package manager will take care of this. On Windows, daily or as desired.
  • General – Use iPod/iTunes friendly file extensions for MP4: disabled.
  • Advanced – Activity log longevity: Week.
  • (Audio/Subtitles: Set preferred language as desired, and set to use foreign language audio and add subtitles.)

In the main window, Destination section, I set format to Matroska. In the menu I select Presets – Save and save it as Handbrake’s normal default settings.

Encoding is processor intensive, so make sure your computer does not have a cooling problem. I like to keep an eye on processor temperature while I am encoding (instructions for Linux and Windows).

Use a video player that can navigate DVD menus such as SMPlayer to familiarize yourself with the DVD’s contents and quality. There may be titles that you won’t want to encode, such as advertising. You may observe interlacing and want to apply the decomb filter during encoding.

This is merely a quickstart guide; refer to the online user manual for more information.

Open your file(s) at File – Source, selecting the directory that contains the VIDEO_TS directory. Set your destination at File – Destination.

In the main window, find the source section and select a title you want to encode. If you want to encode more than one title, pick one and come back here when queued to pick another.

Optionally, change the output format as desired. I like Matroska because it supports DVD chapter markers.

Optionally, adjust the video quality. Click on the video tab. I normally keep the default settings of H.264 video encoder, constant quality, RF 20. If I require additional quality, I lower the RF one number at a time and test. Keep in mind that:

  • The quality slider ranges from 51 (lowest quality) to 0 (highest)
  • RF is a logarithmic scale, so a small change can make a big difference

Optionally, select subtitles to include. Click on the subtitles tab. If the source contains subtitles, they will be listed in the drop-down control. Select one you want and press the “+ Subtitle” to add it to the list. Do not select the “forced on” or “burned in” options. If you wish to add additional subtitles, insure that no current subtitles are selected, and repeat the above as needed.

Optionally, apply the decomb filter: in View – Picture Settings – Filters, set the Decomb/Deinterlace radio buttons to decomb, and set the decomb drop-down control to default.

Preview your settings. Opening View – Preview, a preview window launches. Use the top slider in the preview window’s controls to select an appropriate part of the title to preview. Press the “Encode and Play” button; HandBrake will encode and play back a brief preview using your settings.

When all is ready, start encoding with Queue – Start Queue. If you wish to encode another title, return to title selection and repeat the above.

Encoding can take a while. You can minimize HandBrake to the system tray and monitor its progress by hovering the mouse over the HandBrake icon.

Open your new file in your favorite video player and make sure the quality is to your liking. I pay particular attention to:

  • Video artifacts as the camera pans across large areas that are almost but not quite uniform, such as cloudless sky or a large blank wall
  • Audio clipping or distortion during transient high passages

If you’re not happy with the quality, first check the source to make sure it’s not a defect in the original. If not, go back and change some of HandBrake’s settings as described above.

Thoggen is slow and doesn’t do subtitles, but its minimalist interface will appeal to the “don’t bother me with details, just do it” crowd.

HandBrake project site

These notes are based upon HandBrake 0.10 for Linux and 0.9.5 for Windows and were last updated 26 December 2014.


About Warren Post

So far: Customer support guy, jungle guide, IT consultant, beach bum, entrepreneur, teacher, diplomat, over-enthusiastic cyclist. Tomorrow: who knows?
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One Response to Using HandBrake

  1. Pingback: Video players for Linux | A maze of twisty little passages

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