What good is having a super-compressed MPEG4 video if you can’t watch it on whatever device you choose? Sure, that movie may look absolutely phenomenal in high-def on your computer, the resolution popping with the visual crispness and fidelity of real life, but it can be a pain to watch on your home console, or — if you want to cut the cord entirely — on your tablet or smartphone. Luckily, quality video converters have been around for several years, allowing users to convert their precious video footage into a number of desirable formats. And they’re completely free.
Most video converters work in a similar way, requiring the user to upload their files and select an appropriate output setting before choosing a save location within their computer’s directory. However, some falter when it comes to speed and conversion quality, while others pave the way with intuitive features that go well beyond your typical video converter and push the software into an entirely different realm — one where video editing and multimedia players intersect.
Here are our picks for the best free video converters so you can free yourself from the ball-and-chain formats of yesterday and convert video so that it’s playable on practically any device you choose. Try to keep your videos to only copyright-free content, if possible, and check out our picks for the best media players and best free video editing software if you’re looking to get your inner filmmaker on. If you’re looking to also boost your photo editing abilities, use our guides on effects you can use to make professional photographs and best free photo editing software.
Update: This post was updated on 9-11-2014 by Emily Schiola to reflect recent software changes. Two new offerings, Clip Converter and Online Convert, were added.
Any Video Converter (Windows/Mac OS X)
The name truly says it all. Any Video Converter is a fantastic piece of freeware that can handle conversions to everything from DicX and MPEG4 to VOB and more than 60 other input formats, all within an attractive and minimalist interface that’s trouble-free and pleasing to navigate without being overly daunting. The software features user-defined video outputs, as well batch processing for converting multiple files simultaneously, and saves all converted video to a pre-designated folder for quick access and organization. Aside from the basic conversion features, AVC can also directly extract and convert audio from any given video into a limited number of formats such as MP3, AAC, WAVE and others. Plus, the program can download and convert YouTube and Google videos by simply pasting the specified video link into the download box and clicking a few buttons.
Although conversion speeds leave something to be desired, and the built-in DVD burner is a bit finicky, the resulting video quality is excellent, especially when paired with the barebones editor that allows you to trim, crop, and layer video effects for a more hands-on approach. AVC covers a good deal of format ground – offering conversions for mobile devices and consoles, among other machines – making it one of the most user-friendly and adoptable freemium products in our roundup.
Handbrake (Windows/Mac OS X)
Handbrake seemed on its last legs back in 2006 when the software’s initial creator, Eric Petit, seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth. However, software development carried on with a help a few ambitious folk who were driven to update and revise the existing software for a changing world. The open-source video converter now boasts one of the most expansive software packages for ripping and converting video files for playback on number of popular devices such as iPods, AppleTV, and Android tablets. The interface is sleek and well-designed, yet intimidating, offering a variety of customizable, borderline-advanced features that take a bit of getting used to before you can really capitalize on their capabilities and intuitive uses. However, the HandBrake guide and forums are always available if you need help without having to spend ample time fumbling with the program.
Handbrake also doesn’t feature any ads or bundled malware – a welcoming touch – but conversion speeds can drag, and the software certainly isn’t light on system resources. Other noteworthy features include an abundance of video editing tools for splicing, adjusting framerate, and adding subtitles and assorted video effects before viewing the results in a live preview window. More tenacious people can even queue multiple encodes for quicker batch processing and expedited results sans tedious manual input. Handbrake simply can’t be topped when converting files to MP4 or MKV format, but it also isn’t for beginners unwilling to learn the software.
MediaCoder (Windows/Mac OS X)
If you’re willing to delve headfirst into the software, MediaCoder is a capable program loaded with terrific conversion features. The interface, though bewildering at first glance, is relatively straightforward once you learn your way around, offering a boatload of customizable features for converting video to a specified output format of your choice. Whether you want to batch process a number of AVI files to MPEG or compress files for a reduced memory footprint, MediaCoder can handle it (albeit with a throwback design). You can find additional settings for modifying the output –including those for converting video to grayscale, quarter-pixel, cartoon, or high-quality mode – as well as bitrate adjustments for both the audio and video components of your file. Speed and resulting quality are also grade A, with quick conversion and an emphasis on maintaining the original quality across formats.
MediaCoder is an exceptional piece of software, but it’s geared more towards the tech aficionado opposed to the first-time user trying to make a zippy conversions without all the frills that come associated with some of today’s more capable, feature-packed programs. There are other basic tools bundled in the software, such as a direct audio extractor and a CD burner, but they are merely bonuses given the software’s focus on transcoding and output compatibility.
