The New Handbrake Rocks

Handbrake icon graphicI’ve been using Handbrake to encode video for a couple years and love it. The open source Handbrake works on Windows, OS X and Linux. I’ve always preferred and used the OS X version. It had been about a year without a new version of Handbrake but the drought was ended in November 2009 with the release of Handbrake 0.94.

I was a bit slow to upgrade since the old version was working fine for me. Finally I upgraded. I had an issue (it wouldn’t encode) and kept using the old version when needed. Finally I researched the problem and found the simple solution – just delete the old presets in the Library/Application Support/Handbrake folder.

At first I was bummed because I’d lose my settings. But I soon realized that those settings were useless anything. The changes in Handbrake were significant which made it worthwhile to retest and come up with some new settings. The built-in presets now centered around getting the best quality while maintaining device compatibility.

I did a bunch of testing and ended up using the “Normal” preset with a Minor change to maintain Apple TV compatibility. I still have the Apple TV and while I don’t use it as frequently as I used to, I still do use it and want the video to work with it. I added the parameter weightp=0 to the Normal profile to maintain Apple TV compatibility.

The big benefit is the smaller file size that’s created for the video, yet the quality is maintained. The change has been so significant that I am re-encoding all my video in order to recover disk space. In general, my disk usage is shrinking about 50%. Some files are less than a quarter of the size while most are about 60% their previous size. There are some videos that shrink less and even a couple that have gotten larger so mileage will vary.

The new Handbrake is faster too. In general I assumed 1 hour to encode every 45 minutes of video using the previous Handbrake. On the same hardware Handbrake 0.94 as reduced these estimates t0 being able to encode 1 hour of video in 1 hour. Again, these are rough estimates which vary with the video. Also, different hardware will yield different speeds. My new Mac Mini only needs about 30 minutes to encode an hour’s worth of video.

If you already use Handbrake you need to upgrade to Handbrake 0.94 even if it means taking some time to evaluate the settings. If you haven’t been using Handbrake and want to encode video you should check it out.

The OS Quest Trail Log #36: Year End Edition

This site has been silent for a couple of weeks so I figured I’d end the year with a Trail Log. I’ve been considering an expansion of the OS Quest data center and finally pulled the trigger with Newegg’s Year End Sale and placed an order on Saturday. I’ll wait for the stuff to arrive before I get into the details since it should be fodder for a few posts. Included are parts for two system builds and some network upgrades. Between the holiday and the fact that I like to pay as little as possible for shipping I probably won’t have anything in time for next weekend.

Software Updates

There’s been the usual flow of software updates. I’ve no idea everything that I’ve updated and haven’t already mentioned, but I do recall a few. Apple released OS X 10.5.6 and it went smoothly for me even though I used Software Update which caused problems for others. I picked up the habit of rebooting before applying OS patches so that may have helped me. All three of my Macs updated without a hitch. While my iMac (my workhorse computer) doesn’t crash a lot it’s not the solid OS I remember when I first got a Mac. The latest 10.5.6 doesn’t appear any more stable to me. Just today it wouldn’t shut down or log off . I hadn’t experienced any problem but needed to shut down to switch a power cable and ended up having to hold in the power button to force it off.

The one update I’ve really benefited from is Handbrake 0.9.3. While the version increment is minor there’s a bunch of new features. While I haven’t used any of the new capabilities I’ve benefited from the enhancements to existing features. It’s stability is rock solid. Over the holiday, while I was away two days, it churned through the encodes I had queued up. The previous version wouldn’t have allowed me to open that many files as the file open dialog would cause a crash if I used it that many times. So far every file it’s encoded has been valid. Another nice feature is that it caches the queue. My iMac crashed (there’s that instability again) while running Handbrake. After the restart the queue for Handbrake was still there.

WordPress 2.7 has also been released. Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll have upgraded but as I write this I’m still behind.

