When I finally caved in and got a Mac last year, one of the unexpected killer apps was a little program called Handbrake. A DVD ripper and general multimedia swiss army knife, Handbrake is the reason I didn’t have to lug crates and crates of DVDs with me when I moved to Boston.

It just sunk in that the latest version of the program is far more than a DVD ripper, and can in fact be used to convert practically any video source—at the moment I am using it to re-encode Firefly into iPhone-compatible files, and it’s practically flying in comparison to the other encoders I’ve tried.

QuickTime used to be my favorite iP* encoder of choice, but QT seems to have halfhearted mpeg audio support and I got tired of getting on the bus only to learn that I was watching a silent film. Handbrake fields this one beautifully, and even supports a queue and multiple audio tracks.

The interface is far superior to QT, as well. I once remarked to a friend that my dream media encoding front-end would look a lot like Handbrake, and now, surprise, it does. This latest version is by far the best media encoder I have ever used. (To a couple people who I know read this occasionally: I know what you’re going to say, and if you even BREATHE the words “mencoder” or “command line” I will reach out through my Internet and end you.)

If I had to list one gripe, it would be the apparent lack of support for external subtitle files or encoding .mkv and .ogm subtitle tracks. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s the one miserable thing for which I occasionally have to turn to QuickTime or mencoder. Given the rabid mob of anime and foreign film fans that is the Internet, you’d think there’d be an encoder with halfway decent sub conversion capabilities, wouldn’t you…

Another caveat is that the latest version no longer decrypts DVDs, although if you have VLC 0.9.x installed on your Mac (which, by the way, you should) then Handbrake will silently load VLC’s decryption libraries and you’ll never notice the functionality is missing.

PS: I have not personally tried Handbrake on Windows or Linux, but there appear to be versions available. Mileage may vary.

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