Video Formats

In choosing a video format, I went through a video format comparison and evaluation process to figure out what was best for me.

(If you want to see what settings I use to convert videos, check out the Handbrake page.)

Below is the current video format information; if you’re interested in why I chose them, check out the video format comparison.

H.264 Video / AAC + AC3 Passthrough Audio / MP4 Container

As part of my switch to Plex for my media center server software, I also switched away from VIDEO_TS video format to individual movie files using:

  • H.264 video codec
  • AAC audio for the primary track codec
  • Native (AC3, DTS, etc.) audio for a secondary passthrough track
  • MP4 (with an .m4v extension) container

I chose this format for three reasons:

  • High compatibility: The MP4 container with H.264 video and AAC audio can be played by pretty much all of my devices.
  • Video quality vs. file size balance: H.264 video has good compression for the quality it retains and, based on your settings, you can get a file half the size of the MPEG-2 equivalent but with comparable quality.
  • Audio quality: While the MP4 container format doesn’t really specify support for anything beyond AAC audio, you can embed additional tracks and many popular players (including Plex) know how to deal with it. This allows you to put in a primary AAC stereo track for compatibility with mobile devices and standard players; and a secondary “passthrough” track with the original, unchanged audio for full surround.

I use MakeMKV for ripping content from discs.

I use Handbrake to convert the ripped disc content into the target format. The Handbrake page shows the custom settings I use for video conversion.

Something I did notice as I moved away from VIDEO_TS into a new, “standalone file” sort of format, is that audio/video sync sometimes got off somewhere so lip sync was visibly bad. Sometimes this is due to the source material being bad already; other times it had to do with frame rate issues. I talk more about lip sync on the Handbrake page.

I will say that, from a container perspective, subtitles is an area where MKV definitely outshines MP4 - MKV allows multiple subtitle tracks, just like a regular disc; MP4 only gives you one, and whichever one you choose is “permanently turned on.” I talk more about how I handle subtitles on the Handbrake page.

I gathered some general statistics after I finished the mass conversion of all of my media using Handbrake that may help you gauge how much space you need. This is using the settings outlined on the Handbrake page.

  • Total number of files: 4998
  • Total content runtime: 134 days, 8 hours, 56 minutes, 47 seconds
    • SD runtime: 115 days, 12 hours, 25 minutes, 17 seconds
    • HD runtime: 18 days, 20 hours, 31 minutes, 30 seconds
  • Total file size: 5182.3GB
    • SD file size: 3042.04GB
    • HD file size: 2140.26GB
  • Average MB/minute for SD content: 18.73
  • Average MB/minute for HD content: 80.72

VIDEO_TS Disc Image

VIDEO_TS isn’t really a “format” in the classic sense.

When you use a tool like DVDFab HD Decrypter to rip the content from a disc onto a hard drive and you want a full disc image - no compression or conversion - you have two choices. You can either get a literal byte-for-byte image in .iso format or you can get the files from the disc in their native directory structure.

If you choose the files in their directory structure, the directory that comes out is called VIDEO_TS. Inside that are a bunch of files with the extension .vob that are, basically, MPEG-2 video files.

I used VIDEO_TS format originally in combination with XBMC to both back up my movies and serve them at their original, unchanged fidelity.

However, MPEG-2 video is poor compression and eats up space. Also, you have to use a smarter media front-end like XBMC to play a disc image in VIDEO_TS format because it means the front-end must emulate a DVD player. Thus - it’s far less portable than other formats.

When my media center goals changed to go for more portability, I moved away from VIDEO_TS.

AVCHD / MTS / M2TS

I first encountered this format when I bought an HD camcorder. At that point it was sort of difficult to deal with - not much would play it directly and I spent some time trying to figure out how best to store it as something more compatible.

As it turns out, this is the same format in which Blu-ray discs are stored. More things play the format natively now, but I still end up converting these files (from my Blu-ray discs and my camera) into MP4 files. Handbrake is the way to go for conversion here.

For home movie editing in this format, I use Sony Vegas. I save my edited movies as MP4.