I’ve kind of lost track of all of Microsoft’s Internet file sharing options. FolderShare has been retired and folded into Windows Live Share which I use for one thing. The one thing I use it for is syncing Windows Live Writer drafts between my Windows VMs. I started with FolderShare and the upgrade to Windows Live Share doesn’t seemed to have caused any problems. Live Mesh has also received some updates and a Mac client.  And let’s not forget that SkyDrive has been up’d to 25GB of storage. Still, despite these options I’ve gravitated to Dropbox and use that for my file sharing and have stayed there, it just works.

Seagate 1.5TB Firmware

I still haven’t updated the firmware on this drive. I’ve downloaded it and created the bootable CD but still haven’t had the drive and DVD with me when a PC was available. I’ll probably end up doing the upgrade when the Newegg order arrives and I start the builds, so it’ll still be a couple of weeks.

Drobo

I figured I’d update the Drobo saga with the end of the year. It’s been a solid backup device since the firmware upgrade and repartitioning. It’s still not a speed demon, but solid. I’ve been tempted to try other drives in there to see if performance improves. While the speed doesn’t seem to approach the limits for the WD drives I use they aren’t fast drives and I wonder if the power saving benefits are affecting performance. I’m thinking about trying some of the faster drives I’m getting in for the builds to see if they’ll make a difference. I’m just not sure the time required to do the testing will be worth it to me. Especially since I’m considering moving the Drobo to my Airport Extreme so it can be easily shared on the network. If I do this it will have a USB connection and faster drives aren’t going to benefit me.

Network Printing (2nd Try)

I moved my Canon IP3500 printer to my Airport Extreme to free up a USB port on my iMac and to more easily share the printer. I haven’t used it enough to call it a success (and move the printer to where I want it) but so far I haven’t experienced any of the problems I had with my Epson printer.

Wrapping Up

This will wrap up the year as I’m unlikely to post anything in the next couple of days. This will be the 154th post of the year, and 502nd overall. If my stats program is to be trusted there’s been 41,475 unique visitors so far this year. January saw 2,164 unique visitors during the month and by September the monthly count had more than doubled to 4,449 unique visitors. December is on track to have the highest count of the year which will probably exceed 4,800.

The 5 most popular posts this year were WD My Book Button Manager Removed and Some Frustrations with 5,326 views in 2008 (still popular even though it was written mid-2007), Fedora 8 on VMware Fusion with 4,107 views, Centrally Managed iTunes Library on Windows Home Server with 2,554 views, Data Rescue II – File Recovery For The Mac with 2,449 views in 2008, and finally Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) on VMware Fusion with 1,831 views.

I’m not sure what any of that means exactly, but I like stats so figured I’d end the year with some.

Best wishes for the new year and good luck beating those computers into submission.

Video Encoding: Handbrake

HandBrake Logo After ripping the DVDs I’ll be needing to encode them so I can watch them on my various devices. The premier software in this category is the open source Handbrake. There’s versions for Mac OS X, Linux and Windows. I’ve been using Handbrake 0.9.2 for OS X.

Handbrake can encode directly from DVD if they are unencrypted or encrypted with CSS encryption. But Handbrake isn’t a dedicated ripper and feeding Handbrake unencrypted video is recommended for best results. I took the approach of first ripping the DVDs to disk using either Fairmount or AnyDVD. This resulted in mostly problem free files. I did have to re-encode a few files that worked in VLC but locked up iTunes/AppleTV/Quicktime and I had an occasional odd problem. But the failure rate was less than 1%.

The list of supported sources and outputs is listed on the Handbrake web site as:

Supported sources:

* Any DVD-like source: VIDEO_TS folder, DVD image or real DVD (encrypted or unencrypted, but protection methods other than CSS are not supported and must be handled externally with third-party software), and some .VOB and .TS files
* PAL or NTSC
* AC-3, DTS, LPCM or MPEG audio tracks

Outputs:

* File format: MP4, MKV, AVI or OGM
* Video: MPEG-4 or H.264 (1 or 2 passes or constant quantizer/rate encoding)
* Audio: AAC, MP3, Vorbis or AC-3 pass-through (supports encoding of several audio tracks)

Handbrake Presets

Handbrake provides a multitude of settings for tweaking the video but also comes with numerous presets which are shown to the left. In my case I was looking for quality and didn’t care too much about file size. I also didn’t care about playing the video on my iPod. I wanted to play the video using iTunes, Front Row and Apple TV but I didn’t want to be locked into that software.

