Best Free Audio-Video Format Conversion Program

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Introduction

There are many different audio and video formats out there, and most devices (such as the iPod) and programs (such as Windows Media Player) are only compatible with a few specific formats. An AVI or WMV movie will not play on an iPod, for example, without being converted into an MP4 file first.

There are quite a few programs that will do this for free, with more popping up all the time.  They tend to fall into a few general categories:

  • If you want to convert audio & video easily, with a polished interface, support for virtually all file types including online video websites, and an integrated precision video editor, I recommend that you try our Top Pick.
     
  • If you want to convert without fiddling with any settings, using as few clicks as possible, try our Device-Specific Picks, which are especially suited to quickly setting up a conversion for a portable device.
     
  • If you want to have control over basic settings (such as framerate, frame size, and bitrate), yet still experience a quick, low-frustration conversion where most of the guesswork is done for you and you don't need to be an expert to get the job done, try our General Converter Picks.  Our Top Pick is in this category.
     
  • If you want complete control over every detail of your conversion task, where you have the ability to fine-tune your output using settings that most of us, including the Reviewer, don't even understand, then you may be interested in looking at our Custom-Oriented Picks.
     
  • If you only want to convert audio files, yet you want more audio-specific functionality, then try our Audio-Only Picks.
     
  • And lastly, if you're looking to convert a wide range of file types, from video to audio to documents to images, and you want to do it on the fly, you might want to check out an Online Conversion Website service.  There are sometimes file-size restrictions with these services, but they offer the convenience of being accessible from any browser.

While some are better than others overall, which one is best for you will depend on what sort of program you need.

Note:  If you want to rip video directly from a DVD, click here to view the Best Free DVD Ripper page..

 
Discussion

Device-Specific Picks

Pazera Video Converters Suite Pazera Converter Screenshot is really a package of several separate device converters with a common launcher. Each converter is powerful, with several presets for device, custom tweaking/profiles, multiple-file support, all in a simple text-based interface. If you don't mind the launcher, you could effectively use it as a hybrid converter.

 

Miro ImageFor even easier device conversion, there is Miro Video Converter. With just a dozen device presets and support for only one file at a time, it may not be the best choice for power users. However, its simple interface is 'newbie-proof', and conversion quality is on a par with other programs.

 

Also recommended:

  • XMedia Recode: Like Miro but with a less polished UI.  It supports multiple simultaneous files and more devices.
  • DVDVideoSoft Free: Pazera without custom tweaks; has neat tricks like Youtube downloading and video tweaking. This product is bundled with OpenCandy. See this article for more information. It will also attempt to install a toolbar which you may not want.
  • Handbrake:  A long-time favorite of mine, when I need to convert from just about any format to a nice, no-nonsense iPod/iPhone compatible video (encoded in H.264).  It has a queue, and supports multiple Apple presets including Apple TV.
 
 

General Converter Picks

Freemake Video Converter is the new Top Pick.  The interface is about as polished as it gets, and the code behind the interface is stable, flexible, and powerful.  Using Freemake is a linear, seamless experience with no frustration.

What I do find frustrating, however, is that the developer has now added OpenCandy to their installer.  For more information about this bundled software, I recommend you read this article.  Please see the last paragraph of this review for information on how you can opt out of this.

Now, back to the awesome stuff.  With Freemake, you can convert most any format of video or audio with this handy piece of freeware, along with DVD's, photos, and even web embedded media from sites like YouTube, Google, and Vimeo.  There are lots of presets and quite a few options, giving the software best-in-class capabilities.  The visual cues are easy to follow, pretty much guiding you from start to finish on any conversion task and providing a more user-friendly experience than most other software.

