MPEG Streamclip: Converting video made easy

Posted: July 6, 2010 in Mac OSX, software, Windows
Tags: , , , , ,

This is one of those programs I forget about because I don’t need it often, but when I do it always works with flying colours. I’m talking about the freeware program MPEG Streamclip.  As the name implies, it’s for working with and converting video formats.
Anyone who needs an easy way to convert movie files from one format to another has probably been frustrated trying to figure out all the settings and invariably ended up wasting hours of converting time just to end up with a file that doesn’t play on the device you were converting it for. Sometimes one simple setting can be all it takes to make your end product unusable on certain devices.

Eldest Daughter wanted me to put a couple movies on her iPod for her to take to school since they were done with schoolwork and basically just goofing off the last few days and my first thought (that was after the initial “what do you mean you’re not doing any more work at school? there’s my tax dollars hard at work – argh), was HandBrake.  Handbrake 64 bit version worked great on the new MBP as far as speed goes, but unfortunately the final result didn’t work on the iPod.

I just a message similar to the one adjacent stating it was not compatible with the iPod when I tried to copy it over in iTunes.  Most of the time its a CODEC problem, that causes that.  Some programs are very particular as to what they will play.  Programs like VLC or Quicktime or even Windows Media Player are capable of playing so many formats that we forget sometimes that some other players, like iTunes are a bit more picky.  That’s when I remembered that I had been using MPEG Streamclip last and it had worked like a charm.  And before you get that “oh great another post about a Mac program” look, this one is different, It’s not just a Mac program.  MpegStreamclip is available for Windows and Mac.  (check it out here) The screenshots and description of how it operates are based on the Mac version since that is what I work on whenever I can, but the Windows version is pretty much the same.

Decide on the format you want

Also I wanted to convert a bunch of movies to load up on the iPods for the trip to the cottage, if it doesn’t get cancelled this year again. Damn Tornado, How dare you screw up my plans! (shakes fist at the sky)

Getting back to the issue at hand. First thing to figure out is what you want the end result to be.  If you are planning on loading it onto an iPod or iPhone, then MPEG-4 is probably the best format for you to use. So a simple click on the Export to MPEG-4 under the file header and you are on your way.  The process is as complicated as you want it to be, there are so many tweaks you can make, or you can take the easy way and just select iTunes in the upper right corner and you will get a pull down in which you select the type of iPod or iPhone you want to convert for.  For me the 320 x 180 works well.  It looks good and you end up with a file that is a good compromise between MB size and image quality.  An average movie using these settings results in a 700 to 800 MB file.

select the settings

Why H.264? That’s simple. Across the board compatibility.  Even YouTube got on that bandwagon, they started re-encoding their stored videos to the H.264 codec in 2007 in order to save space i’m sure, but mostly to be compatible with more players out there.  H.264, also known as MPEG-4 Part 10 or AVC, is an MPEG-4 compression standard that will deliver very good video quality at about half the data size of MPEG-2.

If all you want to do is watch the end result on a small screen of an iPod or iPhone, then these settings are good.  If however you are wanting to watch it on a larger screen, you may want to boost the resolution up to 640 x 360 even though the end result will take much more space on your device or computer hard-drive.

converting the file... be patient.

The source can be either a DVD, a URL or an already converted avi file like I am using.  (It doesn’t have to be an avi, it can be pretty much any format of video to start with, I just happen to store movies as avi’s most often)  The converting process time is entirely dependent upon the speed of your computer and the ram you have available.

I have noticed that converting seems to work best when other programs are not running, so I have a tendency to queue up a few videos that I want converted and let it run overnight.

The converted files in their new mp4 format are now easily added to your iTunes library for syncing with your iPod or iPhone as you like.

Sure, there are tons of other ways of doing the converting, and many other programs, including using iTunes or Quicktime to convert for you.  I’ve tried many and seem to always come back to MPEG Streamclip though when it comes to getting the converting done easily.

(from Apple support)

Or if you like you can eliminate all the work entirely and just buy the movies directly from the Apple iTunes Store.  Some store bought movies even come with digital download versions included with the dvd in the form of a online access code, but for those of us that already have a lot of movies and just want to make them more mobile and less prone to damage then converting digitally is the way to go.  MPEG Streamclip is free, very stable and does the job very well. Like I said, its my oft-forgotten go-to-app when it comes to getting stuff off my Mac (or windows PC) and onto an iPod/iPhone.  I have’t even touched on the editing side of the program, which is great for grabbing parts of files or sections of a DVD, stripping out audio, trimming video, etc.  (Hmmm.  Sounds like a subject for a future post).

Now if only the weather will cooperate, the kids will be all set for entertainment on the long drive to the cottage, which as any parent knows can make a long drive go by quickly and help to fend off the are-we-there-yet’s.



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