I played around with various bit rates and other settings and watched several test encodes on my computers and TV. For awhile I was considering different settings based on how much I valued the video. Older TV shows or movies I didn’t watch very often would have gotten lower bit rates to generate smaller files. I eventually decided that since file size wasn’t too important to me I’d be better of with one standard setting and since quality was my primary concern I might as well pick a “constant quality rate” (CQR) setting.

The CQR setting is a percentage. I’d be using the x264 encoder and according to people who know (in the Handbrake docs and forums) a setting above 80% doesn’t improve the quality while still increasing the file sizes. This is because the DVDs already use compression and 80% is roughly equivalent to the DVD compression. I ended up picking a setting of 64%. I still couldn’t see a difference between this and a lower setting on my computers and TV but I figure this would allow for some upgrades to my video hardware. Some of my test encodes where at 54% and were “good enough” so I haven’t bothered to re-encode them.

I encode the audio at 160kps and encode the videos as an MP4 file but I change the extension to .M4V so that iTunes will recognize chapter stops. (There’s a setting in Handbrake to rename the extension automatically. The files also play fine in VLC although there aren’t any chapter stops. I don’t generally use chapter stops but figure they’re nice to have.

All my settings for video and audio are shown in the screen shots below, click the thumbnails to see them full size. My chapter and advanced settings are still at their defaults. These settings resulted in a file size between 185 and 250MB for 15 minutes with most videos being around 200MB per 15 minutes.

Handbrake Video Settings Handbrake2

I’ve only had a few minor problems with Handbrake. As I mentioned some of my encodes had to be redone. The most common were videos that worked fine with VLC but not in any Apple product. There was less than a handful of problems of any type and they were solved by re-encoding. I didn’t have to re-rip or change any settings so it appears to be just “one of those things”. But it does mean I check all my videos in QuickTime rather than VLC or MediaInfo Mac. There was one DVD that encoded with a 14 hour playtime even though it was only about 2 hours. The solution here was to drop the last chapter, which was only 1 second in actual length.

I’ve also encountered a few Handbrake crashes, usually when using the file open dialog to either select the source files or destination location. This typically happen after many file opens in a session but wasn’t consistent. It was annoying when setting up a night of encodes only to have it crash near the end. So I began to skip changing destination file names and stick with the default, renaming the file when it’s done. Handbrake default to the source directory name when creating the output files so I’ve been making the directories match the file name I want.

HandBrake can create video files greater than 4GB but since 4GB is the maximum size supported by many players I haven’t enabled this feature. This means HandBrake crashes for me when it reaches 4GB. When this happens I set it to encode a file of 4GB and let it figure out the bitrate to achieve that. This has been very rare and only when the source files are approaching 4 hours.

Ripping is CPU intensive and it’s the one thing that affects speed. My iMac rips faster than my mac Mini. While there’s a lot of things that affect performance I estimate roughly 45 minutes of ripping per hour of content on my iMac. This flips on my Mac Mini which takes about one hour to rip 45 minutes of content. I never sit around waiting for a rip to finish, rather they get queued up and run overnight or when I’m otherwise not using the computer. My Mac Mini also serves as a media computer but if I was looking for something to dedicate to ripping I’d look for a cheap windows PC with the fastest CPU I could afford rather than buy a Mac Mini to dedicate to ripping. (Having said that, I haven’t tried the Windows version of Handbrake).

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is Handbrake is the only ripper I looked at and it hasn’t given me a reason to look elsewhere.

Video On Demand

Graphic of Old Media I’ve been batting around the concept of being able to have a video and music library available most anywhere in my apartment but didn’t make much progress. It was always easier to pull out the DVD, copy the file, or just go to where the video was easiest to watch. I was recently laid up for a couple of days and couldn’t get around very well, so ended up streaming from iTunes or watching whatever was handy. That was enough to motivate me to start building a video library that was easily accessible form anywhere I might want to watch.

