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
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)