HandBrake abandons DivX for ripping DVDs, should you?

HandBrake abandons DivX for ripping DVDs, should you?

HandBrake - the Swiss army knife of DVD ripping - has ditched support for DivX files. Is it time for you to do the same?

[Update: for those interested, Adam Turner has posted an update story looking into the future of DivX]

Ask any Mac user what's the best tool for ripping DVDs to your format of choice and they'll almost certainly say the open source wunderkind HandBrake. Actually with the latest 0.9.4 update it's probably the best free tool for converting just about any video file to an Apple-friendly format, alongside the overhauled version of Quicktime in Snow Leopard.

Windows users have a few ripping options at their disposal, although I've always been a fan of DVD Decrypter combined with Auto Gordian Knot if I need DivX files. I tend to rip DVDs as VOB files using AnyDVD HD, which is fine for my media centre but other devices don't always play nicely with VOB files - for example you usually can't access the disc menus.

Now that I've gone to the Mac side of The Force, I find that HandBrake is the best way to rip DVDs onto my Mac, Apple TV or iPhone. HandBrake was ported to Windows a few years ago and is also available for Linux, making it a handy ripping tool for everybody.

HandBrake version 0.9.4
HandBrake's developers made an interesting choice for version 0.9.4 - they ditched support for AVI files using DivX and XviD (an open source equivalent to DivX). Your only option now is to convert DVDs and other media to MKV or MP4 files - with the option to save as Apple-friendly M4V files. If you want to create MPEG-4 XviD files, you'll need to stick with HandBrake 0.9.3.

DivX was the first digital video format to really win mainstream acceptance, doing for movies what MP3 did for music (both good and bad). Eventually even Sony - the king of proprietary formats - caved into pressure and added DivX support to its DVD players and the PlayStation 3.  

Why ditch XviD now?
So why is HandBrake ditching AVI and XviD support when it's a format that's won such widespread acceptance? In the words of the developers;

"AVI is a rough beast. It is obsolete. It does not support modern container features like chapters, muxed-in subtitles, variable framerate video, or out of order frame display. Furthermore, HandBrake's AVI muxer is vanilla AVI 1.0 that doesn't even support large files. The code has not been actively maintained since 2005. Keeping it in the library while implementing new features means a very convoluted data pipeline, full of conditionals that make the code more difficult to read and maintain, and make output harder to predict. As such, it is now gone. It is not coming back, and good riddance."

"HandBrake, these days, is almost entirely about H.264 video, aka MPEG-4 Part 10. This makes it rather...superfluous to include two different encoders for an older codec, MPEG-4 Part 2. When choosing between FFmpeg's and XviD's, it came down to a matter of necessity. We need to include libavcodec (FFmpeg) for a bunch of other parts of its API, like decoding. Meanwhile, XviD's build system causes grief (it's the most common support query we get about compiling, after x264's requirement of yasm). Since we mainly use MPEG-4 Part 2 for testing/debugging, and recommend only H.264 for high quality encodes, XviD's undisputed quality edge over FFmpeg's encoder is inconsequential, while FFmpeg's speed edge over XviD is important to us."

Time to ditch DivX?
So there you go, DivX/XviD is gone from HandBrake and it's not coming back. There are other DivX tools around, but is it time to follow HandBrake's lead and ditch DivX? If your devices can handle other formats, the answer is probably yes.

Both the MKV and MP4 formats let you use the H.264 compression codec (known as MPEG-4 Part 10), whereas DivX/XviD files use the older MPEG-4 Part 2 compression codec. As such MKV and MP4 should let you create better looking files that are smaller than their DviX/XviD equivalents. You''ll certainly notice less pixelation in the shadows, for example.

Hardware support
Both MKV and MP4 are becoming increasing popular with device makers, to the point where they are handled by most streaming players and even Network Blu-ray players such as LG's wifi-enabled BD390. If you're a Mac user then M4A is probably the best choice, because it will play on most devices and can be easily imported into iTunes.

HandBrake's M4A iPhone presets (480x272 resolution while maintaining the frame rate) still look very sharp even on an old television, streamed from something like a WD TV Live media player via composite video. If you're looking for entertainment while on the road, especially for kids, you can rip a DVD as a 500-600 MB file that will look great on an iPhone/iPod touch, on your notebook in iTunes or on a hotel television from a WD TV Live.

As an experiment I even watched a few of the movies on my 46 inch Bravia via HDMI and they were surprisingly watchable, obviously helped by the Bravia's excellent upscaling. The picture quality was certainly enough to keep the kids happy for an hour or two.

So I think the time has come to follow HandBrake's advice and part ways with DivX.


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