With smartphones capturing more of our lives than ever, the world is awash with video. Not every device can view every format, though, which is where a video converter can come in handy. We’ve taken a look at some to find the best video converter available.
Video files use many codecs and container formats. The container formats use different file extensions. Using different codecs can change the size and quality of video files as well as affect conversion speeds. Video converters can take an input video file and change it to another format.
Among other things, that helps with playing video files on other devices. For example, many smart TVs only support .mp4s for playback, meaning you might need to convert a movie you downloaded using our best VPN for torrenting. It’s also useful for video editors who want to convert their files for a faster editing experience.
Before getting into it, let’s start with how we made our choices.
Picking the Best Video Converter
There are many free converters, but too many come with bundled adware or limited feature sets. If you’ve fallen victim to adware, you can remove it with our best antivirus software, though. We’ve tried to pick a few that are safe, user-friendly and affordable. Availability across operating systems is a plus, too.
The range of output formats is important, in addition to ease of use and stability. Crashes and lockups will be noted. Video creators will want to use the best quality formats available, so 4K resolution is desirable, but not all the tools we’re going to recommend offer it.
We’re going to look at each converted video to see if we can spot glitches or problems with the output. We’ll also do some speed tests with each tool.
For our speed tests, we used Windows 10 with an Intel i5-7600 processor. We shut down all but the essential background processes, too, as to not tie up any processing cores and skew the results.
We’re going to convert a test video from .avi to .mp4, then a shorter smartphone video from .mp4 to .avi. We’re using a 273MB .avi screen capture at 1280 x 1024 resolution with a total bitrate of 471,859 kilobits per second. The smartphone video is a 22MB .mp4 at 1280 x 720 taken using phone’s camera with a total bitrate of 8,033 Kbps.
We looked at three free and three paid options. Of the lot, we think Prism is the best option on the market. Despite its dated look, it has a slew of output options and excellent speeds, to boot.
The Best Video Converter: Prism
Prism’s homepage has a busy, ‘90s vibe to it. You’ll have to hunt for it if you want the free version of the software. Download and setup are quick, though, and the app launches to the main screen once you’ve installed it.
From there, you can add files and folders for conversion. You can choose to convert DVDs, too. The list of output formats is long, organized by extension and separated by device. That is nice as it caters to technical and non-technical users alike.
There are also audio only output formats should you want to extract the audio from a video. Make sure to use our best online backup for music to store it if you do. There are options for audio and video encoder types, bitrate, size, aspect ratio and frame rate of the output.
Prism can do more than simple format conversion, though. There is a selection of simple video effects, which enable you to adjust brightness, contrast and gamma. You can create black and white or sepia videos for a nostalgic look, or use the negative output option, which is useful for amateur horror video makers.
No matter what effect you choose, make sure to backup those videos with our best online storage for videos.
You can also add captions and a watermark. There are plenty of ways to control your output and make it look professional, too.
Prism didn’t let us increase our output size beyond 1080p, so 4K is off the table, unfortunately.
We tried batch processing several video files next, choosing to use the output from other tests. Prism didn’t let us give output files different names if multiple sources had the same name. We could only skip or overwrite them.
It converted 20 source files in only one minute and 55 seconds after we chose to overwrite. Three or four temporary files were always present in the output folder during the conversion, suggesting to us that Prism was making full use of our processor cores and assigning a video to each one. A look in task manager confirmed our cores were all busily working.
What We Think of Prism
Prism’s free version has a nagging pop-up that requires you to certify you are only using it for non-commercial home use. Thankfully, the certification process only involves a click.
The online help pages are as functional and free of fluff as Prism itself. There’s a good FAQ page with simple, direct answers. Only paying customers get full support, though.
There is a forum, but only three threads were created in 2018 as of September, so it is far from comprehensive. The application’s help menu has links to all the support options, so you don’t have to hunt for them.
Prism is available in free or paid form. The free version has fewer formats available and is for non-commercial use only, so no becoming a YouTube superstar unless you fork over the money for the full version. The paid versions are $24.99 or $34.99 depending on whether you need MPEG2 support.
Overall, we enjoyed using Prism. It is good enough for amateur use and offers plenty of options and filters to get creative. On the downside, it is basic looking and lacks the slick presentation of other programs.
It’s available for Windows and Mac. The Mac version has fewer input formats available and can’t output to .apng, but it still supports most popular file types.
- Lots of options
- Free version produces usable output
- Fast conversion
- Plain looking
- Limited output size
Adobe Media Encoder is available as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud software suite, so you’ll have to download that before you can install Media Encoder.
