Best Free Video Encoder

 
Introduction

Although there's a debate on what encoding and transcoding is, we'll try to keep it simple here: we're going to talk about how to reduce the filesize of videos while retaining maximum quality. This is especially useful for copying a DVD/BluRay onto your computer, sending personal videos to your family over the web or for watching them on a mobile device. Some of these tasks can also be performed by a video converter.

Since encoding requires some knowledge, it will be helpful to understand some technical aspects of your original video and the output you want. Even when using automated detection tools, failing to understand some basic principles will result in weird-looking videos. For example, if you don't deinterlace an interlaced video, you'll end up with this:

Detail interlaced image.

Before we start, here are the basics you need to know.

  1. What codec and format are you going to use? As of now, H264, aac and .mp4 are the winning combination (best compatibility with modern devices, best quality/compression ratio).
  2. What quality/filesize/encoding speed do you want? You have to choose 2 out of 3, as each parameter affects the others.
  3. How to treat your source? Most of the time, the source is not optimized for playing on a computer: it can be interlaced, have black borders... You will need to learn interlacing, telecine, aspect ratio, cropping, bitrate and other notions so you can handle your source best. Tutorials are available at http://www.videohelp.com
  4. Is your source encrypted? Most encoders do not decrypt DVDs or blurays by themselves. You will need a decrypter like DVDFab HD, DVDshrink or DVD43 (on the fly). With some tools, it is best to copy the files on your HDD before encoding.
  5. Encoding is CPU intensive, so depending on the specs of your machine, it could take a very long time.
 
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Go to details...  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide

 
Discussion

In this review, I tried to select the most modern encoding freeware, the easiest to use and with the best performances. There are a lot of good encoders/transcoders/converters out there, my advice is to choose one that can at least output H264 and handle deinterlacing. Many commercial programs fail to provide even the most basic tools, the best encoding programs are mostly free.

The most useful freeware products I found are StaxRip, MeGUI, HandBrake, XviD4PSP, and RipBot264. They all are GUI: interfaces allowing you to use multiple programs seamlessly. They are powered by similar programs like x264 or Avisynth, but they feel different because of their presets, their features and their layouts.

 

StaxRip is my Top pick. I found it to produce the best quality output, with a low filesize and good speed. Although there is no tool to analyze the source, the default settings are fairly good in most cases and the preview window makes it easy to choose the correct settings.

It is easy to set the quality/size/encoding speed of your output or to trim a video, and there are many tools available from the GUI. It is important, when using StaxRip to manually detect interlaced, telecine or progressive input and to choose the settings accordingly. Although it is possible to encode directly from a DVD, it is recommended to copy it to the HDD first.

 

MeGUI is the favorite choice of advanced users. This GUI has the most comprehensive set of tools, it is the most flexible, and it integrates advanced features like automatic detection of interlacing or telecine. The presets are very good, the program updates itself on a very regular basis, and it has interesting options like "one click encode" that makes the job easier for beginners. One thing I did not like with MeGUI is that there are so many options, it makes it easy to do something wrong and mess up the encoding.

 

HandBrake is the favorite choice of Mac users, but the Windows version is not as good. Still, it is a very good encoder and it is simple.

The Windows version does not have a preview window so it is difficult to find out whether your video needs deinterlacing or not. There are no detection tools, but the settings are good, and specifically oriented towards Apple products such as iPhone, apple TV or others.

It is easy to convert directly from the DVD (although you need some on-the-fly decryption freeware, like DVD43 or dvdfab passkey), but its presets are not as fast as StaxRip. Windows users can use VidCoder, a GUI based on HandBrake that provides a preview window.

 

Xvid4PSP is an interesting program but there is no recent stable version. Currently, the latest stable version is 5.x (2009) but its developer is now exclusively focusing on version 6.x that still lacks some features. Both versions provide an analysis tool, a comprehensive list of default settings for all kinds of devices, and a clean interface to add filters or correct color.

Overall, I have been very impressed with the detection tools and the innovative interface.  Xvid4PSP 5.x and Xvid4PSP 6.x are installed as different programs, so you can try them both. The 6.x version is still in beta stage, but there is no doubt it will be one of the best when it's finished. One thing I didn't like are the presets; in my tests, they made encodes either too slow or the output filesize bigger than I expected.

 

RibBot264 is a simple and efficient tool that provides all the essential features (deinterlace, crop, IVTC, color filters, denoise, subtitles, resize...) in a very manageable way. As its author says: "This small app written in Delphi is specially for people looking for something simple without exotic filters and unnecessary settings."

In my tests, the analysis tools were very helpful, but many of them failed to recognize interlacing in static scenes such as cartoons. Most of the time, manual detection is always best. The only case where automatic detection provides better results is with mixed sources (part-interlaced, part-telecine, part-progressive).

