Handbrake tips for DVD transcoders

Handbrake tips for DVD transcoders

Summary: Handbrake is a great app. I've learned a few things after ripping hundreds of my DVDs you might want to know.


Handbrake is a wonderful open source program - available on Windows, Mac & Linux - that will transcode your DVDs into a variety of formats. Most people will be happy with the standard presets - but ZDNet readers aren't most people.

Handbrake is easy to use but has many deep options for the digirati. I've barely scratched the surface of what the program can do, and I probably won't go much further.

Here are a few tips:

Container. MP4 is the default Handbrake format and is playable natively on many consumer devices, including iPods and iPads. But I like to play ripped files on a Blu-ray player to my projector and 3 meter screen - either on USB storage or burned to a disc - and that requires the MKV format.

With a $3 player program .mkv will play on an iPad, streaming from your NAS or downloaded, so either format will work. Whatever you do choose, you can make your own default preset for your chosen format.

Default presets. You can choose a preset from the dozen or so that come with the program or you can create a preset to your specifications.

Some of the independent films in my collection were shot with interlaced video. By adding detelecine and decomb filters - find them in Picture Settings - the interlacing artifacts will be removed with almost no overhead for non-interlaced video.



Multiple audio tracks. I really like DTS sound when I can get it. For maximum playback flexibility though, the Handbrake default downmixes 5.1 audio to Dolby Pro Logic II, which sounds great on 95% of systems, but isn't DTS if you have a DTS-capable system.

By selecting multiple audio tracks in the Audio pane - which may also include the director's commentary - you can have your choice of audio tracks at the cost of a larger file. While both MP4 and MKV will pass through DTS sound, the audio playback options are more robust on MKV.


Most players - such as the open source VLC - allow you to choose which audio track to run. Go ahead - brush up on your French.

Subtitles. I have many foreign films and usually prefer hearing the actors rather than dubbed English, but subtitles drive some people nuts. You can choose both the original and dubbed audio tracks and then choose to include subtitle tracks so you'll have a choice.


You don't need to burn them in as long as your player has an option to choose to play subtitles or not.

Preview window. Handbrake does batch processing - Add to Queue - so I hooked 5 DVDs to a Mac Mini. But some DVDs come up as "DVD Video" rather than the title. If 2 or more are in the queue the Preview Window can help you sort them out.

The Storage Bits take
I'm in the process of ripping my 1300+ DVDs so I can enjoy my collection on optical-player-free devices - Android & iOS tablets, MacBook Air - at home while reducing the DVD footprint in my living room. I'll keep the physical media in paper sleeves rather than bulky DVD cases so they will fit in a couple of book boxes.

On average, Handbrake reduces a 4-8GB DVD to less than 1GB using H.264 compression and removing everything but the main feature. At ≈5¢/GB 2 copies of each rip cost less than a dime.

In the meantime I've started to wonder about Hollywood's quality control. When "Tiffany's" in Breakfast at Tiffany's is misspelled, what does that say about the rest of the process?

Comments welcome. What have you learned moving from physical to digital media?

Topics: Storage, Hardware, Software

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  • Digtal Media

    I use an app called "DVD Catalyst" for my rips. It's not open source or free, but it costs just $10, is frequently updated and the developer is very responsive to customers.

    Mostly, though, I want to talk about how watch my rips on my TVs. I store all my rips on a Western Digtal NAS and share out the directory over my home network. On the client side, I've got three boxes, also made by Western Digital that hook up to my TV and allow me to play back services such as Hulu+, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora etc. These devices are very similar to the Roku boxes, with one big difference: it's super simple to stream video from local network shares. So in addition to those services, I can also connect to my ripped movies share and stream my rips to my TV. I've got one of these boxes in our bedroom, one in the living room and one that I move between the guest room and my man-cave/home-theater in the basement depending on whether my mother is in town to see her grand kids. My Surface RT also plays back the files perfectly, so that's an option for when my wife wants to watch something else on TV.

    The 1GB rips or so that I produce with DVD Catalyst produce files that look good on all my tablets as well as any TV under 40 inches or so. I do find that in my basement, with the bigger screen and 5.1 sound setup I do prefer to watch the original DVD (or even the Blu-Ray, though to be fair, my ancient 42 plasma doesn't do Blu-Ray justice).

    Comcast recently doubled my bill. Apparently I was on some promotional deal that's run its course. With all these options available to me I felt no qualms about ditching the Cable TV part of my service. Now I'm back to paying $70 a month instead of $160. For live TV I bought a couple of digital antennas and now I'm getting CBS,ABC,NBS,Fox,PBS and a couple of other stations over the air in glorious, crystal clear HD. For movies and TV on demand I've got Hulu+ and Netflix ($18.00 a month instead of $80.00) as well as all the stuff I've ripped to my NAS. When I want to watch a movie that's not on Netflix I rent it from Redbox for $1.25.

    Life is good.
    • Ditched Cable Too

      about a year ago and haven't looked back. Netflix, a few OTA channels and downloading the TV shows I want to watch has changed the way I interact with TV.
      I have used Hnadbrake for ripping DVDs to watch them on my NOOK while traveling. It was great last year to have 6 or 7 movies on a SD card for the long flight to germany.
    • WD makes some good stuff

      The WD TV box - analogous to Apple TV, minus the iTunes integration - is a nifty little box. I have one of their Sentinel NAS boxes and after some infuriating - and mystifying - setup glitches, it has been a rock for well over a year.

      I haven't had cable for almost 10 years, nor a land line. IP all the way!

      R Harris
  • Cutting the cord is viable

    The current cable business model is outrageous, so I cut the cord on cable TV a couple of years ago. If you are a sports fan you don't have so many choices; Disney/ESPN and the cable companies have that side of it in a tight grip. But for movies, cable is a BAD deal.

    I had used a pay DVD rip tool for a few years, but the seller kept raising prices and charging extra for different features, so I switched to Handbrake and never looked back.
    terry flores
  • DVD transcoders

    Personally I've been using AppGeeker DVD Ripper.
    Absolutely superb for backing up all our Commercial DVDs onto the drive as seperate files. Has no prob with security.
  • Execellent cost-effective DVD ripper

    Why not let the fact to say something?
    Just Google U2Any DVD Ripper u will know what's the most cost-effective choice.