Is there software that is accepted as the holy grail when it comes to converting any video file to mp4 that you can limit the size?
The reason for asking is because I've noticed there are a lot of films that you can download in formats that are around 650MB and are still decent quality.
I want to build a collection for my Mini-iPad but I don't want to use iTunes. I want to learn how to maximise the quality:size ratio and minimise any letterbox aspects etc.
I've tried software that promises to convert any format into any format but I find the file size comes out huge even if I've told it's for an iPad. For example a 1.4GB mkv file was turned into a 2.2GB mp4 file!
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Vidcoder or Handbrake are pretty easy to use. Both let you select a quality encoding method, or choose a file size in advance. For the first method you specify the quality but the file sizes will vary accordingly. For the second method you specify the file size but have no idea what the quality will be. You can also crop the video (remove black bars) etc. 650MB is really standard definition size. Sometimes you can get away with encoding higher definition video using smaller file sizes but it depends how hard the video is to compress. If you're set on a file size and the quality isn't what you're wanting, try reducing the resolution. Both Vidcoder and Handbrake will let you resize.
The only way to get widescreen video to display on a 16:9 screen without black bars is to remove some of the video from each side until what remains has 16:9 dimensions. Alternatively, a lot of video playing software lets you "zoom in" until the video fills the screen (rather than stretch it). You still lose some of the video "off the sides of the screen" when viewing it though.
There's not really any "magic" encoder settings. Much of the HD video I've seen which is reduced to small file sizes has been fairly heavily filtered (lots of noise removal makes video easier to compress but it also blurs fine detail) or it just doesn't look all that good. You might be able to get away with it using a small display but not so much when viewing the video using a large TV etc.
PS For the best results when specifying a file size, check the "2 pass" encoding method.
If you weren't going down the "AR-phobic" path, I'd suggest just getting MediaPlayerPro app for your iPad. It gives you the ability to view most if not all of those files natively on the iPad, without re-encoding them and losing what quality still remains.
There is NO Holy Grail app. What's been suggested already is pretty good, though you will of course incur some losses due to re-encoding. This will REQUIRE you to raise the bitrate somewhat to partially counteract those quality losses.