I’ve long considered Handbrake on of the best DVD ripping applications available, and after a year long wait, it’s finally been upgraded to version 0.9.4, complete with over a whopping thousand changes. I tested Handbrake 0.9.4 on Mac OS X, specifically the 64-bit version which promises a 10% performance boost over the 32-bit version. If you’re a Windows user, you won’t have a 64-bit option, as this is only available on Mac OS (including Leopard) and Linux.
If you’ve used Handbrake before, you’ll be familiar with many of the features, but there’s things you’ll have to get used to in the latest version. Firstly, you can now include subtitle tracks in your rips without having to hardcode them in to the movie, so you can choose whether or not to have them available when watching. As well as this, there’s also support for .srt files which you can download from the internet.
Another very nice feature which has been added to the new release is the ability to preview your rip without the encode having to finish. It works in a similar way to the preview window in 0.9.3 that allowed you to preview still images from the encode, except with live preview, a short clip is encoded at your current settings so you can quickly decide if you need to tweak your settings for the rip. I’ve already used the feature countless times and have found it to be a great addition.
Another shift in focus is 0.9.4 moving away from setting a file size or bit rate and focusing on constant quality encoding. This not only negates the need for 2 pass encoding, but also improves picture quality although the final size of an encode is rather unpredictable. Having spent the past year finding the perfect bit rate for my rips, I still can’t decide whether I prefer quality based encoding, although the bit rate and size options are still there for those of you that prefer to encode your rips in this way.
One thing you may or may not miss is a number of presets have been completely removed from the new build. If you used the PSP, PS3 or Xbox 360 presets you may want to stick with 0.9.3, although the handbrake team themselves admitted they “didn’t work well… testing was minimal and support was nonexistent”. If you have a PS3 or 360, it’s recommended that you use the “Normal” preset, which should work ok.
Probably the biggest surprise I found was the lack of the ever-popular AVI container that everyone seems to hold on to like a beloved possession. Quite frankly, I’m glad to see the back of this option as I’ve always encoded in either Matroska (MKV) or MP4 format. In addition to this, XviD has also been discarded. In the release notes, the developers said that there reason for this was to ‘refocus on HandBrake’s key strengths and remove dead weight’. They have most definitely achieved this, and as a result produced a fantastic version of Handbrake that was worth the year long wait!
Just a word of note for Mac and Linux users downloading the 64-bit version of Handbrake 0.9.4, you’ll also need the 64-bit version of VLC media player to make sure you can rip your movies without any problems, which may be a slight problem as this is now currently unavailable, though I found the original 64-bit build after a bit of searching. I’d definitely recommend Handbrake for those of you wanting to digitalise your DVD collection, especially Mac and Linux users.