This software can make use of DXVA and CUDA (two methods of hardware accelerated encoding) to boost speeds.  I was only able to use DXVA on my test computer, so you may get faster encodes with your machine.  On my laptop, I had an NVidia card, and Freemake actually displayed a message recommending that I update my video card drivers to make use of CUDA acceleration.  Freemake took 39 minutes to produce its output using an Auto Bitrate setting, with a two-pass encode.  It took under 15 minutes to do a one-pass encode.  Handbrake took 33 minutes using a Constant Quality RF:20 setting.  The quality of all three test encodes was excellent, with no apparent difference from the original.  You won't find advanced encoding settings anywhere in this interface, so if you're looking to fine-tune your output, I recommend moving on to something like Handbrake, Format Factory, or FFCoder.

I would have loved to give this software 10/10 stars, however there was one negative aspect to Freemake Video Converter: the bundled Freemake Toolbar and OpenCandy softwares.  The toolbar is set to install by default unless you choose otherwise on the first page of the install wizard.  To their credit, the Privacy Policies and/or EULA's are easily available for all bundled software. OpenCandy, on the other hand, does not have a checkbox to toggle its install.  Instead, you'll have to roll up your sleeves and install from the command-line if you want to opt out of it.  Here's how:  Hit Start, then 'Run' the install file with the /nocandy switch.  It will still show you the EULA for it, however there will be an option at the very end of the install to 'not install' the software OpenCandy recommends for you.  Even without the /nocandy switch, you can still uncheck the box, but for some reason the switch will trade in the check-box for 2 separate radio button choices (Yes or No).  It's a lot to worry about and go through, but this software really is top-notch in most other ways.

Although their website defaults to an "online installer", they do host offline installers, available here.

 

When iWisoft Free Video Converter starts, it automatically launches your browser for an upgrade check and displays a web page, which I found annoying.  Aside from this, I didn't find much else to complain about.  Its interface is extremely clean, well organized, and easy to use. It has a complete and well-organized collection of presets, and supports making and saving basic tweaks, too. It even has a few pleasant surprises, such as a basic built-in editing suite, with features like cropping, splitting, joining, and watermarking.  In short, this program is an outstanding choice for most device conversions.

 

FormatFactory ScreenShotAnother excellent choice (especially for old phones and DVD ripping) is Format Factory. It has presets for over 100 devices, converts to and from dozens of formats, and allows for advanced tweaking and custom profiles. On the downside, the sidebar-and-popup interface does not provide a linear experience.  You'll find that you can not drag'n'drop into the windows that look like you should be able to, and you have to open & close a couple of windows in order to end up back at the starting screen, where you finally get to hit START.  This being said, once you learn the interface, you'll find it responsive, stable, and easy to drill down to the exact settings you are looking for. Overall, this program is a good choice for power or device users who find iwiSoft lacking.

NOTE:  When installing Format Factory, watch out for the bundled toolbar.  It is installed by default if you don't uncheck the box on the first screen of the installer package.

A portable version of this software is also available at LiberKey, which is a superb portable application manager.

 

 

Also recommended:

  • Ultimate Video Converter: Only handles single files, but simplest converter with both iPod and custom settings
  • SGI's Video Converter: More cluttered than the top two, but has "flatter" interface and more conversion options for power users.
  • YouTube Downloader HD:  This program is a gem in the world of YouTube ripping.  It allows you to copy/paste a YouTube link, choose your video quality, and download it to your computer for future viewing.  In the latest version, you can now choose to have it automatically convert the .FLV file to an iPod/iPhone compatible .MP4 file, or an XViD .AVI for playback on many devices.
 
 

Custom-Oriented Picks

If you need to make complex, custom jobs, FFCoder is the standout choice for its coherence. Like most programs in this review, it has an excellent device preset list, the ability to convert multiple files at once, and a simple, sleek interface. Where FFCoder stands out is its support of highly advanced configuration for each of the dozens of video formats and codecs, down to lighting and rendering settings. Despite a few dependencies (listed below) and a steep learning curve for any tweaks past the presets, this is the best converter for almost any power user, device owner or not.

