One task you'll find that you will have to do more and more often these days is to convert your video and movie discs to one of the more frequently used video formats, so that they would play in a variety of your hardware devices, from your humble PC, to your fancy iPhone or Android device. In ages gone by, AVI was the preferred format, but these days, it's all about MKVs and MP4s, and that where VidCoder comes in.
Based on the Handbrake encoding engine, VidCoder aims to be a simple to use, yet complex in features, video conversion tool, converting your video files, DVDs and even Blu-ray movies to MKV or MP4. At its simplest, VidCoder allows you to simply load in the video file/disc, select the output destination, and off you go. But this tutorial will try to examine all of the features and settings of VidCoder, so that if you do decide you want more control over your encodings, you have that option.
VidCoder's features are pretty comprehensive, allowing you to select which chapter to convert for DVD/Blu-ray movies, which audio tracks, subtitles (except for Blu-ray, as subtitles cannot be read from Blu-ray sources as of version 0.9.0, and also the x64 edition of VidCoder does not support closed captions), even allowing you to load external subtitle files, as well as configuring the encoding settings in fine detail if you wish to.
This guide is aimed at beginners, but it assumes that your computer is already capable of playing the MP4 or MKV (H.264) files that this tutorial helps you to create. There are also optional sections for more advanced users. All of the required software for this guide are freeware, apart from commercial tools that may be needed for DVD or Blu-ray ripping, which may be illegal in your region and is therefore not covered in this guide.
Software you'll need:
Step 1: Installation and Configuration
VidCoder requires .NET Framework 4.0 to operate, so before you download and install VidCoder, make you have .NET 4.0 installed.
Go to this page and select the edition of VidCoder to download (32-bit or 64-bit). Once you download, the installer is incredibly straight forward, and so you shouldn't have any problems here. Start VidCoder when installation is finished.
Step 2: Preparing Your Source
VidCoder can handle almost any video file format, as well as DVDs and Blu-ray movies. What VidCoder cannot handle are encrypted DVDs and Blu-ray movies, which accounts for almost all commercially available discs. As such, before you can use any disc format with VidCoder, you must ensure the disc is either not encrypted, or that you rip the disc to your hard-drive (this is usually recommended, even for non encrypted discs, as you don't want your disc drive to be working for hours). As DVD and Blu-ray ripping is illegal in most countries these days, this guide won't cover the instructions, but a simple search on Google will yield all the answers you need anyway.
(Optional) Step 3: VidCoder Options
Readers of my tutorial will know that I like to go through a software's settings before getting into the instructions proper, and with VidCoder, that's exactly what we're going to do. Note that you only really have to do this the first time you use VidCoder, and in most cases, you don't even need to change anything, so this step is strictly optional, and those in a hurry can skip ahead. In VidCoder, from the "Tools" menu, select "Options".
Okay, here in the "General" tab of the Options section, VidCoder allows you to set whether the program minimizes to the task bar or the system tray. Not the most important option, but you have the option anyway. A bit more important is the "automatic updates" option - VidCoder will check periodically whether a new version is available, download it, and prompt you to install it, all without having to go online.
Moving on to the next tab, "File naming". Here, you can configure the default behaviour for output, including a useful auto-naming feature (this is a handy feature for those converting a ton of video files at a time, as this allows for the automagic naming of the output files based on the file properties, such as source, date, time, quality ...)
The first thing you want to do is to specify the default output folder. You may have to do this everytime you want to encode a bunch of files to a new folder, as whenever you load a new file, VidCoder will change the destination folder to this "Default Folder", regardless of what was the last folder you used. So if, for example, you want to output a bunch of files to a USB drive, come in here first and change the "Default Folder" option to your USB drive, and then proceed with the rest of the guide. You can still manually change the destination folder later on, but as mentioned before, whenever you load a new file, it will default back to this pre-set folder again.
The auto-naming feature is great if you have tons of jobs to do and don't want to actually enter a filename manually for each file. You enable the auto-naming function by selecting the "Custom format" option (the "Default format" will simply use the same filename as the input file). The author of VidCoder has written a short guide on the custom naming options here.
There are also some auto-renaming options further below, where if you try to output a file that already exists, you can tell what VidCoder should do (it's not recommended to automatically overwrite, as you could end up accidentally overwriting your input file!).
Moving on to the "Audio / Subtitles" tab, there's only one option here, that's the "Preferred Language" option, for files and discs that have multiple languages. Set it to the language you want your output file to be in, and for foreign videos, you can also choose how they will be handled (for example, if you have a movie in Italian with an English voice dubbed track, you can select English as your preferred language and choose the first option "Use Preferred Language for audio track (dubbing)" to convert the movie with English audio, or if you want the original experience, choose the second option and keep the Italian/foreign language audio track, but include English subtitles if available). Don't worry, you can still manually change audio and subtitles options later on, these options are just setting the default settings.
The "Processes" tab simply allows you to load in a list of Windows processes that, when are present/running, will force VidCoder to pause encoding. So for example, if you're batch processing a bunch of files in VidCoder through the night, but you have an automatic backup process running, then by adding the backup process to this list, VidCoder will pause encoding while the backup process is running, ensuring that your backups are not interrupted, while the second that the backup is finished, VidCoder resumes running. Quite a handy feature for those that likes to automate everything!
And finally, in the "Advanced" tab, you can configure the number of picture previews to scan. VidCoder has a handy preview feature allowing you to preview what the output will look like. This options sets how many different frames, evenly spaced out through the movie, the preview option will show. So if you're really picky about quality, then you can increase the number of picture previews, so you can check out more sections of the movie before doing the full encoding. The "Allow setting custom name on audio tracks (limited player support)" does just what it suggests, with the caveat that many players (software and hardware) won't show the custom names, even if they actually support custom track names. This option seems to work in iTunes and with iDevices like the iPod. Alright, close the "Options" window when you're finished changing the options. You can also choose to keep the preview scans if you need to, plus there's an option to specify how detailed the log should be (may be useful for troubleshooting).