Handbrake Gets 64-bit Snow Leopard Love

Mac OS X is a wonder. When it comes to personal information management, entertainment and the Internet, it’s got all the basics covered. Beyond that, there are a handful of “essential” apps most Mac owners install on a new machine within minutes of booting it up for the first time. Handbrake is undoubtedly one of those essentials. And it just got a serious new upgrade.

Handbrake is a very handy (pun intended) DVD-ripping utility that converts DVDs to self-contained video files that can be played back on a computer or mobile device. (Contrary to the outright lies of major motion picture studios, there’s nothing wrong with having digital backups of movies you already own). In addition, DVDs can be converted into a number of formats, resolutions and aspect ratios. For many years, it has served as the single easiest way to get my movies off-of DVD discs and onto my iPods, iPhones and even my PSP.

The latest release, Handbrake 0.9.4, includes support for Snow Leopard, and is also available in 64-bit editions for both Leopard and Snow Leopard. It also adds the ability to include multiple subtitle tracks to exported video and a new “live preview” for viewing the likely outcome of an export before committing to a lengthy rip.

According to the release notes on the Handbrake website, the latest version includes new features like “macroblock tree rate control” and “weighted P-Frame prediction.” I’ve absolutely no idea what any of that means, and although they do provide links to explanatory articles, it made my head swim. I’ll just assume it’s all very swish and futuristic and good for my rips.

The introduction of a 64-bit version is good news for those of us using true 64-bit multi-core processors, though the performance increase is a fairly modest 10 percent. The software also supports non-DVD encoding, which is great news for those of us who do a lot of video editing. (I prefer to use Final Cut but often have to import raw data into iMovie only to export it out to a format Final Cut will accept. Handbrake won’t cut out this extra conversion step, but it performs far faster than the monolith that is iMovie and provides more flexibility in export formats.)

It’s not all about video, either. Handbrake offers great audio encoding options, including the newly-added ability to encode AAC using OS X’s Core Audio (which means far higher quality than was possible previously).

Of course, there are a lot of other software titles that offer similar functionality (Aimersoft’s popular DVD Ripper, for instance) but Handbrake is free. Although this means it has no official support, it does enjoy an active and enthusiastic user community so if you get stuck you won’t have far to go to find answers and help.

If you are using a 64 bit machine and want to get the full 64-bit goodness from Handbrake, you’ll need the 64-bit version of VLC Player, the latest nightly builds of which can be found here. (Please note that VLC Player 64-bit is beta software and as such offers no end-user support.) Handbrake 0.9.4 is available from the Handbrake website now.