Reducing video file size with Handbrake

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about uploading video during this time, so I thought it may be helpful to talk about handling video when you’re remote.

Some things to know:

  1. Google Apps for Education allow us to send files through e-mail… but the limit for Gmail attachments is about 20 MB (realistically, it’s about 18.5 or 19 MB due to how e-mail is encoded).
  2. The length of a video can trick you into thinking it’s *really small*… but it’s really HUGE. More later on this.
  3. Your internet connection at home is *not* like your connection at your school or business.

Let me expand on that a little. Keep in mind that a “Gig” of something is 1000 “Meg” of something, so 1 GB (GigaByte) = 1000 MB (MegaByte) and 1 Gbps (that is, Gigabits per second) = 1000 Mbps (Megabits per second).

The internet connection we have at our school is 1 Gbps for students and 500 Mbps for employees. Business internet is typically delivered “symmetrically”… that is, we get the same speed when downloading as we do when we’re uploading data.

Your internet at home looks like (from Comcast’s website):

The thing they don’t tell you is that they offer an “asymmetrical” connection, so your “upload” speed is a fraction of your download speed…  at home, my internet connection is about 40 Mbps, but the typical upload speed is about 2 Mbps. This scales a little bit, but even for MUCH faster connections, the upload speed is not awesome.

You can test your connection by running the test at to find the speed of your connection. Here is one from one of our instructors in San Francisco:

… and here is the connection I see here at the school:

As you can see, our upload speed is FAR better than the one you’ll typically get at home.

Now that we’ve taken a quick look at how your internet is different than at school, let’s talk about video.

Video size is determined by three things:

  1. Resolution
  2. Length
  3. Frames per second

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to ignore #3 for now… but keep this in mind while we’re getting through this.

If you have a 2 minute video at full 4K resolution, the video file is ENORMOUS… like almost 24 GB enormous.

The same video at 1080p (Blu-ray quality) is about 6 GB.

Why am I telling you this?

Well… when you do a screen capture on your computer, you’re taking a relatively high resolution capture. Some examples I’ve seen recently are:

  • 2 minutes of iPhone video = 117 MB
  • 2 minutes of iPad video = 130 MB
  • 2 minutes of full screen video capture on a computer = 1.37 GB (that’s 13700 MB)

None of these files will send via Google e-mail… and they will take HOURS to upload to YouTube, Google Drive or *anywhere* due to our asymmetrical internet connection at home.

There is a solution, however.

Handbrake. You can download Handbrake from their website at

It’s free. It’s awesome. The program can convert just about any video to something that is FAR smaller to make things faster for you to transfer.

Instructions for reducing that video (my apologies in advance for all of the Mac screenshots… it works about the same way on Windows… just ignore the photos):

Open Handbrake. It will prompt you for a video file

Navigate to the video file and click Open. You’ll see this:

In the “Preset” pop-down menu, you’ll see that there is an entry for Web> Gmail with some options for timing. If your video is *really* large, go with the Small setting, but from a quality standpoint, Medium is the sweet spot even if your video is under 5 minutes.

You’ll now need to set where it will Save to at the bottom of the window. Click Browse in the bottom right corner, select your Desktop (or preferred location), and then click Choose to save the file to that location. One note: you only have to do this once… the program remembers this location.

Now, click the Start button and Handbrake will generate the file for you. If you have multiple files to convert, you can do this process again and click “Add to Queue” to line up the conversions and your computer will grind through the videos one at a time.

Once it’s done, Handbrake will make a noise or pull up a notification for you to let you know it’s done.

Important note: Resolution = Perceived Quality

The resulting video will not be the same quality of the original video because Handbrake modifies two of the three things that determine video size (length and frame rate) to make the video file smaller. Well worth the trade off in saved time and frustration of trying to upload large files over a slow connection.


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