Converting your DVD and video files to various formats is necessary, especially if you're a multimedia addict. Whether you want to upload files to YouTube or make them compatible with your portable devices, encoding them is compulsory and it does not come off as an easy task for less experienced users. Most of the software bent on performing video conversion comes at a price, literally, but if you seek thoroughly, you will come across free alternatives that can get the job done quite elegantly.
This is the case of AutoMKV, an open source application that aims to convert DVDs as well as MPEG-2, MPEG-4 files, WMV, MKV, MP4, AVI, M2TS and WMV and audio formats including MP3, AAC, OGG and WMA - pretty much everything that can be played with Windows Media Player.
Installation is not required, as the application is portable and in order to run it, you just need to unzip the archive and start the executable. Among the basic requirements you need to fulfill in order to run it, there are AviSynth and XviD and optionally, Nero Audio Encoder, Ffdshow and VobSub.
At first run, AutoMKV will offer to start VirtualDubMod, a video capture tool based on VirtualDub, which includes support for the Matroska format. The main window of the application may look crowded at first, jammed with all sorts of sections, but a careful analysis of the elements it encases will change your opinion.
For the average user, a look at the Basic Settings window will suffice, because it allows you to configure the audio encoding for two audio tracks, with options to set the audio channels to Mono, Stereo or DPL (specific to Dolby Digital technology). Before you start the conversion process, you also need to choose the container (output format), the codec to be used in the encoding process and the conversion profile. For the latter, there are over twenty options that will enable you to convert video files to iPhone, Apple TV, Xbox, PSP, Archos compatible formats. An in-depth editing of the profiles is available separately, but it requires solid knowledge of video codecs and encoding.
Among other features worth mentioning are the deinterlace capabilities, crop, resize, aspect ratio options, muxing and demuxing. The processing speed is also a plus. The conversion process of a DVD movie took about half an hour during our tests and the application kept us up to date with progress bars and time estimation.
What sets AutoMKV apart from other software of its kind is the fact that it performs quality conversion jobs for free. It's true that beginners will have a tough time learning its ropes, but average and advanced users will be able to enjoy its perks fully.