 

More About Video and Audio

If you want to learn more about video and audio, here's a list of some websites with a wealth of information:

Something is incorrect or your favorite freeware is missing? Post a comment!

 
Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

 
Quick Selection Guide

StaxRip
4.5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Good quality/size/speed balance, clean interface, many features, reliable, good presets.
Not designed to encode from optical disks directly, no auto-detection tools.
http://staxmedia.sourceforge.net/
1.1.9.0.7z
36.3 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
.NET 3.5, Win 2000 - Win 7

v1.1.9.0.7z released 30 June, 2013

MeGUI
4.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Most comprehensive set of features, actively developed and updated, good presets.
Designed for experts rather than beginners, not designed to encode from optical disks directly.
2.356
69.9 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Win XP - 7

v2.356 released 8 June, 2013

HandBrake
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Cross-platform, simple, good presets (especially for Apple products), complete features, very clean interface, easy to encode dvds directly from optical disk.
No preview window in Windows, some presets resulting in slow encodes, limited input and output formats, some missing functions (trimming...)
http://handbrake.fr
0.9.9
13.63 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Mac OSX 10.5-10.6, Win2000-Win7, Linux
Xvid4PSP
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
No indexing needed, source detection tools, very innovative interface, smart file navigation, designed to encode from optical disks directly.
Old latest stable version, beta version not finished. Presets could be better.
6.0.4
6.63 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
.NET 4.0, Win2000 - Win 7
RipBot264
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very simple and straightforward, complete set of tools, good presets.
Limited output formats, limited settings.
1.17.4
39.8 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Win XP - 7

v1.17.4 released 1 February, 2013

 
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Tags

Encoding, DVD, bluray, dvdrip, brrip, x264, avi, divx, mkv, xvid

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Comments

by Juxxize on 4. December 2013 - 13:05  (112766)

Handbrake has just had an update in Windows and now has a preview option/window

by skan on 19. September 2013 - 21:58  (110875)

There are many others, such as Freemake, Any Video Converter and Mediacoder.

Sometimes I use Mediacoder because it lets me to choose frame rates as low as 1 fps. Sometimes this is good to highly compress some tutorials or "still image" videos without loosing resolution.
It has a drawback though, an annoying ad.

One thing to be taken into account is that the fast GPU compression that many programs offer dont's produce a good quality output, even with larger files.

by Juxxize on 25. January 2013 - 12:19  (104803)

since handbrake removed the 'Target Size' option i'm at a loss because i don't really understand the 'encoding' thing and to be honest and i only used it to make my video files smaller without losing quality does anyone know of any other video encoders that actually have this option in it, so many people aren't happy they removed it so goodness knows why they did.

by arto65 on 25. January 2013 - 12:58  (104806)

Well, quality target is overall better than size target, because it makes the encode faster and more efficient. Handbrake has been known to make harsh choices such as this one to promote what THEY think is best, and given it's popularity, I say they made a pretty good job at retaining only the best options.
Nevertheless, if you want a fixed size no matter what, you can either learn to modify those options directly through x264 commands, or use another front end for x264, like staxrip.
There are also alternative interfaces for handbrake such as VidCoder.

by Juxxize on 26. January 2013 - 15:14  (104841)

thanks for your reply ,i wanted to make the video files smaller( without losing too much quialty) to put on my tablet. after i posted i had the idea to use iWisoft Free Video Converter ( also mentioned on gizmo's) it gives me the ability to change the bitrate lower it and hence lower the file size and then preview the video to make sure it still look good quality wise. this turned out to be the prefect solution for me as i didn't want a complicated encoder as i don't have a great understanding of it.

by andrei (not verified) on 27. December 2011 - 7:52  (86048)

I love your list of free video encoders! The reviews are also helpful for people to know more them which can help them choose what suites them best.

by Yatz (not verified) on 1. June 2011 - 17:51  (73065)

StaxRIP is asking I install the DGDecNV shareware (as in: money wanted) program for my nVidia card...

by arto65 on 1. June 2011 - 22:13  (73070)

Interesting, Yatz. As a matter of fact, I never had that issue because I don't own any nvidia card. You don't need DGDecNV to run Staxrip.
Edit: Does Staxrip ask you if you want to install that during the install process, or does it nag you with it while you're using it ?
If it's the latter, you try the following.
Click Tools>Settings>demuxing, and uncheck both DGIndexNV. Can you let me know if that works for you?
I'll see what information I can find meanwhile.

by Yatz (not verified) on 2. June 2011 - 19:19  (73135)

Waddya know! This has done the trick. I got the prompt once I selected the source and wouldn't go on, but after I unchecked the two DGIndexNV's it continued past that point. Thanks!

by arto65 on 2. June 2011 - 21:30  (73140)

I'm happy that worked for you!
This program is supposed to make people's life easier, not nag them to get a license. It seems it's a bug, but if anyone has this problem, please, let us know!

by syntax_error on 14. June 2011 - 4:28  (73765)

Had the same prob. thanks to arto65 for the answer.

