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HandBrake – Free Open Source Video Transcoder

by Johnny Karp 10 July 2009 One Comment


HandBrake is an open source and multiplatform program that can transcode video files. It is able to handle the most popular video file types and containers and it’s available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X platforms.


When it comes to video transcoders there are a lot of freeware options available right now, from simple straightforward programs to more complex and advanced software. You might already know about MeGui or the “classic” AutoGK, or maybe you were impressed by Rono’s review of XMedia Recode a few days ago. And these are only a few of the plethora of free video transcoders that are available nowadays. With all this competition it could be tough to find the right one for your specific needs and that’s why I decided to publish another review of such a program, so that you’ll have more information about various software and hopefully you’ll be able to make the right decision.

Although there are a few advanced options available in the program, HandBrake is pretty straightforward and easy to use. First you have to select your source and it can be a DVD, a disc image or a DVD VIDEO_TS folder. And there’s more: you can use as a source file basically any multimedia file it can use libavformat to read and libavcodec to decode, and that means dozens of popular or not so popular file formats and codecs.

handbrake screenshot 1

Once you have selected your source you can pick one of the presets that are available in the right sidebar, from iPod specific files to the “classic” avi or mkv files. I chose the normal preset which I tweaked a bit  to get a xvid avi file with an average bitrate around 1500 kbps. Although the picture in the DVD files that I selected as source was 16:9 HandBrake informed me that it was a 4:3 video. But since I had the same experience with other transcoders before I was sure that the output file will come out 16:9. Which it did after all 🙂

handbrake screenshot 2

The process took about 40 minutes to turn an hour long film from DVD to avi using a 2-pass encoding process. As I said the output file came out quite alright, good quality and the correct aspect ratio. As for the output file types that you can select there are a few options: avi, mkv, mp4 or ogm using MPEG-4 (Xvid or others ) or H.264 encoders.

handbrake screenshot 3

The thing that disappointed me a little bit was that HandBrake can’t extract the subtitles from the DVD like AutoGK used to do. So if you select a subtitle stream it will be hardcoded into the output file, you can’t have it create external subs. In this case I have to use a third party program, SubRip, to get the subtitles as I want them.

Version Tested




Operating System

Windows XP/Vista, Linux, Mac OS X 10.5

Download link


Open source and multiplatform.

It’s easy to use and it can handle a wide range of file formats.

minus The latest version was released in November 2008.

minus Weak subtitles support and a few clumsy-looking aspects.




Although I don’t see how HandBrake would become my favorite video transcoder (I’m still a MeGui fan) I have to admit that it’s a solid freeware program that can appeal to some users because it’s pretty straightforward and simple if you want to keep it that way. Since it’s an open source program I hope that the community around it will come up with improved future versions because I feel that there is room for significant improvements.Until then, try it and maybe tell me your views.

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If you have any trouble with this software just leave a comment, I’ll help you out! If you know better free programs in the same category, please let me know!


One Comment »

  • Wolea said:

    Good article!
    HandBrake is very popular, I can see it on many website, this is benefit from free. On the other hand, it is difficult to use for beginner, lack support and weak stability. HandBrake attend technology and ignore user experience.
    I consider iFunia is better than it.

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