Using Handbrake to Convert Videos

Handbrake is a multi-platform GUI program which allows you to convert videos to MPEG-4 videos. It can use just about any video format as its input, including video DVDs and ISO images of a video DVD.

This talk is based on Handbrake 0.9.8, which was the current version for Linux as of 28 February, 2013. It is running on Linux Mint, version 14.1, but it will run just as well on Debian or any current version of Ubuntu.

Installing Handbrake

Handbrake is not included in the standard Debian/Ubuntu/Linux Mint repositories. You can add it as a PPA, however. That way you will get updates for the program whenever they are available. To add the PPA and install Handbrake, open a terminal and enter the following:

mburton@pitr ~ $ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:stebbins/handbrake-releases
mburton@pitr ~ $ sudo apt-get update
mburton@pitr ~ $ sudo apt-get install handbrake-gtk

The first line adds a PPA repository to your package manager. The second line updates your packages list with information from the new repository. The final line actually installs Handbrake to your Debian/Ubuntu/Linux Mint system.

An entry for Handbrake will now be available to you in the Sound & Video section of your Start Menu. When you click it, you will be presented with the main Handbrake window.

Please note: If you are not running a Debian-based distribution, you will have to go to the Handbrake web site and download the source code, then compile and install it manually.

Figure 1. Handbrake Main Window

Handbrake Controls

The Handbrake toolbar contains all the major functions. They are fairly easy to understand.

The rest of the main window displays information about the currently selected file. For the following, we have selected a public domain movie called Utopia originally stored in ISO format.

Figure 2. Handbrake with a File Selected

The Source area displays information about the original file you are about to convert. In our example, the original ISO image has a title of Dvdvideo, 30 chapters and a length of 2 hours, 21 minutes and 50 seconds.

The Destination area displays information about what we will convert the file to. Note that we have edited the file name to Utopia. It will be written in an MP4 format in the Videos directory.

Summary Tab

The Summary tab contains information about the video - what is being used for input and what is happening to the output.

Figure 3. Handbrake Summary Tab

Video Tab

The Video tab allows you to select what type of video is to be generated.

Figure 4. Handbrake Video Tab

You can select the video encoder here. Encoder choices are H.264, MPEG-4, MPEG02 and Ogg Theora. The default is H.264. If you want to change the framerate of the original video, you can do that here. You can also change the video quality here.

Audio Tab

This tab allows you to change audio tracks. Most commercial DVDs have more than one audio track for the movie. You can select an alternative track here, and remove any tracks you don't want. The default usually works just fine, though.

Figure 5. Handbrake Audio Tab

Subtitles Tab

Most commercial DVDs also have one or more subtitle tracks. You can add a subtitle track to your video file using the Subtitles tab.

Figure 6. Handbrake Subtitles Tab

Advanced Tab

The Advanced tab contains settings you can tweak when producing an H.264 video. These options are explained in the Handbrake user guide, but leaving them unchanged is usually the proper thing to do.

Figure 7. Handbrake Advanced Tab

Chapters Tab

The Chapter tab lists the chapters for the video. If you don't want any chapters then un-click the checkbox. If you want to change the chapter names, click on the name and edit it in the list.

Figure 8. Handbrake Chapters Tab

Using Handbrake for a Single Conversion

To convert an unencrypted DVD or a video file to an MPEG-4 format, the first thing you must do is select the file or DVD to be converted. To select a file, you can press Ctrl-O on the keyboard, click on File | Source from Handbrake's menu, or click on the Source button in the toolbar. To convert a DVD, put the DVD in your computer, then choose /dev/sr0 from the File menu.

Figure 9. Handbrake File Menu

Once you have selected your input source, Handbrake will analyze the source and will display information about it in its main window (see Figure 2).

At this point, (if you wish) you can select the type of output file you will create, and change the output file name and output file directory. That information is displayed in the Destination area of the main Handbrake window.

Figure 10. Changing Destination Information

In this example, we have changed the output file name from Dvdvideo.m4v to Utopia.m4v. We recommend not using spaces in file names, so keep that in mind.

If you wish to convert the file to other than H.264, you should now click on the Video tab and select the Video encoder you want to use. I have chosen to use the default H.264, even though the image below shows the selection of MPEG-4.

Figure 11. Changing the Video Encoder

I have several DVDs (namely, Anime videos) where the default audio is not in English. If there is more than one option in the video, you can change this in the output file by selecting the Audio tab, then selecting the Track pulldown to get the proper audio track.

Figure 12. Selecting an Audio Track

If you want to have subtitles on your output file, click on the Subtitle tab. Clicking the '+' next to the word 'Subtitle' will add the default subtitles to the output. If you want to change from the default, use the pulldown under Track to select the proper subtitle set.

Figure 13. Selecting a Subtitle Track

At this point, we are ready to create the new output file. Click on the Start button to begin the conversion process. That button will then change to a Stop button and the conversion process will begin.

Figure 14. Converting the Video

Using Handbrake for multiple Conversions

Converting more than one video in a single Handbrake session is fairly easy, but you must follow these steps.

  1. Open a source file, make the changes you need for the output file, then click on the Start button. The conversion will begin on that file.
  2. Open a new source file and make the changes you need for its output file.
  3. Click on the Add to Queue button to add it to Handbrake's processing queue. You can verify it was added by clicking on the Show Queue button.
  4. To add another file to the queue, simply repeat steps 2 and 3.

The files you have selected will be processed serially. This is a good choice on Handbrake's part, because it takes literally all of your computer's processing power when it is doing the conversion. You can verify this by running the System Monitor and looking at the Resources tab.

Handbrake Cautions