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8 Aug 2011

3 Linux Apps for Converting Videos

PC and mobile users often need video conversion tools because of the restrictions placed on various devices. While one device may play H.264 perfectly well, another may insist on MPEG2. These limitations are not insurmountable. With the proper video conversion tools, you can make videos that play everywhere from YouTube to your Blu-ray player.

There are an abundance of Windows and Mac apps that can handle video conversion, most of which are commercial. For Linux, however, they are a bit harder to find. Part of the reason is that standard video conversion tools come with most Linux distributions. These include FFMPEG and Mencoder. Unfortunately, these tools are command-line only, requiring some degree of expertise to get them to do what you want. The following three applications are all graphical and all easy to use for video conversion.
  1. Avidemux - One of the older kids on the block, Avidemux has been the video tool of choice for many Linux users over the years. The app is cross-platform and also runs on Windows, Mac OS X, and PC-BSD.
    It can convert numerous video types, including MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, M-JPEG, H.263, H.264, and others. You can queue jobs, which allows you to setup multiple projects and then leave it to its work. Avidemux also has some editing capabilities, so you can trim videos, split them in half, or cut out unwanted parts.
  2. Arista Transcoder - If you are looking for simplicity and ease, this is the video conversion tool you want. Arista comes with presets for several popular devices, including Android phone, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, DVD player, Nokia N Series, Playstation 3, YouTube, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and more.
    Conversion is simple. You just select the source, select the preset, and add it to the queue. Like Avidemux, you can queue several projects and leave it to work. If you are the type who likes attention to detail, you can also sit and watch the preview as it transcodes live for you.
  3. WinFF - Despite the unfortunate name, WinFF is not just for windows. It is a graphical frontend for FFMPEG, meaning all of the powerful video encoding power of the command line tool is packed into this graphical application. It is only limited by the limitations of FFMPEG, so if you find that you are unable to convert to a certain format, it may be because you have a crippled FFMPEG installation.
    According to linux server hosting experts at 34SP.com, Some Linux distributions ship with certain encoding formats disabled for legal reasons. If necessary, you can install another version and get WinFF in its full glory, giving you the ability to convert just about any video format to any other video or audio format. If you use the Ubuntu repository, it will automatically install the unstripped libavcodec-extra-52 package for you, giving you a full FFMPEG install.
    Like Arista, WinFF provides a variety of presets for popular devices, such as Blackberry, Flash video, Sony Bravia, Nokia N810, Apple iPod, and even Microsoft’s Zune and Xbox 360.

The Best Tool

The best tool for you depends on the job. Arista is very good for quick video conversions, and it is definitely the easiest and most attractive. If you are concerned about tweaking your videos to get the absolute best quality, Arista is probably not the tool you want. For serious projects, nothing beats the power that WinFF provides thanks to its full inclusion of FFMPEG features. Avidemux is much more robust than a simple video converter, providing editing features and many other tools you can use even for your own video creations. In terms of ease of use, however, it falls behind the other two.
Ultimately, you may find yourself using all three if you have the chance to encode enough videos for a variety of devices. With the presets each app offers, you may find one handles a particular format or device better than another.

Tavis J. Hampton has used Linux for several years on all of his computers and often writes about easy ways to make Linux work for you on your desktop, laptop, and mobile devices.


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  2. High importance to me is getting an 'auto conversion' that I know will work when a video is given to friends/collegues that run Windows machines. Avidemux has a 'VCD' option that is the only one I've found that does this. Unfortunately the VCD option make pretty large files from short video clips.

  3. handbrake is good too.

    Re windows and audio - yes windows media player is pretty retarded in the audio codecs it supports.

  4. You forgot mencoder. which is all you will ever need.

    Or if you require a graphical UI, handbrake.

    1. Mencoder sucks if you want to stream media from PMS or PLex to your Xbox 360, sorry yes I know I should have said Microsoft sucks because of the restrictions it places on the Xbox but a lot of other formats did play, divx xvid, avi, h264 all played but ohnooo not Mencoder so I had to convert all those ones to crappy wmv in order to watch them which was a right pain in the ^RSE

  5. For me was easy to find, ;)

    Transmaggedon or VLC.

  6. I use Handbrake and since DeVeDe is not working in 11.04 I have to use Convertx under wine.

  7. what about mencoder that comes with mplayer?

  8. I mentioned both FFMPEG and Mencoder in the second paragraph, but the point of the article was to introduce some graphical options to those who prefer not to use the command line.

    I've heard of using Handbrake to rip DVDs, but I was not aware that you could convert from other video formats. That would be an interesting experiment to try.

  9. I have been using the second one from your list, works smooth without any problems or difficulties. I'll definitely the other two at least just to compare them. That was nice to read this post, thank you for sharing!

  10. I believe Pburn is also not without it's merits although limited in its capabilities ;-)

  11. Also the formats listed under Avidemux are not completely true.
    It depends from OS to OS which version you are using and probably even kernel issues? but I may be wrong there? I have tried to use Avidemux very unsuccessfully I might add. The reason being is that my version only accepts FLV1 and some other obscure format Ive never even heard of, hence the reason I cannot even recall it. who has a device that records in FLV1?????? any punters out there???? avi yes mov yes h264 yes mp4 yes 3gp yes, FLV????? thats what i want to convert to not from!!!!!!

    1. however i'm really liking the sound of that winff, sometimes all you want to do is press a few buttons in a gui why? becasue time does not always allow for hours upon hours of sitting hacking in front of a terminal?!! go figure, gonna go and gove that winff a spin on mint rebecca! cheers thanks darkduck! ;-)