Video on PowerPC: Part 3 - Ripping

Having things just the way you want them is a rare thing in life.  Video ripping is one of those rare have it just the way you want things.  The only limitations are in the software you rip with, and the capability of the hardware the video is intended to be played on.  The software you will use for playback should also be taken into consideration so that what you rip will play flawlessly.

In my opinion, there are two PowerPC compatible apps on OS X  worthy of keeping in your ripping toolbox; Handbrake and Media Converter.  The Handbrake team ceased PowerPC development during the 0.9.4 - 0.9.5 transition, but Media Converter continues to have G4/G5 support.  Both are very capable, and allow fine tuning of rips beyond what anyone would ever really need.  Many will find Media Converter a little more user friendly, because once you have all the presets fine tuned just the way you want it’s simply a matter of drag and drop.  Handbrake is a bit more high maintenance in terms of usability, but it’s more capable in terms of video filters like deblocking and deinterlacing. 

In regard to audio, both have different strengths.  Media Converter has a wider codec range, while Handbrake is better at properly dealing with audio channels.  You obviously need to setup how you deal with audio channels based on the audio setup your playback hardware has.  These normally range from 2:1 to 5:1, so be sure you set things according to your needs.  Once you find your preferred settings in either app, make a preset so that you only have to do that fine tune once. 

Versions to use

With Handbrake you shouldn't go past version 0.9.3 on Leopard, because 0.9.4 and up drop XviD codec and avi wrapper support so they are not nearly as flexible.  0.9.3 was the last build to still offer full FFmpeg and XviD (avi) options alongside h.264.  It also is much more MP3 and AC3 friendly.  Tiger users cannot go past 0.9.1, which is a very solid build also.

For Media Converter, just use the most recent build or any version you tend to prefer.  I use the current 1.2 version, and other than a few small tweaks I needed to make, the built in presets are quite good out of the box.  Once it’s all setup the way you want, all you have to do is open it and drag whatever you have to rip onto the window.  Easy as pie.  Not that I can bake a pie, but that’s beside the point.

A practical approach, and the hardware in question

No matter if you're ripping DVD's or re-ripping compressed video, there is a sweet spot for all G4 and G5 hardware.  Anyone on a slower G4, with the will and patience to watch something their hardware can't handle, can down-rip videos to a codec and resolution more fitting their hardware playback capability.

Before doing any large quantity of ripping, it’s best to first figure out the codec/resolution sweet spots for your playback hardware.   As noted in the playback articles, you need to work within the capability of your hardware.  It would be quite a waste to spend days, or even weeks, ripping stuff that won’t even play well on your Mac. 

In terms of what hardware is suitable for ripping, it would be wise to only use G4/G5 on OS X.  A G3 could take over a week to rip what a slower G4 could rip in a day or two.  Just as with playback, Altivec has a big part in the performance of ripping.  It’s just the kind of operation that Altivec excels at, as well as L3 cache.  I use my secondary Sawtooth to do all my ripping, and it’s equipped with a G4 1.0 GHz 7455B which has 2 MB DDR L3 and it rips video at least 10-20% faster than the G4 1.25 GHz 7447A in my old PowerPC mini did.  There are many tasks a computer does that L3 doesn’t help at all with, but anything that deals with heavy lifting a large file is where it really earns it’s keep on the CPU card.

The G4’s which will struggle most with ripping are actually more in the mid range in regard to clock speed.  The early eMacs and iMac G4 are somewhat crippled with a 7450 chip that has only 256 KB L2, and no L3.

A laptop is not the best piece of hardware to use because they are simply not built for running at 100% CPU consumption for the hours, or even days, it takes to rip a big que of video.  Towers can do this with ease for months/years if needed.  If all you have is a portable, then simply use it in moderation for ripping for it's own sake, but a nice cheap dual 450-500 MHz Gigabit G4 would do an admirable job for well under $100, and could also be used for file serving, torrents or whatever else you think of.

