I am trying to find a program to rip dvds and convert them to either avi or mp4.
I want a program that can give a good quality copy at a reasonable file size. I have been trying lots including WinX, Xilisoft, Cucusoft, etc. The problems is I cant seem to get any consistency. One dvd will give a good file size while another on the same setting is either enormous or tiny file size for a recording of similar length.
Can anyone give me some advice on the best software/settings to use?
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Some DVD discs are single layer while others are dual layer (so some are twice the size).
The software you use to convert will calculate the file size according to the bitrate (quality) you set, or the file size you specify.
Different discs will always produce vastly different project sizes if you choose to use a set bitrate.
It is, usually, the best way to go though. If you choose to convert using a set file size (say, 700 mb, for example) the bitrate will fluctuate dramatically and unpredictably. You will find each disc has a 'sweet' bitrate that you find good and produces an acceptable file size.
All in all, each job is different and files WILL vary, both in bitrate and file size. There are no particular settings, it depends on what you find acceptable after experimentation.
As an example, I have AVI movie encodes on my hard drive, all converted to pretty much the same quality and a width of 720. The file sizes range from around 400MB to 3GB or more. They're probably extreme examples, on average they're probably a lot closer to 1GB, but the file sizes do vary quite a bit for a given quality.
For ripping the DVDs to your hard drive, something like the free version of DVDFab will do it. Once the ripped files are on your drive....
For converting to Xvid/AVI, AutoGK is probably still a good choice. If you want a particular file size, leave everything in "Auto" mode and AutoGK will run a compression test, then it'll adjust settings such as resolution or resizer used to give you the best quality it can. AutoGK does a pretty good job of producing a decent quality encode as long as you're not too unrealistic about the file size. You can also run a quality based encode of sorts, but the file sizes will vary.
The x264 encoder is commonly used these days as it offers better quality than Xvid for a given file size (generally converted using the MKV or MP4 container). Common encoders used are Handbrake, MeGUI, RipBot264, etc. Most people use a quality setting when encoding with x264, so once again the file sizes will vary accordingly, but quality based encoding is actually faster than file size based encoding (which requires two passes). Most x264 encoding GUIs will still let you pick a desired output file size (and hope for the best) if that's what you need.
I suggest using Handbrake after ripping with whatever you like (AnyDVD and DVDFab are the best with DVDFab having a free version). This kind of question usually really means that file size is your number one concern and H.264/X.264 encoding can give you better quality than Divx/Xvid on the same file size.
I'm afraid you won't find any of the programs listed in post #1 recommended by anyone knowledegeable here. I'm fair to middling in that respect when it comes to video.
I prefer dvdfab hd decrypter (the free part) to rip and handbrake to encode to h.264, usually to a .mkv because you can't embed subs in a .mp4.
With handbrake (or I guess any h.264 encoder) it's essential to use the high profile to get good quality unless you're encoding to a mobile. That's probably the most important setting.
All the stuff mentioned about varying file sizes for similar length video is absolutely true. That's just how video compression works. No program can overcome that. You can use target file size mode and get all the files the same but that can't give consistent quality.
One thing to bear in mind about h.264 is that much of the reason it gives better encodes is that it has more settings. They get quite complicated. Things like h.263 and h.264 are professional standards ... they weren't designed for average users who just want to rip discs. You can get very, very good quality in a fairly small size but you have to know what you're doing.