VidCoder Tutorial

Original Page URL: http://www.digital-digest.com/articles/VidCoder_Tutorial_page1.html
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Date Added: May 28, 2011
Date Updated: May 28, 2011


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".

VidCoder -> Tools -> Options


VidCoder - Options: General


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.

VidCoder - Options: File Naming


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!).

VidCoder - Options: Audio / Subtitles


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.

VidCoder - Options: Processes


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!

VidCoder - Options: Advanced


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).



Step 4: Selecting the Source

Alright, we're finally getting to the heart of the VidCoder. This step will cover loading your input file into VidCoder.

VidCoder


The screenshot above shows the main VidCoder screen. The layout is pretty straight forward, the top section allows you to load in the file/disc you want to convert, then you can select the destination, choose an encoding profile or custom settings, and finally, there's the work queue, a list of all conversions one after the other that you can schedule and run.

In the "Choose a video source" section, you have three input options - choose to convert a video file (for example, AVI), choose to convert an already ripped or a hard-drive based DVD or Blu-ray folder, or choose to convert straight from a non encrypted discs. As mentioned earlier, it's recommended that even if your disc is unencrypted, you should copy the contents to your hard-drive first (to a DVD/Blu-ray folder), so that it spares your optical drive from hours of constant reading, which may shorten the lifespan of the drive.

VidCoder -> File -> Enqueue Multiple Files


There is actually a fourth input method, shown in the screenshot above, the "Enqueue Multiple Files" option from the "File" menu. Here, you can load in multiple files and they will automatically be added to the work queue. This seems to be the best way to convert multiple files, but note that doing it this way means all the files will use the same encoding profile/settings, so if you need different settings for each file (perhaps one will be better quality than the others, for example), you're better off loading the files one by one by using the "Video File" option under the "Choose a video source" section. But if you do need multiple files with the same encoding settings, than you will have to configure the encoding settings and/or choose an encoding profile before you load in files using the "Enqueue Multiple Files" option, so continue reading.

Depending on which type of input you chose (file, DVD or Blu-ray), the "Source" section will now show up with information about the input, as well as giving you the option to select which sections of the input you plan to convert. The screenshots below show what the section looks like with a file, a DVD and a Blu-ray source loaded.

VidCoder - Source: File


VidCoder - Source: DVD


VidCoder - Source: Blu-ray


Let's go through the "Source" options. The "Video" option allows you to choose which sections of the input video to convert. For discs, or ripped DVD/Blu-ray folders, you can select which "Title" to convert - usually the longest title would be the main movie (and this is the title VidCoder automatically selects for you), with trailers and bonus features occupying the other titles (see screenshot below - the 2:20:06 is the main movie, while the others are probably trailers).

VidCoder - Video: Titles


For everything else, you can choose which chapters (if the input supports chapters) to convert, or select by time (in seconds), or even by frames. This means you can easily choose just the right scene to convert, if you don't want to convert the whole thing (very handy for YouTube style remix projects). Note that the output filename will change based on the settings you make here, for example, if you only choose to convert Chapter 24 and 25 from Title 2, the output file name will become "SourceName Title 1 - Chapter 24-25". Nicely done, VidCoder.

The next option is to select which audio track to include. You can include more than one audio track, by the way, by clicking on the "Add Track" button, which then brings up a second audio drop down box. Click on the blue "cross" icon next to the drop down box to delete the audio track. Note that you can have anywhere from zero (so no audio) to even more audio tracks then are present in the original source (so use the same audio track more than once, if that's what you want). Go crazy, and select your audio track(s).

Subtitles can either be read from the original source (except for Blu-ray movies), or you can load in an external .srt subtitle file. By default, no subtitles are select, but if you want subtitles, click on the "Edit" button to get started, and you'll see the screen below.

VidCoder - Subtitles


The "Track" drop down box allows you to select, from the input source, which subtitle track to include in the output. The default "Foreign Audio Source" option is a Handbrake feature that selects only the subtitles that are for foreign language parts of the movie. Otherwise, you can manually select a language/track to include. The three options next to the drop down box allows you to set the current subtitle track as the default one in the output ("Default" option), to only display forced subtitles from the current track ("Forced Only" option - this usually means small bits of translated foreign languages), and to burn-in the subtitle into the video so it can't be turned off ever ("Burned In" option).

The concept of "foreign audio search" and "forced subtitles" is a bit tricky, so I should probably explain in more detail how it works. On certain subtitles, like on certain DVDs, parts of the subtitle can be marked using the "Forced" flag, which means that even if you don't turn on subtitles, these parts will be shown. This is usually for scenes in a movie that contains a foreign language, or for certain captions (for example, captions like "10 years later ..."), where subtitles are forced to be displayed. Now, some movies do this via burnt-in subtitles as opposed to forced on subtitles, and other discs don't use the Forced flag, and instead, have a totally separate subtitle track that only contains the forced subtitles.

The "Foreign audio search" option tries to automatically scan and find forced subtitles, but it only works if the "Forced" flag is used. Otherwise, you'll have to manually select a subtitle track in the right language.