Format Factory (Windows)
Whereas Any Video Converter is child’s play, and MediaCoder something a bit more difficult, Format Factory straddles the line somewhere between. The fully featured software has much to boast about, including multiple format outputs for audio, video, and images, as well as an elegant interface that allows users to seamlessly transition between the three multimedia types without awkward interruptions or having to navigate away from the main window. Conversions can be as basic as need be or highly customizable depending on each need, but even the default settings work wonders. Video size, bitrate, aspect ratio, and the encode can all be changed in the output menu, along with a slew of options for adjusting the audio components and quality, adding watermarks, rotating video, and inputting subtitles.
There’s no option for saving presets, and the software can be a bit buggy from time to time, but Format Factory is equipped with step-by-step instructions for performing basic tasks, and it produces videos as intended without straining your resources. Remain alert during the installation process though, as the software will attempt to install a few unwanted search tools and browser modifications without you noticing.
Cloud Convert (Web-based)
Not everyone wants to download a standalone application to fulfill their video converting needs. Luckily, Clip Converter is one of the best online tools for simple file downloads and conversion. Although still in the beta phase, the free-to-use site allows users to select files – ranging from FLV and MLV files to 3GP and MPEG4 – from their Google Drive or Dropbox account, or drag them directly into the browser window from their desktop. The entire conversion process takes place “in the cloud,” and output settings – like aspect ratio, codec, bitrate, and resolution – can also be tweaked from the Web app’s sparse interface prior to converting the files. Cloud Convert will even automatically email you or drop the resulting file in your Google Drive or Dropbox account in lieu of saving it to your computer.
The Web-based software lacks the feature set and speed of standalone programs for Windows and Mac OS X, but it’s more than proficient in converting a range of files without ever deviating from the smooth interface and easily navigable design that have made the software one of the best available. It would have been nice to see a few additional features, such as direct audio ripping or a more advanced editing utilities, but it’s a video converter at heart – and that’s precisely what it intends to be. Plus, no ads!
Clip Converter (Web-based)
Clip Converter was one of the first online converters and it remains one of the simplest for multiple reasons. The free software is primarily designed for downloading and converting video files from their native format into something more accessible, handling everything from MP4 and 3GP files to AVI and MOV with incredible ease. Additional options allow you strip audio from specified videos, providing files in a either MP3, M4A, or ACC format. Unfortunately, the site doesn’t allow much customization when it comes to video or audio files. You can typically download video files at the highest resolution available, or less if you’re worried about space, but audio is limited to 320 kbps or the highest quality available. Options for converting files into mono or stereo are also available, as is the convenient option to embed ID3 v2 tags.
As for speed, Clip Converter is remarkably quick, often converting video files in than 30 seconds once you insert the URL for you desired video into the dark-grey entry field. The interface is a bit outdated and conversion options are restricted to a select few, but navigating the site is fairily self-explanatory, and the Web-based software doesn’t require additional software downloads or leave a heavy footprint on your computer. However, like any free piece of software on the Web, you’e prone to bevy of advertisements and the occasional browser timeout.
Whereas Clip Converter revels in the most minimalist setup of any Web-based offering on our list, Online-Convert represents one the most robust. The streamlined homepage makes the available conversion options immediately apparent, providing a slew of tools for converting video, audio, images, documents, ebooks, and other files. The video component of the site houses options for converting files to FLV, MP4, MOV, and more than 20 other popular formats, with additional options for changing the screen size, audio quality, bitrate, and other making other minor adjustments. Furthermore, you can use the search function in the top-right corner of the page to quickly check if Online-Convert is capable of making your desire conversion. If it’s not, the developers invite you to write in with conversion suggestions they may be able to implement in the future.
While most user will experience little trouble uploading and converting video files, the site does require you to opt for a premium membership if you need to upload a file larger than 100MB or simultaneously convert four files at once. Nonetheless, the site is stable, relatively devoid of ads, and provides a wide variety of format options without requiring you to download additional software or unwanted browser extensions. Plus, what other site on our roundup includes a hash generator?
In today’s day and age, there’s often little room on our roundup for the software that skirts just below the quality bar we set. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a handful of other capable, free video converters worth checking out if you’re looking for something else. Below are just a few of the other standouts amid the myriad of video-conversion software. Some are light on features, some are more robust, but give ’em a look nonetheless.
Freemake Video Converter (Windows)
- SUPER (Windows)
Media Converter (Mac OS X)
- MPEG Streamclip (Mac OS X)
Do you have a recommendation for a terrific converter not featured on our list? Let us know in the comments below.