It’s available for Windows and Mac, so, as usual with video converters, Linux users are left out.
The install adds several Adobe components to your system. A hard-to-remove Creative Cloud folder is added to the left of your explorer window, in addition to services that run on startup.
We spotted nine Adobe processes in task manager that together took over 200MB of RAM, and that was before we opened Media Encoder.
It is professional looking with small user interface controls and options galore. You can work with local data or projects stored on Creative Cloud. Cloud storage has plenty of benefits, so that is nice to have.
Its help system includes many how-to guides and video tutorials. There is some crossover with Adobe’s other tools — we found ourselves in the After Effects guide at one point — but they are well-integrated, so it isn’t much of an issue. In a sense, you benefit from the extra resources thrown at the whole software suite.
Media Encoder allows you to use GPU-accelerated rendering if you need the extra horsepower. Our smartphone video took 11.5 seconds to convert, which was about average. Media Encoder managed to orient the output video correctly and the quality looked good, too.
The screen capture conversion took 13.18 seconds, which was, again, average. Converting a 640 x 480, 20MB .mp4 up to 3840 x 2160 took 55.07 seconds. Playback stuttered a couple of times in the output video, though.
Clicking on the blue text under each video on the main screen brings up the export settings screen, which is where you can tune your output. A wide selection of formats that go up to 2160p 4K are available.
The GoPro CineForm codec is available, too. Designed for digital intermediate workflows, it is useful for professionals working on high-resolution video.
There are over 30 output options, which are sorted according to use. For example, you can target mobile devices or YouTube playback. That means you don’t have to worry about getting the technical settings right.
The effects options are similarly comprehensive. You can add a watermark and select its opacity. Text can be added, too. “Lumetri Look” color filters, used in our top pick for the best video editing software Adobe Premiere, are available with around 50 preset options.
We saw black and white options in other tools, but Media Encoder has seven “noir” filters. For example, the “noir red wave” makes the red in the source video stand out in the black and white output video.
There is also a log you can look at for information about the conversion. It is useful if anything goes wrong, or if you want to confirm technical details after creating your video.
What We Think of Adobe Media Encoder
You can only get Adobe Media Encoder as part of the Creative Cloud suite, which is one of its few drawbacks. To sign up for it, you’ll need to pick one of several available packages. A package containing all Adobe products costs $599.98 per year if you prepay, but there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee for any you choose.
You get many applications for that, including Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Animate and others, in addition to the video converter. It has over 20 applications, along with 100GB of cloud storage.
Individual app plans are around $20 per month. Media Encoder isn’t a separate application Adobe sells, though, so you can’t get it alone. It comes with a Creative Cloud account as a free tool, much like Adobe XD.
Since Media Encoder is only available through Adobe Creative Cloud, you’ll need to subscribe to the service and continue paying for as long as you want to use it.
You can install your Creative Cloud apps on up to two machines with one license, which might come in handy if you’re doing work on location.
The advantage of using Creative Cloud is that Media Encoder is well-integrated with After Effects and Premiere, so it’s tailored to those working with them.
The Adobe suite is full of goodies for creative professionals, too, and many are free. The individual plans are a good fit for people doing regular video work or any media production, as Adobe ran the race on our best photo editing software. People who want to convert a few videos now and then might be better off with something cheaper, though.
- Many options & filters
- Well integrated with Adobe’s other software
- Produces 4K output
- Expensive if you only want Media Encoder
- Installs services and changes explorer without explicit permission
- 4K output stuttery
Freemake claims it’s loved by over 90 million users, and offers conversion to an impressive 500 formats.
Installation seemed smooth enough. We got a default application pop-up from Windows at the end of the process, then got sent to a browser registration page.
The main screen is big and bright with several large, clearly-marked buttons with labels explaining what they do. Doing a quick conversion is simple if you don’t want to mess around with the options.
That said, if you use the free version of Freemake, its logo is added to your videos. It isn’t just a watermark in the corner. There’s a two to three second splash screen at the start and end of the video, as well as a bunch of text in the middle of it.
As a free tool, its output is essentially unusable. The full version costs $59.95 if you want to buy it outright, but a subscription model is available, too.
The waiting screen shows the estimated remaining time, which was accurate, and says it will “boost your speed” if you buy the full version.
Converting the smartphone video took 20.76 seconds using the default settings of 30 fps at the original resolution with a bitrate of 3,283 Kbps. When we adjusted the settings to match those used in other tests, it took 15.29 seconds. Unfortunately, the smartphone output was not corrected. The quality was good, though, and the scale was maintained.
