High-Def Settings for Handbrake

I’ve been using Handbrake to rip films for years – it does a great job – but my preferred settings have evolved over time as I’ve learned from successes and failures on an ever widening digital library. Some key refinements took place when I switched from DVD to Bluray recently, as part of the inexorable move to high-def and the wonderful visual detail that it brings. Here are my settings, with the key elements of rationale behind them.

First up, the outline process: I rip my DVD and Bluray media using MakeMKV, encode using Handbrake, store with Nas4Free, and watch through Kodi.

When ripping, find the main feature and then keep the video track, your preferred audio track (I use the DTS-Core as the DTS-Master is just huge and I don’t have the decoder – or ears – to benefit from it just now), and all of the subtitle tracks (you’ll want all the ones in your own language, and it’s quicker than unchecking each one that you don’t need).

Load it up into Handbrake, and choose the following options:

Output & Picture Settings:

Handbrake-Picture-Settings

Output Settings:

  • Container: MKV

Picture Settings:

  • Width: match source, usually 1920 for HD films
  • Anamorphic: Loose
  • Modulus: 2
  • Cropping: Automatic

You’ll notice that the source was 1920×1080, but that Handbrake is going to automatically trim a horizontal strip of 140 pixels (or thereabouts, depending on your film) at the top and bottom. Don’t worry, this is expected on an HD film, and will still result in 1080p ouput – it just saves having to encode those black strips all the way through.

Note that the size here has a huge impact on output size. The French film Switch is in 4:3 aspect ratio at 1080p which means that there are no black bars to trim off – there is nearly 50% more screen to cover than usual so the encoded output is proportionately larger.

Filters Settings

Handbrake-Filters-Settings

  • Decomb: Decomb, Default
  • Everything else is Off

For some very grainy films (read Matt Gadient’s post on de-noising in Handbrake) you might need to adjust the Denoise filter. I found Bourne Legacy to benefit from some denoising – strong spatial and a little temporal denoising did little damage to the final quality but reduced the file size by around 40%.

Video Settings

Handbrake-Video-Settings

  • Video Codec: H.264
  • Framerate: As source
  • Constant Quality: 21
  • x264 Preset: Very Fast
  • x264 Tune: Film (adjust to suit media)
  • H.264 Profile: High
  • H.264 Level: 4.1

Two things that might be contentious here.

First of all the RF setting of 21. I used to encode DVDs with a much lower (higher quality) rate factor, but with the extra detail of a high-def source it just doesn’t seem to need it, and RF 21 is a fair balance on file size for me too. Adjust to taste I guess.

The second contention is the x264 preset of Very Fast. This turns off lots of the x264 features that are designed to enable better quality & smaller file size at the expense of encoding speed. The trouble is, after extensive testing on a variety of films, I just didn’t find the trade-off worthwhile. Very Fast – uniquely – seems to hit the quality point bang on, often gets the best compression of all the presets, and (of course) is pretty nippy.

Audio Settings

Handbrake-Audio-Settings

  • Add the DTS-Core track with these settings:
    • Codec: AC3
    • Bitrate: 448
    • Mixdown: 5.1 Channels
  • Add the DTS-Core track again with these settings:
    • Codec: AAC (avcodec)
    • Bitrate: 160
    • Mixdown: Dolby Pro Logic II

I add an AC3 and an AAC sound track as whilst we mainly watch films on our media systems that can handle AC3, sometimes other family members want to watch on “less enabled” devices.

Subtitles Settings

Handbrake-Subtitles-Settings

  • Add a suitable subtitle track for your preferred language, leave all options unticked

This would correspond to just the second row in the screenshot above. Why did I add the first? This was from an encode of The Bourne Ultimatum which has those teletype overlays telling you the location of a spy setting (e.g. “Moscow, Russia”). I wanted to have these shown, but not the full subtitling. It turned out for this source that rather than using the “Forced” flag to identify these, a separate subtitle track (track 28) had been provided and set as default. I used VLC Player to determine which track I wanted – just played the relevant section through with each of the subtitle tracks.

Conclusion

I’m getting output of around 3.5GB for a 2hr film – that’s 1080p and and AC3 soundtrack which is perfect for my combination of playback kit.

I hope these settings may be of use to others!

3 thoughts on “High-Def Settings for Handbrake

  1. I do not recommend H.264 Level: 4.1. If you have a television with the built in Plex app and it has a recommend H.264 Level that’s less than 4.1 (typically 4.0), you will not be able to play any videos encoded @ 4.1

    I recommend putting it at 4.0 for better compatibility. Now, if you KNOW your 1 and only TV can handle 4.1+, then sure. I have 4 TVs in my house of various ages. I learned this the hard way after already converting about 30 Blurays using 4.1. Not one would play on the TV in our exercise room.

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