HandBrake - DVD conversion made simple

Sep 11, '07 08:13:00AM

Contributed by: robg

The macosxhints Rating:

[Score: 9 out of 10]

This week's Pick of the Week is likely to be a little bit contentious, as it can be used in ways that violate many copyright laws. However, this can be said of many worthwhile programs (ahem, iTunes) and products (iPod), but that doesn't mean those programs and products aren't worthy on their own merits. Such is the case with HandBrake. Although HandBrake has been mentioned in a number of hints, it's never been a Pick of the Week winner, until now.

HandBrake is a DVD ripper -- a tool designed to help you copy your DVD movies from their shiny silver platters to the shiny silver platters of your hard drive (by converting them to MPEG-4 format). Why might you want to do this? Any number of reasons, really. As one example, I find it much more convenient to travel with a few 700MB movies stored on my laptop rather than lugging around the jewel cases and the original DVDs -- after leaving a few favorite movies in a hotel once, I decided that there must be a better alternative. Another reason why you might want to rip your movies are to use them on devices that lack a DVD drive, such as an iPod or iPhone. Sure, you can buy any number of movies from the iTunes Store, but what about movies you already rightfully own?

This is where HandBrake enters the picture. HandBrake automates the process of transferring your DVD movices to your hard drive. Just insert a DVD, launch HandBrake, click a couple buttons, and then wait ... and (depending on the speed of your machine) wait some more ... and maybe wait just a bit longer. When it's done, you'll find a version of the movie on your hard drive, typically taking up much less space than would the original movie.

In the past, HandBrake hasn't been the easiest program to use, requiring a fair bit of knowledge about video settings in order to get a high quality transfer. But with version 0.90, that's no longer true. A new Presets drawer offers up 15 or so different ready-to-use settings. Want to rip a movie for your iPod? Choose iPod High Rez or iPod Low Rez then click Start. It's similarly easy to rip for the iPhone, PSP, PS3, Apple TV, or into any of many other formats.

Rip quality is also improved in this release, and the two movies that I ripped for the iPhone both looked great. HandBrake is multi-CPU aware, and it did a great job at keeping all four cores busy on my Mac Pro. Ripping a 1.5 hour feature took about 30 minutes, averaging around 70 to 75 frames per second. (When ripping DVDs, the more CPU horsepower you have, the better. My poor old 12" PowerBook G4 can barely push 10 frames per second.) You can also queue rips, so you could let a batch process overnight, though I haven't tested this feature.

HandBrake might not be able to process everything, but it's done a good job with the stuff I've thrown at it over the years. The latest release is easier to use, produces better-looking rips, and is completely free and open source -- well worth a look-see if you want your purchased DVDs available on your laptop, iPod, iPhone, or other similar device. (For even more on HandBrake, see this Mac Gems writeup.)

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