One of my favorite FFCoder features is the Directory Watch.  You can setup FFCoder so that it monitors a folder for files matching a filename pattern, which will be automatically converted using the selected settings.  It can be a bit confusing to set up, however I found I got the best results when setting the wildcard filename pattern to something other than *.* (such as *.avi).

There were two things I didn't like about FFCoder.  The first is that is always creates Start Menu entries in the Administrator account, regardless of which non-admin account is being used to install it.  This is fairly minor though, contrasted with all the powerful features.  The second drawback is that it seems to be less stable on 64-bit Windows systems every now and again.  I ran into .DLL errors and missing presets, which strangely were intermittent problems.  I've spoken with the author and it looks like many of these bugs will be worked out in the next release.

 

Also recommended:

  • SUPER:  Great for small, obscure tweaks. Has a simple but annoying interface. This program is bundled with OpenCandy. See this article for more information.
  • XVID4PSP: Supports very many tweaks. Impossibly fragmented interface. Solid AviSynth support.
 
 

Audio-Only Picks

Pazera Free Audio Extractor is the audio-only program in the above-mentioned Pazera Video Converters Suite. It supports both video and audio input and output to many formats, and is slightly simpler than some of its sibling programs. Otherwise, it is perfectly identical.

 

 

Online Conversion Websites

Video to Mp3 I was asked to checkout a web site converter for Youtube and Dailymotion videos. This site is set up to convert video to four set formats Mp3(128 kbt/s & 256 kbit/s ), flv, mp4 and 3gp.

This is a wonderful idea, but does it work lets see....

I started the test with an Mp3 convert and WOW finished in a matter of seconds and my result was ready to download. Ok lets check out some of these other bad boy options. Next I selected the Mp4 option and clicked the convert button and nothing. EMMM I thought well it is a video conversion so it will take more time. I waited until the next day nothing. After a full 24 hours still nothing. I reloaded the page and recopied the URL started a new convert. After 6 hours nothing and then my browser crashed ooops. I started a third again after 24 hours nothing. I am not saying it wont work for you as different configurations of bandwidth, browsers etc may be different but don't get your hopes up.

Next up the flv now I was thinking that a lot of Youtube video is in format flv so this should be quick but again after 3 days and 3 tests I had 0 results. At least this time my browser did not crash lol. So without much Enthusiasm I tried the 3gp option and hey what you know it worked first time and quite quickly about 30 minutes.

Having said all this if anyone wants a Youtube video in basic no frills mp3 audio from a Youtube video then this is a viable option and simple to use just copy and paste a Youtube URL into box, choice format and click convert and when it is ready download finished product, easy.

 

 

Zamzar is an excellent website when you're on the run.  It doesn't allow you to customize the encoding settings, however it makes up for that somewhat with its portability and flexibility.  If you have a browser with internet access, you have Zamzar.  If you have any file, you can convert it to any other type of file in the same class.  For example, you can convert video files, audio files, photos (ex: .JPG to .PNG), archives (ex: .RAR to .ZIP), documents (ex: .PDF to .DOC), and eBooks (ex: .LIT to .EPUB).  You can even paste a URL (ex: YouTube) and it'll download the embedded video for you and convert it.  Once the conversion is done, they email you a link to download the finished product.

This email-based file retrieval can be either a pro or a con depending on how you look at it.  It's more fuss than there really needs to be in the process, however it gives you the flexibility of converting a Youtube video from a computer where you can't download the content, such as when at work behind a proxy or at a public library.  When you get home, you can then download the finished conversion immediately using the email link.  I first used Zamzar over a year ago, and to this day I have never received unsolicited email from them.

There is a 100MB file limit for free use, but you can upgrade that to 200MB and get about 5GB of online storage if you want to pay their fairly steep monthly prices.  For most users, the free services are more than adequate.