Ripping quality and time

Once you know the codec and resolution sweet spots for your hardware, the thing to consider with each thing you rip is what bitrate is the best all round for the video and audio.  Things like animation can get by with a low video bitrate, and video with a large amount of dialogue can get by with lower audio quality. 

If your hardware deals with h.264 playback well enough, then you can get by with lower bitrates because it’s inherently less blocky than DivX.  It also takes 2-3x longer to rip, and 60%+ more CPU to playback.  My fastest hardware is my 1.8 GHz Sawtooth, which can rip DivX (FFmpeg) faster than real time, vs. about 2x real time on h.264.

I have ripped h.264 animation as low as 300kb video and 64kb audio, which actually looked very good considering.  The key was keeping a decent resolution such as 480p or higher.  This ripped in real time or faster, and the video only used about 150 MB per hour.  Keep in mind that this low quality would look horrible with anything but animation, or if I used DivX rather than h.264.

For typical video like films or television shows, h.264 can be kept under 1000kb/sec and look amazing.  The 700-1000 kb range is perfect all round for quality and low file sizes. 

With DivX/XviD the advantages are many.  They rip faster, play back with less CPU and there are a few great tricks to make up for the slight increase in blocks and artifacts.  I encode all my DivX/XviD to be at least 400-600p, which when combined with using the deblocking filter and 1000-1500 kb makes for very nice looking video.  I use either MP3 or AAC audio at 128 kb minimum which I push to 160-256 kb for video that has a lot of music in it.  You can go as low as 64 kb for pure dialogue content, but I only do that with animation. 

People with G4’s under 1.0 GHz would be wise to stick with the FFmpeg option in Handbrake.  It rips the fastest and looks almost as good as XviD, which takes about 30% longer to rip.  FFmpeg in Handbrake is DX50 (DivX 5), and I am a big fan of it.  It’s not only the fastest codec in Hanbrake, but it also performs better than Media Converter's DivX preset, even after several attempts to make it faster.  Handbrake also allows you to put an iOS compatible mp4/m4v wrapper on FFmpeg, which brings DivX efficiency to iPod/iPad/iPhone.

The moral of the quality story is that it’s a combination of hardware playback capability and personal preference.  Find your own niche that makes both you and your hardware happy, and stick to it. 

The best setting ranges for different hardware

G4 single 350–933 MHz

DivX:  200–500p (vertical pixels) @ 800-1500 kb/sec with 64 – 256 kb audio

h.264: 180–360p @ 500-1000 kb/sec with 64 – 256 kb audio

G4 single 1.0 GHz+ - Any dual G4 - Single G5

DivX: 400–720p @ 800-1500 kb/sec with 128 – 256 kb audio

h.264: 360–600p @ 800-1200 kb/sec with 128 – 256 kb audio

Dual/Quad G5

DivX:  720-1080p @ 1200-2000 kb/sec with 128 – 256 kb audio

h.264:  600–1080p @ 1200-1500 kb/sec with 128 – 256 kb audio

As I already mentioned, you need to find your own niche in the video settings, but the above guidelines reflect good overall results.  They are all based on leaving some CPU free for other tasks when playing these rips back.  If you want to go a bit higher then feel it out and see how it goes.  Trial and error is a great way to learn. 



Media Converter 1.2 (10.4.11 or higher)


  1. I am not a "media guy", but have you tried this build?

    Once again thanks for your great "experience shares".

    1. As I mention in the article 0.9.4 and higher have limited codec capability compared to 0.9.3 and lower.

      Newer versions do not always equal better.

  2. How would a single 1.25GHz G4 7445 do? Also I can't wait to read 'Combine the power of multiple Macs without clustering' !

    1. That CPU is 25% faster than the one I do most of my ripping on and the same version of the chip also. DivX should be around real time and h.264 will be 2-3x real time.

      The good news is that both HandBrake and Media Converter only use "nice" cycles on the CPU meaning that anything else you try do do like load a website or whatever you choose to do gets priority so that your computer is still very usable while ripping. Another way to put it is that ripping on both those apps only uses spare CPU cycles.

