Tools for converting multimedia files

FF Multi Converter

FF Multi Converter [5], which is also based on FFmpeg, converts documents and image files as well as multimedia files. On the back end, ImageMagick converts the graphic files and Universal Office Converter (unoconv) converts the documents. The software, written in Python and based on the Qt libraries, is available in the repositories of most common distributions.

The FF Multi Converter main window appears somewhat confusing (Figure 3). In its upper third is a list area where the source files you wish to convert are loaded with the help of a small file manager. Below that, you can configure the conversion in a settings dialog. The settings are divided into the three tabs Audio/Video, Documents, and Images.

Figure 3: FF Multi Converter opens a window with many options.

For video files, use the preset dialog to specify the container format in the Convert to: selection box. Next to it, you will find more selection boxes, where you can choose the video and audio codecs. If you click on the More button, you'll find an extended settings area that lets you configure additional parameters for the target file. For example, you can set the output quality and modify the aspect ratio of the target file. If you have particularly powerful hardware, specify the number of processes to run simultaneously in the Threads field.

At the bottom of the window, enter the output path and check a box to define whether the software deletes the source file after conversion.

When you are finished configuring settings, press the Convert button bottom right. The software then opens a dialog with a progress bar. Pressing the Details button also opens a virtual terminal display within the window, in which the program continuously outputs status messages.

Simultaneous playback for the content you are converting is not available, but if you need this option, you can always turn to external playback software.

FFQueue

FFQueue [6] is available on the project's website as a generic tar.xz archive for distributions with DEB package management. You will also find a link to the source code, which is licensed under the GPLv3. If you are using Debian, Ubuntu, or one of their many derivatives, simply unpack the tar.xz archive and then grant execution rights to the FFQueue binary by running the command:

chmod +x FFQueue

You can then start the software with the ./FFQueue command.

The surprisingly fast program then opens a somewhat unconventional main window (Figure 4). Instead of the usual menus, you will find a buttonbar at the top with two work areas arranged below it. The files you wish to convert appear in the upper segment. Below them, FFQueue displays real-time notifications during transcoding, which it also records in its logfile.

Figure 4: FFQueue provides all the necessary information in the program window.

FFQueue does not offer a full-featured settings dialog but expects some system management skills on the part of the user. Since the software relies on FFmpeg as its back end, the configuration dialog offers the option to define the search path for the FFmpeg binaries individually.

You can also specify which external media player you want to use for previews. FFQueue explicitly proposes the VLC player. If audio tracks or subtitles are available in separate files, specify the file extensions in the settings dialog. If you want to pass additional special parameters to FFmpeg, enter the parameters in the Custom console command input field.

You create settings profiles in the Presets dialog, which you can open by pressing the button of the same name. The settings contain detailed presets for audio and video codecs, as well as the general parameters. After opening the Preset manager dialog, click the New button to open a window where you can create a profile (Figure 5). Enter the name of the new profile at the top and then make the appropriate settings in several tabs. Once you have set everything up as desired, press the OK button bottom right to transfer the new profile to the profile manager.

Figure 5: Using profiles to manage settings in FFQueue.

You then have two possibilities for starting the content conversion. The Add button in the upper left corner of the main window opens a file manager in which you select the file to be converted. Alternatively, you can tell FFQueue to convert several files in batch mode. To use batch mode, you must have at least one settings profile in the Presets dialog. Once you have created a profile, press the Batch button in the main window to open the file manager and use Ctrl+click to select content. Then click on Open to open the batch editor. The batch editor enables granular configuration of the conversion process.

The Dry run… button lets you check whether your configurations for the batch jobs are correct. The software tests the job configuration and displays the matching results at the bottom of the main window. If FFQueue indicates correct job settings, you can start the individual jobs for batch processing by pressing the Make jobs… button. The program lists the jobs it created individually at the bottom of the main window.

Press the Start button to start processing the individual jobs.

HandBrake

HandBrake [7] has firmly established itself in the Linux universe as a multifunctional program for transcoding multimedia content. All of the popular Linux distributions have prebuilt versions of HandBrake in their software repositories, and you will even find even a package for the command line.

HandBrake, which is based on the FFmpeg framework and GTK+, transcodes optical media and comes with some predefined profiles that contain settings for special end devices, such as Sony PlayStation and Apple's iPod. You will also find profiles optimized for platforms like Vimeo and YouTube. In batch mode, HandBrake processes several jobs in succession if required.

HandBrake supports many current codecs. For example, you can convert visual content to H.264 or H.265, but also to MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, as well as VP8 and VP9. In addition, HandBrake supports the Theora codec. For audio tracks, the application can handle AAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, AC3, and FLAC (16- and 24-bit).

The interface in the graphical version of HandBrake (Figure 6) appears somewhat confusing for the uninitiated. In addition to a menubar and a buttonbar below, you will find setting options for the transcoding job in the work area.

Figure 6: HandBrake shows all the settings for the source and destination files in a tab structure.

Specify the source file using the Open Source button top left in the window. If the video is in MP4 or MKV format, you will only see one chapter; if the video is a DVD or Blu-ray disc, you will see the number of individual chapters. A preview image of the loaded source video appears in the program window.

Below the chapter and profile overview, you will find the actual workspace. HandBrake lists the format, codecs used, resolution, and aspect ratio of the current source file. You can set other important options in the Video, Audio, Subtitles, and Tags sections.

In the Video section, you can configure specifications for the frame rate, encoder, bit rate, and image quality. In Audio, you will find the associated options for the audio track. If you have loaded a video from an optical disc with several audio tracks for language variants, you can integrate the desired audio tracks into the target file in this dialog. Professional playback software, such as the VLC media player, detects the additional tracks and offers a menu in which you select the track.

The same applies to the Subtitles tab, where you integrate any existing subtitle tracks into the new target file. By default, subtitles are not displayed automatically, but can choose to display subtitles in a drop-down menu. HandBrake saves the subtitle tracks directly in the target file.

The Tags tab lets you tag the file with keywords to make it easier to categorize and index later on. For this purpose, HandBrake offers several fields for free text input, where you can enter, say, the director or actor and also the genre.

Once you have made all the settings, press the Start button top center in the program window's buttonbar. The software will the start transcoding,

HandBrake is not exactly frugal with resources during transcoding. On conventional desktop computers with quad-core processors, the application generates heavy load on all the CPU cores, even if the CPU supports hyperthreading (Figure 7).

Figure 7: HandBrake generates a heavy load on the hardware.

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