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“Ultrafast” video compression with x264

The fastest video compression I have seen so far is using the x264 command line tool with its “ultrafast” preset. The resulting file has no audio, so it requires an extra step with QuickTime to finish the process. I recently review the compression software Elgato Turbo.264 HD Software Edition, and it was indeed faster than iTunes and QuickTime Player when converting to iPhone-compatible videos, but I noticed that x264 was faster still. Here are the steps you can take for “ultrafast” video compression.

Command Line

You will need to install x264, which I won’t go through here.

We will compress a copy of Big Buck Bunny for our example.

We use x264 to compress the video to an MKV file. It is possible to compile x264 with MP4 support, but my copy of x264 doesn’t have that compiled in. In this case I will compress to an iPhone-compatible size.

x264 --preset ultrafast --video-filter resize:480,270 \
  -o x264-bbb.mkv big_buck_bunny_1080p_h264.mov

QuickTime Player 7


Now we move to QuickTime Player 7 (formerly QuickTime Player Pro). You’ll probably need to install Perian in order to read the MKV file with QuickTime. Open the source file and the MKV file in QuickTime Player 7. You may need to drag the MKV file onto the QuickTime icon to open it.

With the source video window in the front, select Show Movie Properties (Cmd-J) from the Window menu. Select the sound or audio track and click Extract.

With the new “Untitled” window in the front, choose Select All (Cmd-A) and Copy (Cmd-C) from the Edit menu.

With the MKV window in the front, click the left arrow |&lt to be sure you are at the beginning of the video, and select Add to Movie (Cmd-Opt-V) from the Edit menu.

You now have video and audio, but you probably do not want it in an MKV file. Next we will export to MPEG4 but without having to do any more encoding.

Select Export (Cmd-E) from the File menu. Select Movie to MPEG-4 from the Export popup list. Click the Options button. In both the Video and Audio tabs make sure you have Passthrough selected in the Video Format and Audio Format popup lists. Click OK and then Save.

Conclusion

It is a bit of a hassle, but you can get some screaming fast video conversions done this way. Using the ultrafast preset, I compressed a feature length movie in 6 minutes as opposed to the 32 minutes that iTunes took and the 26 minutes that QuickTime Player took.

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