Our larger video took 21.44 seconds at its default settings. When reducing those to match our standard test settings, it took 19.24 seconds, so the drop in quality didn’t gain us much time.
What We Think of Freemake
Freemake was among the slowest tools we tested, alongside HandBrake, below. The highest output dimension we could set was 2048 x 2048. Doing that left us with output at the original size, so we couldn’t scale up to 4K.
Closing the free version of the application resulted in no less than two pop-ups asking us to buy the thing before we could escape.
We also saw adverts in the bottom right of our screen on start-up and found a Freemake service running in the background. That was removed when we uninstalled the software, thankfully.
Overall, Freemake Video Converter is simple to use and quick to convert videos. Its default settings give good results and there are plenty of options for tuning. The logo and adverts ruin the free version, though, so you’ll need to pay to use it for anything other than test purposes.
It’s also only available for Windows, which is a shame for Apple fans.
- Easy to use
- Good quality output
- Free version unusable due to intrusive branding
- Lots of advertising in free version
- Windows only
The Best Free Video Converter
Our recommendations for the tools to use if you don’t want to pay are next. Some have paid versions, but we are rating them based on their free offerings. We rated HandBrake as the top free tool, largely due to its lack of advertising. DivX and Any Video Convertor let us down in that regard, but remain good tools with plenty to like.
HandBrake is a free and open source video converter for Windows, Mac and Linux. Besides online options, it is the only Linux offering on our list. Luckily for members of Team Penguin, it is a very usable tool.
Downloading and installing it is as simple as can be. It took around a minute, and no adverts or misleading installer screens got in the way.
Its layout is functional, rather than attractive, so there are many options. Everything is clearly laid out, but it’s trickier to use than some other applications.
The settings include all the basics, as well as options for advanced users. There is detailed pop-up text for all the controls and you can safely ignore anything you aren’t comfortable playing with.
When you add a video, a tabbed display appears showing you information about the video, audio and dimensions. There is a subtitle tab that enables you to add your own tracks and view what is there already. A chapter tab lets you create and name chapters, which is useful if you want to make a DVD.
HandBrake offers several filters, such as sharpening, denoise, deinterlace and grayscale, if you want to refine your output further.
When selecting output formats, there are plenty of options available and they are sensibly laid out. You can select from “general” preset formats or lists geared towards the web, specific devices, Matroska formats or those suitable for production.
The highest resolution available is 2160p. In addition to the usual choice of dimensions, Handbrake allows you to crop your output. That is great if you’ve taken a video of your child’s school play, but have someone’s head bobbing around at the bottom of the shot.
An activity log gives you detailed information about what the app has done and is useful for troubleshooting errors when you’re experimenting with different formats.
Our first conversion of the screen capture at the default settings took 17.06 seconds. We changed the bit rate settings and frame rate to match those used in other tests. HandBrake uses its bitrate setting is an average target rather than the limit.
We had trouble setting the output format to .mp4, despite all the options. In the end, we had to use the “save as” function to change the filename to what we needed. The default extension is .m4v, which is functionally identical to .mp4, but it still would have been nice to have a clear way to select the extension in the UI.
After changing the settings, the video took 21.67 seconds to convert. The output quality wasn’t great, but it was understandable with the lower settings.
Moving on to our smaller smartphone conversion, we learned HandBrake can’t output to .avi. The only container formats available are .mp4, .m4v or .mkv.
As an alternate test, we tried converting our .mp4 to .mkv, which clocked in at 12.94 seconds. Output quality was perfect and it got the orientation of the source video correct.
Those times were among the slowest in our testing, though.
Trying to convert our .avi to 2160p took one minute, two seconds and slowed our system down. It turned out that HandBrake hadn’t scaled up our original video, either, so the output was still at the original size.
What We Think of HandBrake
With its lack of ads and pop-ups, HandBrake is a refreshing alternative to some of the free options out there. Though less slick than its competitors, it does its job well. It has many options and also runs on Linux.
The downside is that it’s slow, tricky to use and has limitations. It is a good free tool to use, though, if you’re willing to work within its constraints.
- Free & open source
- Plenty of detailed options
- No ads or pop-ups
- Linux version
- Spartan layout
- Limited output formats
DivX Converter claims to offer free encoding at resolutions up to 4K. That’s a tempting prospect, so we were keen to see if it could deliver.
On setup, it offered to install a couple of other DivX tools, then gave us the chance to install its bundled software. As with Any Video Converter, the bundleware page was in our regional language, rather than English.