On a side note, although it handles a large range of file types, wtv is not one of them. ie a TV recording using windows media centre.

MCE Buddy and Freemaker Video Converter handle them ok.

by ianjrichards (not verified) on 27. May 2011 - 8:10  (72764)

Note: This post was made user Harerton. I'm posting it on his behalf. I neither agree nor disagree with his observation:

What about Freemake? This app could handle conversion of a SBDTV recording (Brazilian DTV system, based on the Japanese standard)without any problems. Most of the converters I tested weren't capable of that. Freemake also rips DVD and backup videos to DVD too. And it also downloads youtube videos and also include basic video editing (great to take out commercials). Worth checking it out! http://www.freemake.com/

by arto65 on 27. May 2011 - 12:01  (72778)

Thank you for transmitting the post!
Freemake makes me think of Free studio (by Dvdvideosoft) in the sense that it's more of a multimedia suite (audio/video conversion, editor, downloader...)
I love the interface (great work there), but in my opinion, there are not enough features to properly handle DVD reencoding: no cropping, no deinterlacing, no IVTC, no other filters...
It's a beautiful freeware but I wouldn't include it in this category. It might be suitable for the "Best free audio/video conversion program" though! http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-audio-video-format-conversion-...
Would you care to send me a sample of SBDTV video so I can see what it looks like ?
Thanks!

by arto65 on 30. May 2011 - 22:20  (72946)

Thank you Harerton for the sample.

First of all, it seems the stream has a lot of errors, but it is not uncommon for a TVrip. Indeed this has caused trouble for 3 of 5 of the tools presented here: Staxrip, Megui and Ripbot. It's probably because of Avisynth, I'll look further on that matter.
Handbrake and Xvid4PSP had no problem to reencode this stream.
If I had to choose my favorite tool for that particular case, I'd go with Xvid4PSP.

If you look close enough, you'll see your content is interlaced, and since Freemake can't deinterlace, you probably have that in your output as well.
I suggest you try Xvid4PSP and add the video filter "Remove interlace (yadif)".
This should give you the best results for this particular type of video!

by arto65 on 8. June 2011 - 21:21  (73515)

So I did some more testing, and it was my mistake, I had a problem with ffdshow. I reinstalled and now everything is fine. Staxrip will definitely handle your rips better than freemake do.

by syntax_error on 9. June 2011 - 0:28  (73522)

Whilst StaxRip seems to be stuck in beta, it's good to see it being updated several times a year. I assume this is so it works with updated versions of it's dependencies?

by Sean Franzen (not verified) on 27. May 2011 - 2:28  (72741)

I've tried just about everything free and shareware. Almost everything free is going to be using mencoder or ffmpeg underneath. That being said, I think Xmedia Recode is my favorite free product. It's available as a portable version, has more pre-built device profiles than just about anything else, updated very regularly and can encode DVDs directly as well as files.

by arto65 on 27. May 2011 - 7:40  (72762)

Yes, it's a very good program.
I liked: preview window (best of all preview windows I've seen), x264 controls, tags, comprehensive set of features.
I didn't like: the way DVDs are handled (title by title reencoding only, no angle selection), some default presets use average bitrate (I think it's better to use either 2-pass or CQ), no control about which filters are loaded, no IVTC.
I'll dig a little more to find out if it's possible to IVTC a video with it, and if there are workarounds for the other drawbacks. Have you ever reencoded an NTSC DVD with Xmedia Recode ?
Thanks for your post, Mr. Franzen! ;-)

by Ratzo on 26. May 2011 - 12:05  (72708)

A very good article and links thanks... I have already learn`t a lot more and yes as Anupam suggests a couple of step by step articles would be great .

by ja odsvuda (not verified) on 26. May 2011 - 10:31  (72703)

Thanks for your reply,arto65 . Actually,I´ve tried most of commercial ones,and all 5 from your list.In fact,StaxRip,and RipBot are my 2nd and 3rd favourites , but FFCoder (and I´m talking about it´s older,portable version) still can produce the smallest/best looking video (on my system at least).

@appyface,I´m using it (right from the start) without K-Lite codec-pack,but AviSynth,dot.NET aren´t optional.Those must be installed before FFCoder.

by arto65 on 30. May 2011 - 22:27  (72948)

Sorry I'm replying so late.
So I see the latest version you were talking about was released on the 29th. I'm goint to try it.
I couldn't find the "older, portable version" you were talking about. All I can find are beta versions. Did he ever released a stable one?

by appyface on 25. May 2011 - 19:09  (72668)

I haven't tried FFcoder, but it states the K-Lite codec pack is required.