So this actually makes it quite tricky to convert movies that have these types of subtitles, and if you want to be absolutely sure that you don't end up with a movie that's missing crucial subtitles, or select the wrong subtitles, than a little bit of trial and error may be required (select a short scene with these types of subtitles, and then try to convert and check to make sure the subtitles are included). The preview option helps and does show subtitles, but it's a bit tricky to get to select the exact scene to preview unless you set a ton of picture preview frames (see Step 3: Options -> Advanced tab).

Anyway, you can add multiple subtitle tracks here by using the "Add Subtitle" button (or remove an added subtitle track by click on the blue "cross" icon). Alternatively, you can import your own .srt subtitle files. Press "OK" when you're done.

Step 5: Output Destination and Settings

Under the "Destinations" section, simply enter in where you want your output file to be saved on your computer.

The "Encoding" section is really the meat of VidCoder, and it is here that you select the output quality, the file size, audio type and pretty much everything else about your output. To make it easy, you can simply select one of the pre-saved "Presets" ("Normal", "High Profile", and one of the presets for Apple devices, such as the iPad, iPhone ...). So if it's quick and dirty you want, and you don't really care about the output file size, then the presets are for you (so select one and skip to step 6). On the other hand, if you want to custom tailor your encodings to exact specifications, to select between MP4 or MKV, or to even create your own presets, read on.

First of all, select a profile that's closest to what you want, normally I would select the "Normal" profile, and then press the "Settings" button. The following screen should show up (minus the red highlights).

VidCoder - Encoding Settings: Picture


The first section we'll examine is the one marked in red in the screenshot above. It's here that we select which type of container format we use, MKV or MP4. I don't want to go into the merits of either format here (that's a whole other guide), but if you're already this far, then you probably know which format you need (to summarise, MKV is more of a computer format, while MP4 is supported by more portable devices, such as Apple devices and smart phones, tablets, game consoles). If you select "MKV", there is only one additional option to the right, and that's to include chapter markers found in the input video, and place them in the output video as well. For "MP4", in addition to the chapter marker option, there are a few more options as you can see in the screenshot above, and they are:

  • Large file support: Checking this option enables MP4 files larger than 4GB, but many devices, such as the iPod or PS3 do not support these kinds of files
  • Web optimized: Choose this if you need files that can be progressively loaded, such as via video streaming
  • iPod 5G support: Adds a marker for older iPods that has to be present before they will allow H.264 video to sync

Below these options, we have the "Picture" tab. Here, you can resize your video, as well as crop out areas (usually the black bars). With your input video loaded, the input and output resolution properties are shown for you here, in blue and green. Starting further down below with the Anamorphic options, the "Strict" option basically attempts to replicate what a DVD does when it comes to storing and display anamorphic content, and so enabling this option actually disables the resizing options, but you may run into problems with certain encoders not liking the automatically calculated height value (if it's not a multiple of 16, some encoders, like x264, cannot perform at optimal efficiency). Selecting the "Loose" anamorphic option re-enables the ability to resize the video, but only the width, as the height is automatically calculated to ensure it is a multiple of 16. "Custom" allows you to specify custom parameters, and it's not recommended unless you know what you're doing. Or you can even turn Anamorphic encoding off. Recommendation? Strict when you're not resizing, and Loose when you are. If you really need to know more about Anamorphic encodings using the Handbrake engine, please refer to this guide.

Cropping is normally done automatically, so choose the "Automatic" option and forget about it.

VidCoder - Encoding Settings: Video Filters


Moving on to the next tab, "Video Filters", here we can select the types of filtering we may need to do for the video. The recommendation here is to leave both "Detelecine" and "Decomb" to "Default", as it usually does no harm, and if you do come across video inputs that require this (eg. TV shows and animation for "Detelecine", and interlaced content for "Decomb"), they will be applied when needed. If you must need to know more, than here's the Telecine and Deinterlacing guides that try to explain more about what these options do.

It's best to leave "Deinterlace" disabled, because we've already got "Decomb", and that already tries its best to removing the combing effect you get from interlaced sources, and if there's no combing effect, you don't need to waste time and resources deinterlacing anyway. Similarly, "Denoise" probably should remain off, as this destroys details for the sake of a bit more efficient encoding (efficient as in use lower bitrates). Use only when the source is poor in quality or as directed by your doctor. "Deblock" tries to do away with blocking and artifacts from poor quality sources. Note that the majority of DVDs and Blu-ray's that you'll be converting definitely do not belong to the category or "poor in quality".

VidCoder - Encoding Settings: Video


The "Input" video specs are shown in the blue coloured box (for example, the screenshot above tells us we have a PAL DVD at 25 FPS). Despite this simple looking tab, this is actually where we determine the quality of the output. First of all, for "Video Codec", it is recommended you use "H.264 (x264)", as this is the more advanced codec and will produce better quality encodings (it's worth noting that none of the included presets in VidCoder uses the "MPEG-4 (FFMpeg)" option). The "Framerate (FPS)" option should be set to "Same as source", although if you're experiencing audio sync issues (like I was when trying to play an encoded file on the PS3, although the same file played perfectly on the PC), I would specifically select a framerate here, as opposed to using the variable framerate mode when you choose "same as source". Same if you find playback jerky, choose a set framerate to avoid using variable framerate mode.