      Other things you do will slow the ripping down but the point is that the system is still usable and not lagged to death.

  3. I use MacTheRipper on my G5 Tower to rip DVDs.

    1. MTR is a solid app but the last time I used it only had the ability to put a verbatim copy of a DVD onto a HD. I use HandBrake to turn a DVD into a compressed video file that looks just as good as the DVD but is only 1/4 the size or less.

      This article is focused around compressed video such as DivX and h.264. I think the amount of time spent ripping/compressing is well worth the space it saves and in turn saves you money since you can get by on 1/4 the storage.

      A verbatim DVD copy is generally 4-7 GB and I can make an h.264 file that looks just as good but is only 900 MB - 1.2 GB.

  4. I know this post is about the software options, but for h.264, I'd like to nominate the Elgato Turbo.264 dongle for an honorable mention. It ain't perfect. It's nowhere near as versatile as Handbrake, but what it does, it does very quickly even on older hardware. I can encode h.264 nearly as fast on my MDD as on my MBP i7 Quad (via Handbrake). More importantly, as zen mentions, do you really want a laptop running full bore for hours on end? I don't care what the chip is rated for, 100C for hours at a time cannot be healthy for surrounding components.

    A few points:

    1) They can be found cheaply. I picked up a couple last year for under $20 each. Be sure to get the original version. The later HD version is for Intel Macs only. The original version works with software that is universal binary.

    2) In my experience, some Elgato products that specify a motherboard USB 2.0 as a requirement really do mean it. But that does not seem to be true of the Turbo.264. I have mine stuck in the internal port of an NEC USB 2.0 PCI card. I just think of it as an extra CPU that kicks in when I'm coding video.

    3) You don't have to worry about the software when you purchase. Unlike some Elgato hardware products that require an activation code for the related software, you can download this directly from Elgato and install it without hassle. If you find a good deal on the dongle without any packaging or software, don't worry.

    4) Although not explicitly stated in Elgato's documentation, it does read from MKV containers.

    5) Again, it's limited. You can control a few things like bitrate, sample rate, frame rate, and size, but it's only for h.264.

    6) It works well with newer Macs, but REALLY makes a dramatic difference on older PowerPC hardware. zen's suggestion above of 700 to 1000 kb is a good rule of thumb for this, as well. Faster than real time on my dual MDD at the highest settings.

    7) Although I have encoded more than 400 hours of flawless video on my MDD without a single problem using this, I've seen reports of folks complaining about the audio being out of sync. Since I haven't experienced the problem, I haven't researched it thoroughly, but felt it worth mentioning. Maybe do some Googling if any of this interests you.

    Another great article, zen!


  5. I regularly play 2500kb/s, 5.1 FLAC audio, and 1080p H.264 on my Quad without any issue. That's about double your recommendation. I think you should add a separate section for the Quads.

    1. You obviously didn't read the short paragraph right below those settings:

      "As I already mentioned, you need to find your own niche in the video settings, but the above guidelines reflect good overall results. They are all based on leaving some CPU free for other tasks when playing these rips back. If you want to go a bit higher then feel it out and see how it goes. Trial and error is a great way to learn."

      Your very suggestion causes me to think you just don't get it. You apparently don't have much foresight.

  6. Thanks for your interesting and helpful blog!

    I tried handbrake 0.9.1 from your link above on Tiger and it doesn't seem to be able to open anything. I tried a variety of movie files that VLC will play, whole directories, and even a physical DVD disc. I just get:

    [14:12:50] thread 181ce00 started ("scan")
    [14:12:50] scan: trying to open with libdvdread
    GUI ERROR dialog: dvd: ifoOpen failed
    [14:12:50] scan: unrecognized file type
    [14:12:50] thread 181ce00 exited ("scan")
    [14:12:50] thread 181ce00 joined ("scan")
    [14:12:50] libhb: scan thread found 0 valid title(s)

    Any ideas?