(edit: The above requirement is from teejee2008's weblog announcing FFcoder. The Doom9 forum page states K-Lite is optional. ???? )

The few times I've installed K-Lite (for other programs) it caused conflicts or took priority over some of my existing codecs. I've always spent considerable time sorting this out, in the end only to remove K-Lite or revert back before it was installed. For many people K-Lite works just fine. YMMV...

I still rely on Mencoder to do all my re-encoding and transcoding jobs. It can be fed a cut list and it will seamlessly remove those portions from the output file. This is especially great for TV shows that been processed first with a program like Comskip that generates a cut list of commercials to remove from the finished file. The cut list is just a text file so it can even be generated by hand. MPlayer the minimalist player that comes with Mencoder, can help with manual generation and/or correction of cut lists for important material.

Yes Mencoder is all batch and no GUI. And it might take no small amount of trial and error to get it working exactly as you'd wish (size, quality, container, encoding format, other features). IMO Mencoder can be difficult for the newbie unless they're already comfortable with command line programs and have at least some feel for working with transcoding, perhaps by having used a frontend to Mencoder like MeGui or others, first.

Mencoder is still the best one for me. But YMMV as well...

--appyface

by arto65 on 25. May 2011 - 20:13  (72672)

Well, FFcoder can take advantage of Mencoder. I guess the K-lite pack is required for maximum compatibility, since FFCoder enables you to choose whatever encoder you want.
Mencoder has always been a very well known encoder, but you're right, it can be difficult for anyone who does not know how to use a CLI.
If you care to give a GUI a try, check out Staxrip's trimming feature: drag&drop the video on the window. When the indexing is over, press F5 to open the preview window. Place markers at the beginning and end of the video, then press "S" to place each marker at beginning and end of each commercial break. When this is done, just delete the selections corresponding to commercial breaks.
This way, you can quickly select what portions of the video to encode, with a preview window and keyboard shortcuts. If you want to manually write that list, you can do so with avisynth trim commands.
Let me know how that works out for you!

by ja odsvuda (not verified) on 25. May 2011 - 11:49  (72657)

Well...I have to disagree with author,since this theme is point of interest for me (I have Leadtek hardware MPEG-2 encoder PC TV card,needed decent video encoder/converter).The best free-one of those I´ve found (5-years search) is not even listed on arto65´s list : FFCoder.Those 9,5/10,00 on VideoHelp forum,and 5,0/5,0 on Softpedia means something.
Author of FFCoder (a guy named Tony George,a.k.a."teejee") is a bit lazy (obvious) when it´s to uploading the latest,but you can find his app on :

xxtp://teejee2008.wordpress.com/ffcoder/ ,or

xxtp://forum.doom9.org/showthread.php?t=149452

Once you try this app ,you´ll know what am I talking about - almost perfect x264 (mkv)/avi(xvid)with 2 pass encoding (and just for the record : a new version was anounced for May,the 15th...still waiting for it...) !!!

by arto65 on 25. May 2011 - 14:31  (72663)

Thanks for that suggestion! I did test FFcoder in the first test rounds, and it looks very interesting. IMHO, the main drawbacks are the lack of preview, the lack of some other features (trimming, autocrop...) and I didn't like the way Avisynth is managed.
Moreover, I often get the same error as Lucas (comment on the 1.1 version on the author's website): framework exception. So many of the videos I want to reencode fail before I can add them to the list.
Overall, it looks interesting, and I'll keep an eye on it. If you think I overlooked something, please, let me know.
If you want to give a chance to another program, try staxrip: it has x264 and avisynth, so in theory you should get the same results as FFcoder.
Želim ti ugodan dan!

by Anupam on 25. May 2011 - 7:06  (72641)

I have a suggestion.

DVDx : http://www.labdv.com/dvdx/

Haven't used it, but looks good from the site. Had you tested it?

by arto65 on 25. May 2011 - 7:54  (72645)

Just tested it: interesting interface, auto deinterlace, but it is not flexible enough and it lacks some basic features. No cropping for example, no filters... and the bitrate choice is very limited.
Thanks for bringing that up anyway!

by Anupam on 25. May 2011 - 7:58  (72646)

Welcome. And thanks for checking it out :).

by dualsight (not verified) on 23. May 2011 - 23:23  (72551)

How about SUPER? Awful interface & finding download link on their website is atrocious but when it comes down to coding, it gets business done. Would be nice if you guys give it a chance.

by arto65 on 24. May 2011 - 14:38  (72590)

In addition to OpenCandy, I didn't consider Super because I think it is better related to the converters category: http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-audio-video-format-conversion-....
Super is not very easy to reencode a DVD for example: limited deinterlacing/IVTC options, no title support and so on.
If you do convert DVDs or BRs with Super, please let me know how, and I'd be happy to reconsider! :-)

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