Home > FFmpeg, HandBrake, Video > Applying the HandBrake – Stopping Short of Video Transcoding

Applying the HandBrake – Stopping Short of Video Transcoding

Finding a full featured open source video transcoding solution is no easy task. There is of course FFmpeg, which is fantastic and powerful, but one does need to spend a serious amount of time learning the syntax and various options. This is fine if you’re taking one type of input file and creating one type of output file. Easy to script and I’ve seen some really good results, especially using the x264 library. However, trying to find a nice GUI to do the same thing, so far no joy.

I had really hoped HandBrake might be the right tool for the job. It’s been around for a long time now, it’s not just for Mac anymore and there seems to be an active community around it.

The last stable release was almost 10 months ago, but recently an SVN snapshot build was supplied, with some pre-compiled packages to go with it. The usual caveats apply, but the change log provided some tantalising updates, so I decided to try it out.

My home laptop is running Debian Squeeze, but I decided to try the Ubuntu 9.04 GUI package, as I was lazy and didn’t feel like compiling from source. Maybe this was a mistake….. The installation of the deb package went fine. No errors to speak of and a nice little HandBrake icon appeared in my Sound & Video menu. Starting the application also worked flawlessly.

I hadn’t used HandBrake before, so I didn’t know what to expect. On first glance the software appears to be mainly geared towards H.264 transcoding. While this is currently an important video codec, I was hoping for a much wider range of output options. I couldn’t find any.

Fine, let’s stick with H.264. My source file for testing was 4.2GB of DNxHD – a little over 3 minutes of content at 185Mbps. HandBrake uses FFmpeg in the backend to do the transcode heavy lifting. I know FFmpeg supports DNxHD, so I was not expecting any real problems. Unfortunately, my assumption proved to be incorrect.

Selecting the DNxHD file as source, HandBrake scanned the file for a couple of minutes, then stopped. No error message, no warning, just the UI sitting there waiting for the next input. Fortunately, there’s an Activity Window to select and view the command line output. Here’s what I saw…..

Input #0, mov,mp4,m4a,3gp,3g2,mj2, from ‘/home/phillc/Media/South Pacific Avid DNxHD.mov':
  Duration: 00:03:11.12, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 189668 kb/s
    Stream #0.0(eng): Video: dnxhd, 1920×1080, PAR 1:1 DAR 16:9, 25 tbr, 25 tbn, 25 tbc
    Stream #0.1(eng): Audio: pcm_s16le, 48000 Hz, mono, s16, 768 kb/s
    Stream #0.2(eng): Audio: pcm_s16le, 48000 Hz, mono, s16, 768 kb/s
    Stream #0.3(eng): Audio: pcm_s16le, 48000 Hz, mono, s16, 768 kb/s
    Stream #0.4(eng): Audio: pcm_s16le, 48000 Hz, mono, s16, 768 kb/s
    Stream #0.5(eng): Audio: pcm_s16le, 48000 Hz, mono, s16, 768 kb/s
    Stream #0.6(eng): Audio: pcm_s16le, 48000 Hz, mono, s16, 768 kb/s
    Stream #0.7(eng): Audio: pcm_s16le, 48000 Hz, mono, s16, 768 kb/s
    Stream #0.8(eng): Audio: pcm_s16le, 48000 Hz, mono, s16, 768 kb/s
[10:14:27] scan: decoding previews for title 1
[10:14:45] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:14:58] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:15:12] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:15:26] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:15:40] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:15:54] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:16:08] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:16:23] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:16:35] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:16:49] scan: could not get a decoded picture
[10:16:49] libhb: scan thread found 0 valid title(s)

What’s it all mean?

It would seem that FFmpeg recognised a valid DNxHD file. It found the video track and 8 tracks of audio, but after this, who knows! Not being able to get a decoded picture is not an error I’ve come across using FFmpeg from the command line before.

EDIT: The root of this problem is actually FFmpeg and not Handbrake. The DNxHD file was 10-bit, but FFmpeg currently only supports 8-bit files of this codec.

That’s as far as I’ve managed to travel in the HandBrake world. I had a look at some of the H.264 file output options, which are comprehensive, but don’t at first glance seem to support the general x264 preset options. HandBrake presets are more geared towards devices – iPod and Apple TV. It appears to be possible to queue multiple jobs using HandBrake, but not set watch folders nor apply rules for output files. E.g Once transcoding is finished, move file to folder X.

HandBrake is probably a good tool for those looking to create web media, from DVD or Camcorder source, but it’s not powerful enough to deal with high end media from the post-production or broadcast domain.

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