"Quality" is the most important setting here. "Constant Quality", allows you to set the quality of the output, without any considerations being given the final file size. This should mostly be fine, except when you need to encode video to fit a certain space constraint. If you do need an output file of a particular size, and don't mind encodings taking longer due to the need to have two passes, select "Target Size" or "Avg Bitrate" (both settings take into account the length of your video, including any chapter/time selections you've made in previous steps). The "Target Size" setting is also for the entire output file, not just the video stream (so if you added a lot of audio files, your video quality will start to drop, even if you kept the same target size). Recommendations? If you use CQ mode, then something around 20 plus or minus 1 will be more than fine for SD sources. For HD sources, you should aim for a setting of around 22 plus or minus 1. Note that the CQ setting can use decimals, so 19.25, is acceptable for example. The scale is logarithmic, so don't go crazy.

As for target size of average bitrates, I get asked recommendations for this when using H.264 a lot, so I'll probably just share some general recommendations. For your typical 2 hour DVD, you should be looking at around 1400 MB, or an average bitrate of around 900 kbps. For 2hr 720p content, for good quality stuff, aim to fill a DVD-5. For 2hr 1080p stuff, aim to fill a DVD-9 at the very least. If you want the best quaity, most efficient encoding, then you should be using CQ anyway (with a sensible setting of 17 for best quality, and no more than say 24).

VidCoder - Encoding Settings: Audio


On to the "Audio" tab. You can have multiple audio tracks, and if you selected the "High Profile" preset and the "MP4" container, you would have noticed that it includes a pass-through AC3 track. The reason for this is that, most receivers do not actually support AAC, and so having a backup AC3 track is always a good idea. AAC is more efficient, but 5.1 AAC is less commonly support on hardware. So you really need to know what your output file will be used on. Take the screenshot above, which is for a Blu-ray to a high quality MP4 encode, which will most likely be played on HTPCs and the like, and so it's not as important to include a 2-channel AAC file as say for a video aimed at portable devices.

So after deciding on what you need, select the target stream to convert (if you have more than one audio stream selected for the input), select a codec, mixdown (choose 6 channel discrete for 5.1 audio, or one of the 2.0/2.1 channel downmix options). "Sample rate" should be kept as "same as source", because there's usually no good reason to change this. "Bitrate" is difficult to recommend, because there are so many different audio formats. For high quality audio, with AC3, 384/448 kbps is most commonly found on commercial DVDs. For MP3, 160 kbps for every 2 channels seems to about right for high quality audio. AAC is more efficient, so 128 kbps for every 2 channels is good enough.

VidCoder - Encoding Settings: Advanced


And so, finally, the "Advanced" tab. Looks complicated? It is. It would take a couple of guides to explain all of the options, and so it's really way beyond the scope of this guide, so leave the settings alone.

If you've made changes here, you may want to save these settings to a new profile (while keeping the original VidCoder profiles unchanged for future reference). To do this, simply click on the "Save As" button at the top of the window and enter a new name for the profile. Once this is done, you can select this new profile in the future for your encodes and skip having to change the settings altogether.

Close the Settings window.

Step 6: Preview, Encoding and the Job Queue

It's always wise to preview your output before starting the hours long encoding process. Pressing the "Preview" button launches a new window that contains the X number of preview pictures that you selected way back in Step 2. More useful is the "Play Preview Clip" button, which when clicked, will quickly generate a preview video clip with your selected audio and subtitles options. My recommendation is to always do this, and always look at the preview pictures to at least make sure you're converting the right title, and that the output quality is good enough, and that the audio/subtitle options are correct. For example, while generating a sample video to help me write this guide, I nearly selected the wrong Blu-ray title, as VidCoder automatically selected the longest title, which was not the movie (it included the "Maximum Movie Mode" pop-ups, which made the title about 21 minutes longer than the actual movie). Had I not checked the preview pictures, I would have ended up converting the wrong title!



We're nearly finished now. With input selected, settings set, if you want to start encoding immediately, simply click on the "Encode" button. Or if you want to set up a few more jobs, then use the "Add to Queue" button, and when you're finished adding in jobs, also press the "Encode" button to start the job queue. (And if you wanted to batch convert a bunch of files with the same setting, use the File -> Enqueue Multiple Titles option now).

The job queue section lists all the currently working and queued jobs, with columns showing the properties of the encoding job. You can even customize the columns right right clicking on this area. When encoding is in progress, a progress bar is also present, and you can pause or stop the current job.

VidCoder - Job Queue


And with that, we're done :).

Got more questions? Post them in our MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) Forum and get them answered by other expert users.



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