As promised earlier, I tried Handbrake for DVD-to-iPod video conversion. I found it to be a very good solution; not quite in the same league as Cucusoft but definitely easier than any other solution that I’ve tried.
As a side note, Mac users have had Handbrake for a while and it seems more robust than the Windows version. The Windows version is just not quite finished as of this writing (0.8.0 beta 1), but it certainly does the job. There is a guide to using Handbrake in Windows here so I won’t go into too many details. (Make sure you select mp4 as the extension for the output file.)
Handbrake requires an understanding of the way titles and chapters are organized on a DVD (just remember, your longest title is probably the movie), and allows you to select a specific title and optionally specific chapters. Handbrake doesn’t remember settings between sessions (it’s basically a shortcut to generate a command for the Handbrake command-line interface)–that would be a nice feature to have. Also, integrating DVD reading and giving pulldowns for title, chapter, subtitle, audio track, etc. would be nice instead of making me have to view the DVD info multiple times and remembering the number of the stream.
Ripping video seems to look best to me in 640 x 480 at 768 kbps, and I encoded audio at 160 kbps (the maximum the iPod supports) for music and 128 for dialog. Using H.264 resulted in much smaller files than MPEG-4, but longer encoding times. I also preferred 2-pass video encoding when playing the movie back on computer, but I didn’t notice much difference on the iPod.
I did run into one “gotcha” with the cropping feature (the way to specify how much of the left/right/top/bottom of the image to discard). I set the video to rip as 640 x 480 and it kept coming out as 640 x 496 (i.e., incompatible with the iPod). I discovered that the left & right crops were set to 6 (i.e., there were six pixel wide black bars on each side), which apparently tells Handbrake to crop that information off the final picture and resize to that aspect ratio. I corrected this by setting Handbrake to “no crop.” This leaves the black bars on the sides of the video, but that’s probably OK (and I think it can be cropped out in QuickTime Pro if you want to save the space).
I also found some STATUS_ACCESS_VIOLATION errors in a text .stackdump file that were corrected by creating an ISO of the DVD with DVD Decrypter and then encoding the video from the ISO.