Video Compression - Step-by-Step Handbrake Tutorial

by Anna Helme January 06, 2020
A step by step guide to using Handbrake to make H264 video for EngageMedia, plus links to some ready-made presets you can use.

Why use Handbrake?

Handbrake is an easy to use software that is available for Mac, Linux and Windows. Originally designed for ripping DVDs, it is the most popular tool for creating H264 video from any video file or DVD disc.

Below you can find a step-by-step guide for using Handbrake to compress your video. If you're in a hurry, you can also use the custom Handbrake presets we have uploaded, to quickly apply these settings without having to enter them yourself.

Make H264 With Handbrake - Step by Step Guide

This tutorial assumes you have an HD video file that is 1920x1080 pixels. We will make the frame size a bit smaller, as well as drastically reduce the file size (compared to for example a Pro Res file from Final Cut Pro or Avid).

  1. Install Handbrake by choosing the version for your operating system from

  2. Open Handbrake from your Applications or Programs folder.

  3. Load your video file. A file browser window should have automatically opened for you to select your source video file (or DVD). If not, click the Open Source button.

    Click the source button
  4. Select the file you want to compress and click Open.

  5. Destination: Select where you want the transcoded video file to be saved by clicking Browse...

  6. In Save As, give the file an appropriate name such as “(Original-Filename)-h264.mp4” so you know which version is the one you have compressed. Choose where you want to save it, and click Save.
    Name your file

  7. Choose Format MP4 file.

    Choose MP4

  8. Click the Video tab. For Video Encoder choose H.264 (x264).

    Choose H264

  9. Choose the High Profile under Encoder Options.

    Use high profile

  10. In Framerate (FPS), choose Same as Source. You can also change the framerate of your video source if you need to. Choose 25 for PAL and 29.97 for NTSC. Make sure you tick the Constant Framerate button to ensure better compatibility.

    Select the video frame rate

  11. Enter an Average Bitrate (kbps) for the video between 5,000-10,000 (choose 5000 unless you want a much higher quality video that will take longer to upload and download - see File Size Guide for more details). If you have time to wait while Handbrake compresses the video, choose 2-pass encoding for better results. You may tick Turbo first-pass to slightly speed up this process. Otherwise, leave this unticked.

    Choosing Bitrate

  12. Click the Dimensions button which opens a new dialog box where we can change the video frame size or resolution.

    Click the Dimension button

  13. Change Anamorphic to None (this feature is more suited to DVD ripping). Change Modulus to 16. Tick Keep Aspect Ratio. Use the stepper (click the arrow down) on Width to change Width from 1920 (full HD) down to 1280. Your Height should automatically then read as 720, if you have Keep Aspect Ratio ticked.

    Here we are re-sizing the video, making it substantially smaller in the number of pixels it uses compared to 1920x1080. However, you may choose to keep it at 1920x1080, and use a higher bitrate such as 10,000 kbps (see above).

    Tick Keep Aspect Ratio

  14. Select the Audio tab and select AAC (ffmpeg) Codec. Choose the 48.000 Hz Samplerate. Choose Stereo for Mixdown. Choose 320 for your audio Bitrate.

    Choose AAC (CoreAudio)

  15. Hit the Start button and wait until video has finished encoding.

    You can choose to queue multiple files by clicking Add to Queue, and can start/stop the Queue by clicking Show Queue. This is helpful if you have many files to compress.

    Click Start

  16. Depending on your When done settings in preferences, Handbrake can notify or alert you when it's done.

    When Finished

  17. Open your video file in VLC or another video player and check it looks good. Check periods of intense motion more carefully to make sure you don’t have too many compression artifacts. If the file doesn't look good enough, try doing it again with a higher bitrate. If it looks good, then you are ready to upload the video file! 

    Open using VLC Media Player

  18. If you like the settings you are using you can save them as a preset by clicking the + sign in the bottom right of the Presets Drawer.

Save to presets

19. Give it a Preset Name and Description.

Give your Preset a name


Compressing H264 Using Presets

We have created a preset that uses the exact settings above, which makes it incredibly easy to apply these settings. To use this, first, you need to download the preset file.

For an original video file that is 25 frames per second, choose this preset file.

For an original video file that is 29.97 or 30 frames per second, choose this preset file.

  1. To import the preset, choose go to Presets -> Import in the Handbrake top menu and select the preset file you just downloaded. They should appear in the Handbrake presets panel, available for use.

    Import your preset

  2. Make sure you have loaded your original video file by clicking Source, and given it a Destination and new filename by clicking Browse... Now just click on the appropriate preset called "(import) H264 720p 25fps", or "(import) H264 720p 30fps", then click Start.

    Settings after importing a preset

For a Handbreak Tutorial for using H265 codec read here. For further information and a glossary of terms, read on...

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Ty Law
Ty Law says:
September 11, 2019

Thank you so much for the downloadable presets. Do you have a suggesting for Instagram Stories. When compressed, the top and bottom are getting cut off. Is there a 1080x1920 preset?