It asked for our email address next, which, as much as we love spam, we declined to provide. We got sent to an ad page for the Pro version afterwards. Its features include premium audio, DVD/Blu-ray backup and surround sound. We’re testing the free version.
Once we started the application, there was another ad for the Pro version. Thankfully, there’s a checkbox you can select if you never want to see it again. The second time we started it, there was another ad with the same checkbox, but it was presented as one of DivX’s plugins rather than the software. Cunning.
The third time around, it was presented on behalf of a video pack. We didn’t know we had a video pack installed, so at least we were learning something every time we started the software. The fourth time was in the name of “cloud connect,” which only gave us the option of not seeing it again that day.
On our fifth start-up attempt, DivX was good to its word and opened without an ad screen.
The main screen has a slick, living-room-hardware aesthetic with key buttons clearly labeled. You can convert videos with the “add files” and “start” buttons if you like to keep things simple and accept the default settings.
When converting, DivX allows you to select an output profile, which is essentially picking from a list of devices with a few settings next to their names. You can output to several formats using this method, but not, for example, .avi.
There is a video options button that lets you change your output size and bitrate and a similar button for audio settings, but no obvious means of specifying the output format.
DivX succeeded where the other two free options failed and returned our smartphone video in the correct orientation. It achieved this small miracle by automatically selecting a rotate option in its settings, so it is clearly an issue with cellphone videos that DivX is smart enough to detect and fix.
It took 10.47 seconds to convert our smaller video to the .divx format at roughly the same settings as the .avi conversion done with the other tools. Converting the larger .avi video to .mp4 using the “PlayStation 3” profile took 15.37 seconds.
After reducing the bitrate, it took 13.01 seconds, so, again, not much speed is gained by reducing it. The file size was less than half that of the higher quality version, though.
Selecting the “PlayStation 4 Pro” profile and ratcheting the resolution up to 2704 x 2160 stressed our system and took 53.1 seconds. The “time remaining” guide worked well, giving us a fairly accurate estimate throughout testing.
The output video was good quality, making DivX our best option for 4K.
What We Think of DivX Converter
The Pro version is a wallet-friendly $19.99. If you’re going to be using DivX regularly, that is worth it to avoid the time you spend in the nag screens otherwise. That said, without the upgrade, DivX is a good, free tool for converting video. It is light on format options, though.
It is available for Windows and Mac, but hardware acceleration is Windows-only.
- Good quality output
- Good 4K output
- Free version works well enough to use
- Output format chosen indirectly
- Ads keep fibbing
Any Video Converter is a quick download that claims to be free of ads, spyware and malware. When installing, it defaulted to our local language, rather than our system language, but it was easy to switch to English.
Despite the “free of ads” claim, we were directed to a page full of them right after installation.
We weren’t too bothered by the post-installation ad screen, but got an unwelcome surprise the next time we opened Chrome. Our homepage had been changed in all our browsers.
On further investigation, we found Any Video Converter had installed extra software. The option for installing it was in the Japanese version of the install screen, which we rolled back from before switching to English (your reviewer being based in the Land of the Rising Sun).
Weirdly, when we tried installing again with English selected from the beginning of the process, we were given the Japanese optional installer page to deselect. After deselecting it, we were finally able to install the software without its unwanted extras.
It was installed in a “baidu” folder. Baidu is a large Chinese technology company and not one from which we want software installed without our consent, read our article on censorship in China to find out why.
It is a browser hijacker that’s, thankfully, easy to remove. Our recommendation of the software is not based on that shady practice, but on the software’s performance.
Onto the program, Any Video Converter can burn DVDs and play them, as well as convert videos. The UI is clearly laid out and we didn’t need to resort to the manual to use it. You click the “add video” button to add the video you want to convert, then click a tab to select an output format.
There are many to scroll through and they are arranged by device. It would be nice if the “common video formats” was at the top of the list of options, though.
The list isn’t alphabetical for some reason. We counted 33 device options in total, most of which offered output in multiple formats.
With the output video size matching the original, the quality at normal and the frame rate set to 25, our short video conversion took 3.59 seconds.
Our .avi to .mp4 conversion took 10.17 seconds. That’s not too shabby, but the output was rotated 90 degrees, the scale looked wrong and the quality was poor.
After the conversion, there was a pop-up suggesting we buy the paid version of the software, which, again, contrasted with the ad free claim.
Our first attempt at scaling our video to 4K output resulted in a smeary mess. Upping the video bitrate to the maximum returned a slightly less smeary mess. Scaling at the default settings was a non-starter. Perhaps it’s possible to get better results with tuning but we couldn’t manage it.
