Tutorial: Converting Video Files to MP4 (Full Document)


  1. Introduction
    1. Tools used in this tutorial
    2. MP4 video
    3. Handbrake
  2. Step-by-step instructions
    1. Start the program
    2. Open the source video
    3. Choose destination and file name
    4. Select the ‘normal’ preset
    5. Start encoding
    6. Verify output
  3. Next steps
  4. Feedback


There are many digital video formats, including MOV (QuickTime Movie), WMV (Windows Media Video), MP4 (MPEG 4), and others. The captioning tool used in these tutorials, Camtasia Studio, can import video in most of these formats. However, a few formats, such as FLV (Flash Video) and AVI (Audio-Video Interleave), must be converted to MP4 before they can be captioned in Camtasia.

The following illustrates the decision and production processes involved in captioning a video file:

Figure 1

Figure 1:  Converting Video Files to MP4

When preparing to caption DVD video, the first question to ask is does the DVD already contain captions or subtitles. If so, you may want to preserve them. If not, you'll need to create them manually.

Tools used in this tutorial

  • Handbrake (version 0.9.5 at the time of this writing)
  • VLC Media Player or Windows Media Player (version 12 or later)
  • Digital video files (on computer hard drive)

MP4 video

This tutorial will guide you through the process of converting digital video files to the MP4 format. MP4 is recommended for many reasons:

  • MP4 video is highly compressed to save disk space, yet it preserves video quality.
  • MP4s can be played in a wide range of media players, including Windows Media Player (WMP) version 12, which was released with Windows 7. Support in WMP 12 means that MP4 videos can now be embedded in PowerPoint presentations! (Incidentally, QuickTime videos can now be embedded in PowerPoint, as well).
  • MP4s are supported by a wide range of Apple devices, like the iPad and iPhone.
  • The MP4 format supports embedded closed captions, which can be turned on or off in players such as the VLC Media Player and others (but not Windows Media Player at this time).


To convert DVD video to the MP4 format, use the free, open-source application called Handbrake. Handbrake is a video transcoder, which means it converts video from a variety of formats, including DVD, to the MP4 format. When captions and subtitles are available in the video source, Handbrake is able to preserve them in its saved output.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Follow these steps to convert DVD video to the MP4 format:

  1. Start the Program

    Start Handbrake by selecting it from the Windows Start menu or by double-clicking on its desktop icon.

    Figure 2

    Figure 2:  Start Handbrake

    Handbrake converts video from a variety of formats, including DVD, to the MP4 format.

  1. Open the source video

    Open the DVD by clicking on Handbrake’s “Source” button, as shown below:

    Figure 3

    Figure 3:  Select DVD from the Source menu

    Select the video source, which in this case is your DVD. The DVD name should appear after the drive letter (L:\ in the example).

  1. Choose destination and file name

    To select a destination for the converted video, click on the Browse button. You may want to save the video to the computer desktop temporarily, or your network drive.

    Give the video a descriptive title and a file extension of .mp4, as shown below:

    Figure 5

    Figure 5:  Select a destination and file type

    Handbrake has an annoying habit of changing the file extension to .m4v. Hopefully, this will be fixed in a future version. For now, simply change the file type back to .mp4 in the Destination box before starting to encode the video.

  1. Select the Normal preset

    Presets are a collection of video conversion settings that yield optimal results for specific playback devices. Handbrake has a number of presets, corresponding mostly to various Apple technologies—iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. The “Normal” preset, however, is applicable to all devices; it saves the video at its original dimensions.

    Click on the “Normal” preset, as shown below:

    Figure 6

    Figure 6:  Select the ‘Normal’ preset

    The Normal preset is a collection of size and compression settings that yield good results with most videos.

  1. Start encoding

    Once the previous steps have been completed, click the “Start” button, as shown below:

    Figure 9

    Figure 9:  Start encoding

    Progress will be indicated along the bottom of the program window:

    Figure 10

    Figure 10:  Handbrake Save progress indicator

    Note: The program does not make a sound to indicate when conversion is complete. Also, there may be a few moments at the end of conversion when the status bar shows 100%, but the file is not completely saved. To know when the work is truly complete, look for these indicators: The “Stop” button will change back to “Start” when conversion is complete,

    Figure 11

    Figure 11:  Indicator of completion: the Stop button changes back to Start

    and the status bar will state “encoding finished” when the conversion process is complete:

    Figure 12

    Figure 12:  Encoding Finished indicator

  1. Verify Output

    Once Handbrake has finished saving the video, you’ll want to verify that it contains all of the desired content, along with any subtitles or captions that were selected. Simply play the video in the media player of your choice.

Next Steps

You’re now ready to move on to Camtasia Studio, where you will combine the video you just saved with the transcript, synchronize the text with the audio, and save a new captioned video (see Adding Captions in Camtasia Studio).

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Converting Video Files to MP4
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