The first steps will be figuring out what I want and the capabilities of whatever is already available to be.

What I Want

I don’t want much, just…

  • No more physical DVDs on shelves. I want to rip all my DVDs and pack away the physical disks.
  • Watch any video on any video capable device in my apartment, from a library that’s instantly accessible.

What I Currently Have Available

For hardware I already have:

Standard Def TV – As it is now, I actually watch this very little. But now that prices have dropped I’ll probably be upgrading to high-def in the near future. Due to my living room setup it’ll probably be 42″ or smaller.

Tivo Series 2 – I’ve had the most basic cable TV plan possible since early 2007 so the recorded content is just network TV (with commercials).

Intel Mac Mini w/Apple Cinema Display (20″) – This is in the bedroom and used to watch DVDs and stream from my iMac’s iTunes library. The big issue here is that it’s network connection is 802.11g wireless. iTunes podcasts and TV shows currently streams fine but it’s no surprise that full DVD rips are unwatchable when streamed. While the wireless connection has been solid for awhile now this hasn’t always been the case.

Intel iMac – This is my main computer and I spend a lot of time at it. I frequently watch a video or DVD in a window while doing other work. While it’s got a 24″ screen it’s irrelevant since I never watch videos full screen on it.

Apple TV – Connected to the TV and with a 40GB hard drive. It also streams fine over the 802.11n wireless network.

Windows Home Server – provides disk space that’s available to everything except the Apple TV. The Apple TV could run content residing on the WHS if I also include the content in iTunes.

I also have an older PPC Mac Mini that’s not in use. Word is that if I install Leopard then Front Row will be now be available on it. If so, it’s a possible replacement for the Apple TV since it could also handle DVDs external/network drives.

For software I have:

For operating systems I have OS X 10.5.x Leopard on the iMac and Mac Mini along with the software that comes with it such as iTunes. Windows XP, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate are running in virtual machines on the Macs so their resources are also available. All else being equal, I’d want to keep things all Mac compatible. But Windows is an option and I want to avoid any Apple lock-in.

Mac The Ripper 2.6.6 – This is actually quit old and may not work on newer DVDs but I’ve been available to use it on many DVDs without a problem but there have been a few that have problems.The program also has a tendency to crash. It’s free (but not open source). Version 3 is available but not free (required donation). Information about version 3 is in the forums (which requires a free registration). MTR will make a copy of (rip) the files on the DVD while removing copy protection and region codes. These files can still be played in any DVD player or burned back to disk.

Handbrake 0.9.2 (Mac version) – This is an open source (GPL) DVD to MPEG-4 converter. It has limited ability to pull video from protected DVDs put this isn’t a recommended use. They recommend unprotected DVD files be used as the source. There are also versions for Windows & Linux.

Fairmount – An open source (GPL) tool for OS X that decrypts DVD content on the fly. Programs can either access the files directly or the files can be copied to the hard drive. (This is bundled with DVDRemaster which is not an open source app. I haven’t used or installed DVDRemaster. Fairmount requires the VLC Media Player. It’s also a new addition to my toolset so I don’t have much experience with it.

VLC Media Player – This is an open source (GPL) that can play a large number of video formats. There’s a version for all major and many minor OS’s.

Remote Buddy – This is a program that enhances the Apple Remote (among other remotes). I started using it with the first version of Front Row although it seems less necessary for the latest version of Front Row if the only requirement is watching videos. It also provides features such as a virtual mouse and keyboard using just the Apple Remote. I use this on the Mac Mini. This one currently costs about 20 Euros.

Visual Hub – The Mac program converts form almost any video format to any other video format. There are presets for various output destinations such as iPod and Apple TV along with easy to understand configuration options that hide the details like frame rates and bit rates although these are available through the advanced options. This one currently costs about $25.

While I don’t currently own the software I may have to look into something like DVD2One (for Mac) or AnyDVD+CloneDVD (for Windows) that provides more flexibility in what’s extracted from the DVD. Free trials for both are available. But first I need to figure out what is lacking, if anything, in my current software.