After recently writing an article about a drop-dead simple video encoder for Linux called Furius iConverter that enables fast and easy video conversion to Apple iPod/iPhone products, I decided to go the other route and look for a more feature-filled, get-your-hands-dirty encoder that still had a bit of pick-from-the-options ideas in its implementation. Let me explain: FFMPEG and Mencoder are two incredibly powerful video encoders accessed using the commandline. But they can be complicated. For example, the following is a command used to convert a video for playback on the PSP:
ffmpeg -i input -acodec libfaac -ab 128kb -ac 2 -ar 48000 -vcodec libx264 -level 21 -b 640kb -coder 1 -f psp -flags +loop -trellis 2 -partitions +parti4x4+parti8x8+partp4x4+partp8x8+partb8x8 -g 250 -s 480×272 output.mp4
Whew! That’s a lot of parameters, and it’s likely that most people would need to look that up at the very least, assuming they didn’t give up in frustration and just try to download whatever they were looking for from the Internet.
What I was looking for was something that would allow me to pick from a sane list of existing options without having to type it all out myself. I settled on a program called simply Encode. From the description it appeared to have a lot of power under the hood, yet still be accessible (even if the interface did appear fairly, shall we say… cluttered).
When you first open up Encode you’re faced with four options: Convert, Create VCD, YAVTD and About. Convert brings you to the main conversion screen, while Create VCD launches Brasero (the disc burning program installed on my computer), YAVTD launches a program called Yet Another Video Tube Downloader (used for downloading and converting videos from YouTube and similar websites), while About tells you a little about Encode. I didn’t bother installing YAVTD, and the burning aspect was pretty straight forward, so for the rest of this review I’ll be concentrating on the features I downloaded the program for (and why Encode is named what it is), the encoding options.
There are a ton of them. All lined up on a single screen. I suppose they are aligned fairly logically (video options together with video options, and audio options grouped likewise), but having a couple tabs would have streamlined the interface a bit and probably presented it in a little nicer fashion. Regardless, while Encode doesn’t have every option available that FFMPEG does, you can still do a lot with it.
You can choose from a wide variety of containers (such as FLV, MOV, AVI and MKV, as well as audio only containers like MP3 and WAV), although your options will be limited by the supporting libraries you have installed. You can also choose between the options you have available for video and audio codecs, and have the ability to set the bitrate for each. Unlike the aforementioned Furius iConverter, there are no simple “recipes,” so if you want to encode video for playback on a certain device, you’ll need to know exactly what you’re doing.
But that’s the point. Encode gives you a ton of power, but the user still needs to provide the knowledge. What Encode does is present it all to the user as options. You can see the different picture resolutions available, but you have to choose. In my mind this is a nice compromise between the two extremes of having everything as a preset (without the ability for the user to select his/her own options), and the commandline, where everything including the syntax is the user’s responsibility. Encode takes your options and pipes them into FFMPEG in the proper order, to give you the video you want.
I tried it out on a couple videos with no surprises. And that’s a good thing. So while I might not recommend Encode to users at either end of the spectrum (it’s likely too complicated for beginners and won’t have the flexibility for power users), I think Encode has a large middle group of users to cater to, and as far as my experience goes, it’s doing a good job of it.