 

 

Tested and not recommended:


To Be Reviewed:

  • Avanti
  • DVDVideoSoft (re-review)
  • Miksoft Mobile Media Converter
  • Mediacoder
  • Motion Man by Blink Solution
  • MeGUI
 
Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

 
Quick Selection Guide

Freemake Video Converter
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Great interface, very flexible, support for almost every type of conversion, easy to use
Bundled toolbar (you can opt out, but it's a multi-click process) Bundled OpenCandy
http://www.freemake.com
4.1.2
1.21 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP/Vista/7, .NET Framework
Pazera Video Converters Suite
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Excellent presets, easy to use, custom profiles
Looks intimidating, separate programs for each output type, no advanced tweaks. Contains unwanted bundled components. Take care to avoid these during the install process.
1.7
21.3 MB
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.
NT/98/Me/2000/XP/2003/Vista/7
Miro Video Converter
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Brutally easy-to-use device conversion
Only one file at a time, no profile or generic tweaking, only MP4
3.0
425.09 KB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows and Mac OSX
iWisoft Free Video Converter
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Simple polished interface, file and preset editing allowed, many device presets
Checks for updates and launches the browser on startup, requires Windows Media Player
1.2.0
8.7 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available but not from the developer.
NT/2000/XP/Vista/7

Portable version available here.

Format Factory
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Stable with many device presets. Supports all video file formats. Rips DVD's & Music CD's. Very powerful software.
Installer is bundled with a toolbar (you are able to opt out), interface is non-linear and somewhat confusing.
3.2.1.0
58.88 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
NT/2000/XP/Vista/7 and 8 (NET Framework)
FFCoder
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Solid preset list, highly advanced tweaks, sleek interface
Dependencies, no installer
1.3.0.3
38 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
2000/XP/2003 Server/Vista/7
Pazera Free Audio Extractor
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Great presets, supports many input and output formats, easy to use, custom profiles
No advanced tweaks. Contains unwanted bundled components. Take care to avoid these during the install process.
2.8
8.4MB
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.
NT/98/Me/2000/XP/2003/Vista/7
Handbrake
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Cross-platform, simple interface, good presets, complete features, video quality is excellent, DVD ripping, subtitle support
No preview window in the Windows version, slow encoding (based on settings chosen), output formats limited to MPEG-4 and H.264
http://handbrake.fr/
0.9.9
13.63 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Open source freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
MacOS 32/64-bit, Windows XP/Vista/7 32-bit, Fedora 15 32/64-bit, Ubuntu

 
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Tags
free audio converter, free video converter, best audio video converter, top audio video conversion program, free av converter, free av conversion.

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Comments

by Lambas on 27. June 2009 - 16:53  (24427)

Pazera Video Converters Suite is very cool!!!
and portable = no radish to my registry ....

i love gizmo site!!!
excellent suggestions :))))

thanks very much

by Arithmomaniac on 10. June 2009 - 22:59  (23541)

This article has been rewritten - hope you like it. A DVD converter pick, and more Quick Selection info will follow in the following weeks.

I'm not going to be able to read the whole comment archive, so if I missed anything, just repost the comment.

by Anonymous on 16. June 2009 - 3:05  (23957)

Great article, thank you.

The only thing that annoys me about Format Factory a little, is that it's built in preview/video player turns off windows aero effects when it's running for some reason. Anyone else notice this?

by Anonymous on 18. June 2009 - 19:59  (24110)

Yes I realise this as well. Some things just aren't compatible with aero, like a game that I played a couple of months ago which did the same thing. Rather annoying and I hope Format Factory sort it out soon.

by Arithmomaniac on 17. June 2009 - 2:23  (24019)

My computer's too slow for Aero. Sorry.

by Anonymous on 6. June 2009 - 23:03  (23212)

I am posting this here cause it seems the likeliest place for this question.
I have some movies, documentaries, etc. (all legal, of course :P) that I want
to copy to blank dvd's so they will play in dvd players for friends that
don't bother with computers. I am looking for a tutorial/free software to
help me do this. I already have a multi-burner and use imgburn to backup data
onto dvd's. Can anyone direct me to an explanation of how to do this?
Thanks in advance for your assistance.

