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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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 MidnightCowboy on 24. May 2011 - 6:47  (72563)

SUPER is bundled with OpenCandy. Please see our policy relating to this here, including "The presence of OpenCandy will be treated by our editors as a negative when preparing our lists of recommended programs".

http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/controversial-advertising-progra...

by syntax_error on 8. May 2011 - 0:28  (71599)

"Ok, do you have any idea about what kind of articles you would be interested in?"

With the advent of much large and cheaper HDD, I took the opportunity to convert my CD collection to FLAC and now play music from the HDD instead of the the CDs. The CDs that had started taking up a lot of space in various rooms in the house are now in storage. Music is now played from the PC, Laptop or media player, with no loss in sound quality and no gradual deterioration of the CDs.

I would like to now do the same with the DVD collection and get rid of the DVD player altogether. I would like to reduce the size of the movies to the extent possible without reducing picture or sound quality and leave out the extras. Conversion speed doesn't matter as I can run them overnight if need be and do them as an ongoing project.

by Ratzo on 26. May 2011 - 11:55  (72706)

Hi Here is a guide How to put many movies or episodes in one DVD
http://www.dvd-guides.com/guides/all-to-dvd/250-put-many-movies-episodes...

by arto65 on 8. May 2011 - 9:28  (71614)

Oh, and I forgot to say that DVD shrink allows you to leave out extra languages and subtitles. This way, you only keep the movie with your preferred audio track.

by arto65 on 8. May 2011 - 9:26  (71613)

I second Anupam's suggestion: DVD shrink is awesome at ripping DVDs losslessly without menus and extras, and it actually takes little time (avg. 30min per DVD). The only problem is it's a little old (latest version dates back to 2004). So if you have problem ripping some recent dvds, I suggest you install DVD43 or DVDfab passkey, that will decrypt the dvds on the fly so DVDshrink can rip them.
In DVD shrink, click "re author", then choose your dvd, drag and drop the main title to the left, and click "Backup!". You can either save it as a folder or an iso image. I recommand iso images, you will only have to assign .iso files to be opened with VLC, it will play them directly.
Here's the download link: http://www.videohelp.com/tools/DVD_Shrink
You can also use MakeMKV, which handles Blurays as well as DVDs.
Final advice: go to the How to>DVD backup category in videohelp.com, and read the articles in the "DVD Backup articles" category and the "Blu-ray Backup articles". They have tons of good guides.
Cheers!

by Anupam on 8. May 2011 - 5:55  (71610)

arto65 may have a better suggestion than mine, but I think for your purpose, DVD Shrink might be a good choice.

by Bloax (not verified) on 7. May 2011 - 15:02  (71580)

I'm surprised you didn't include VirtualDub here, since it's more of a video encoder than editor.
x264VFW is also a good codec recommendation, HandBrake uses x264 - but let's say that I've had, well, "Exotic" results with it.

Encoding with VirtualDub is easy (Open AVI, Video>Compression, select codec & codec options - done.), and it has quite a range of filters.
Of course, it's probably not exceptionally "Beginner friendly", but it is worth mentioning. :-)

Oh, and just a thing. x264VFW's .dll has to be thrown into Windows/System32 to work. :/
Little troubles aside, I'd call it a great combo.

Cheers.

by arto65 on 7. May 2011 - 17:10  (71582)

Ah, yes, VirtualDub!
Well, the reason why I didn't include it is because it is not that suited for most people.
It's a very useful tool, but I doubt many people use it to encode a dvd or a bluray with it. ;-)
It's still good to remember the old school tools!

by Anupam on 5. May 2011 - 14:28  (71469)

Very well written arto65... I find it very helpful. Thanks for the article, and the helpful links. This article will certainly help me learn more.
I have seen videos like the one of which you put up a pic, and now I understand why they look that way.

Keep up the good work :).

by arto65 on 5. May 2011 - 15:58  (71471)

Hehe, thanks for the kind comment, I tried my best! Encoding is a frustrating experience when you don't know where to begin, so I'm glad you liked this article. If you have any problems, the forums I mentionned are great places to ask questions and I'd be glad to help if I can!

by MidnightCowboy on 6. May 2011 - 7:02  (71508)

I echo Anupam's words. I'm sure a lot of users would want to do more with this subject if only they knew how and this article will be a great help :)

by Anupam on 5. May 2011 - 16:32  (71473)

You are welcome, its well deserved :).

I have done some video conversion, for my occasional needs, and I am always interested in encoders, and converters. I keep a whole lot of such software on my computer. There are so many of them out there nowadays, so its always good to know which are the best out of them. Your article provides such information.

I am not an expert in this, a little more than a beginner though. I got to know about deinterlacing from your article as an important thing. I will try to read more on that. The links you provided will help. Will turn to you for help for sure, if I need some. Thanks :).

If possible, can I suggest some more articles along these lines, explaining interlacing, bitrates, and so on, for beginners... so that they understand conversion/encoding better... if you can :).

by arto65 on 6. May 2011 - 16:24  (71532)

Ok, do you have any idea about what kind of articles you would be interested in?
There are really plenty of tutorials on videohelp.com and I couldn't do better than that.
As for the basic notions, I'd gladly write an article about that. The Handbrake tutorial is pretty good by the way and deals with interlaced, telecine, etc: https://trac.handbrake.fr/wiki/HandBrakeGuide
In short, when you want to rip a dvd:
1) Is it interlaced ? (deselect the deinterlace box in staxrip, then hit f5 to open the preview, and look for a scene with movement. If it's like the picture in the article, it's probably interlaced. If not, you can encode right away.)
2) Is it Telecined ? (Check the deinterlace box, and go back to preview window. If there are two similar images every 6 images, it's interlaced. Right click "deinterlace" and change it by "IVTC). Usually, telecine is 29.97fps (frames per second)
3) Choose your bitrate or CQ factor: I like 1000kbps or 23 for dvds.

by Anupam on 7. May 2011 - 15:43  (71581)

arto65, thanks a lot for the HandBrake guide link. It is really a very good read. Just what I needed. Thanks again. Planning to read more from the links that you gave in the article.

by Anupam on 6. May 2011 - 16:38  (71535)

An article with basic notions, as you say, would be very good and helpful for the beginners. That will be a good starting point. Because, anyone wanting to encode, or convert videos, don't know where to start, and what to do. Mostly would just download a program, and go ahead with the presets. So, a starter article will be very helpful for beginners, specially.

Thanks a lot for the link, and also for the guidelines. That's really helpful, and will serve as good starting point for me, as to what to read. Thanks a lot again, much appreciated :).

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