What We Think of Any Video Converter
Any Video Converter is available for Windows and Mac, and is the fastest tool we used. It is also easy to convert video, but we found quality issues with the output on several occasions. We recommend experimenting with its settings to get the best results.
We were surprised to find its ads and bundled software, too, contradicting its claims to be free of such things. Despite that, we enjoyed using Any Video Converter and recommend it for anyone looking for a quick, easy to use tool.
- Easy to use
- Bundled software is sneakily installed
- Poor 4K output
- Several quality issues
Online Conversion Services
There are also online tools that can convert video. They are useful when you are on the go or using locked down work computers you can’t install software on.
CloudConvert claims to handle over 200 formats. In addition to audio and video, they include many document types. Its website is straightforward, which makes it easy to get started. Options are clearly labeled and there is an impressive amount of them for a web-based tool.
The downside is the speed. Uploading our 266MB video took a long time. After an 11-minute wait, we got an error message that said our file was too large. CloudConvert identified the video size at the start of the process, so it could have told us then.
We gave it another chance with a 19.9MB version of the video produced with Adobe Media Encoder. That took around 52 seconds to convert, including upload time. The output was of poor quality, though.
The default video bitrate was 1,000 Kbps. We set it to 2,528 Kbps and ran the test again. The output quality turned out better and the process was quicker at 47.27 seconds, perhaps due to caching.
CloudConvert’s pricing page details a 1GB maximum file size for its free plan and 25 conversion minutes per day, but that clearly isn’t accurate as our experience shows. It was decent enough at converting our 20MB video, though, so it could be useful in a pinch.
We were pleased to get through the process without being bombarded by advertising or forced to register after converting the video, too.
If you are patient, CloudConvert is a good way to get a conversion done. Maybe start it before you head to lunch, though, as it takes time. You’ll also need to pay to use it for larger files.
Online-Convert is an online conversion service that handles video, audio, images, ebooks and even web services. The layout is basic with a good selection of output formats. You can also target a device for output and have the settings adjusted accordingly.
Its website looks plain and is functional rather than attractive. After selecting our output options and our file, we clicked the convert button. It sent us to a sign-up page where we were told our 266MB video was above the limit for free conversion.
Prices are $6 for 24 hours or $7 per month, which seems reasonable, but there are file limits attached to those. The monthly option, for example, comes with a 200MB size limit. Upping the limit to 1GB dramatically increases the price to $49 per month. That’s more expensive than Creative Cloud’s individual app plans.
Since we like to watch the purse strings, we decided to go back and try the smaller video we prepared for testing CloudConvert. Our video took one minute, five seconds to upload and convert and we didn’t have to sign up for anything to get it. The output quality was acceptable given the size of the input video.
Its “optional settings” section has a list of presets, which vary by output format. We were surprised to see the PS3, Wii and 3DS appear at one point.
Selecting .mp4 as the output format gives you a list that includes an 8K ultra-high-definition 60p option. We tested that with our 20MB video. Uploading it took a minute or so again, but processing took longer.
When it shifts from uploading to processing, Online-Convert doesn’t estimate the time remaining or provide a visual gauge, such as a filling bar. You get a message telling you it may take a while, though. There’s also an option to get an email notification when the conversion is done. Our video took 10 minutes, 25 seconds to convert to 8K.
Should You Convert Online?
Both the online tools do their job reasonably well, but it takes time to upload videos to them and there are size limits to consider. In most cases, downloading and setting up an offline application will be faster than uploading your video to an online service.
If your computer is slow or you don’t have permission to install software, online conversion is a great alternative. It is also a good choice for smartphone users. Just check out the pricing and limitations before deciding what to use.
Not long ago video conversion meant a lengthy wait while your computer strained like an old man going up a long flight of stairs, so we were pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to do on a modern system. Choosing the right tool is important, though. There are free options, but many of them have limitations and intrusive advertising.
The tools we picked are user friendly and produced quality output, though not always for every format. Some free tools nagged us to the point of distraction, so if you want a smooth experience without having your time wasted, the paid tools are worth the money.
We found sneaky attempts to install things we didn’t want, including services that ran at start-up, ads and bundled malware.
Our winners in the paid and free categories produce great quality output. Speeds on modern systems are impressive and, while some tools are faster than others, most conversions are quick. It takes longer for 4K output, but it can still be done in good time.
If you’ve used any of the tools here or found something we missed, let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading.
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