by Anonymous on 7. August 2009 - 19:53  (26595)

http://www.dvdflick.net/ is all you need. Really awesome piece of software.

by Anonymous on 12. August 2009 - 21:38  (26964)

To all,

Many thanks for your recommendations.

by Jojo Yee on 7. June 2009 - 8:24  (23228)

If you're using Vista Home Premium or Ultimate, Windows Movie Maker is included. Alternatively, give DVDBuilder a try. Just a piece of info, I've not tried them thoroughly though.

by Anonymous on 3. June 2009 - 12:25  (22975)

"What about the very popular Quick Media Converter? http://www.cocoonsoftware.com/" +1

by Anonymous on 5. June 2009 - 15:52  (23100)

I have to agree. What about Quick Media Converter. It is a very good converter and it covers a lot of different formats. Please evaluate.

by Anonymous on 3. June 2009 - 10:51  (22969)

Any of these that will keep a directory structure, or that perhaps can be run from a command-line / is available for scripting?

My problem is that I need to convert my podcasts to different media for different players, and I would like to keep the directory structure.
(I have tried Format Factory

by Arithmomaniac on 4. June 2009 - 2:23  (23019)

I believe MediaCoder does, if you tell it to. Both MediaCoder and SUPER will put it into the original directory.
Arithmomaniac
PS. Expect a rewrite of this article soon!

by Anonymous on 31. May 2009 - 1:13  (22692)

I just tried Handbrake (latest 0.93, on Windows XP Pro SP3), but with numerous attempts to rip a portion of a DVD into a mobile-viewable video, all I got was various errors (mainly corrupted video and program crashes). Not a single decent output in almost 10 tries, using various settings and output formats. It's gotten such a good reputation lately, with Windows & Mac users both, I figured it was a no-brainer that it would be excellent, but it has been completely awful in my experience. Just another in a long list of hyped vid-tool disappointments over the years.

So having found this list, I just tried Format Factory (v1.85) next. Very nice! Perfect rip on the first try. And one of the cleanest, nicest interfaces I have seen in a long time. Also very impressive features, format support (though I haven't tried much of them yet). Great recommendation, thank you...I can certainly second it.

by Anonymous on 31. May 2009 - 12:26  (22725)

Ok, just to follow up on my note, FF actually does have two annoyances that I've noticed so far. First, it seemingly isn't able to distinguish chapters when ripping a DVD; the user has to manually enter time points. And second (and related), the little built-in viewer, which is meant to allow the user to drag and scan to the correct point in the movie, doesn't work that well. Clicking at points or dragging the slider has unexpected buggy effects (basically moving to unexpected spots or hardly moving at all).

Not showstoppers (yet) but not insignificant either...makes ripping a DVD more of a headache. FF is still nice, but might try MediaCoder...

by Anonymous on 31. May 2009 - 12:51  (22726)

Ok, (maybe) last post. Following up, tried MediaCoder. It. Is. A. Mess. Lasted roughly 20 minutes on my system. Try running the shortcut, and instead of actually running the program (or more specifically with the program running covertly in the tray), it brings up an intro webpage, with a webpage-based setup wizard. Annoying in itself, although it was also problematic...didn't save a damn thing, had to go to the client and manually input my options anyway. Next, the interface is all over the place...the "simple" mode is too ridiculously simple, the "normal" and (heaven help us) "advanced" modes are overly complicated. Trying just a basic DVD rip...it doesn't even seemingly have a DVD option. Seems to call them "tracks"? In any case, I wouldn't know for sure...I tried that, and partway through scanning the DVD, it crashed. And that, as they say, was that. Bad taste from this program right from the get-go (have a look at the convoluted download "versions" they have and you'll get the idea).

MediaCoder is awful...another in a long line of awful tools of this sort that we've endured over the years. Doesn't belong on this list.

by Anonymous on 31. May 2009 - 13:27  (22728)

I guess I lied. One more. Tried a couple more on this list. Firstly: "Any Video Converter" and Format Factory are too similar to be truly independent. For better or worse, the same individual(s) are behind both products. Not sure which is newer or better but I'm betting it's FF. AVC seems to be more of an older lead-in to a commercial suite of products. Leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth over FF though (and something I haven't mentioned is that FF does try to install unwanted extra software although this is easily bypassed).

And secondly: the Pazera suite seems ok, but it is limited in terms of input/output and seems extremely weighted toward a couple of mobile platforms (mainly the iPod and PSP). This article is rather accurate about that. Didn't go too in-depth with it but will keep it around in case FF fails me. It didn't leave bad enough a taste in my mouth that I would recommend against it entirely (for now).

So in summary, there are only really two noteworthy ones from this article's list that I would recommend: Format Factory, and Pazera, in that order. The others are not recommendable. (And although my mini-reviews here have not mentioned Super, it is only because I already know/tried it from before, and frankly it sucks, for numerous reasons outlined in other posts already.)

by Anonymous on 30. May 2009 - 20:31  (22682)

I'm trying to play a DVD downloaded from Itunes. It won't play anywhere except in Itunes, not even windows media player. Can anyone help a non-techie here?

pjaatpdx

by sbwhiteman on 3. June 2009 - 20:33  (22999)
by Anonymous on 29. May 2009 - 18:34  (22595)

What about the very popular Quick Media Converter? http://www.cocoonsoftware.com/

by sbalzer on 21. May 2009 - 2:56  (22013)

Hi Mick, it looks like Mr Pazera has combined most of his conversion tools into one Pazera Video Converters Suite 1.2 (http://www.pazera-software.com/products/vcsuite). Maybe it's worth updating/replacing his 'Video to iPod' recommendation with this one. I'm just downloading it now, but it appears to be a user-friendly control interface that is used to call each of the different converters -- all from one place. Thanks, Steve.

by Anonymous on 20. May 2009 - 16:53  (21975)

Has anyone had the problem when about to convert a movie that Super refuses to do so and shuts down.

by Anonymous on 18. May 2009 - 2:57  (21759)

I downloaded and installed the so-called SUPER and it won't even run. I use Vista 64-bit. Is that the problem? If so, there's not even a whisper of Vista64 incompatibility in your recommendation.

by Anonymous on 5. June 2009 - 16:00  (23101)

I also have had problems with SUPER on my 64-bit system. It would take forever to load up. It also would not convert a FLV no matter what I tried. A better media converter is Quick Media Converter www.cocoonsoftware.com. This converter is 64-bit compatible. Loads up lightning fast.

by Anonymous on 20. May 2009 - 16:51  (21974)

I have Vista 64-bit and Super. I haven't had problems with the program at all.

by PsychEroc on 18. May 2009 - 21:28  (21808)

It worked fine for me on 32-bit Vista and Win7, I dig it. So maybe the 64-bit is a problem (which seems to be the case more often than not).

by Anonymous on 15. May 2009 - 18:42  (21651)

how can I change audible formated files to mp3??

by mr6n8 on 15. May 2009 - 19:29  (21654)

If you are talking about encrypted files from audible.com, their site says this:

You will not be able to burn Audible content as a MP3 file. Audible uses security technologies, including encryption, to protect purchased programs. The measures have been taken by Audible to protect both the intellectual property rights of our Content Providers as well as the Authors.

Makes their product pretty unsatisfactory to me.

This article tells how to convert, supposedly legally, but it is a long process.
Unlocking Audible Books Legally

by Anonymous on 15. May 2009 - 14:49  (21639)

I've tried them all. I always return to the freeware MEGUI. Difficult to use, crappy help and tutorials but the quality and breadth is amazing!

by Anonymous on 15. May 2009 - 5:17  (21611)

Videos : I use Any video converter
Audio : I use Switch Sound File Converter

I use also : online converter Media Convert : http://media-convert.com/convertir/

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