How to Convert Videos in Linux with Arista

Converting videos on the Linux desktop isn’t exactly difficult, but it can be tricky. There aren’t all that many conversion tools out there, and some of them aren’t all that easy to use.

Take, for example, ffmpeg. It’s pretty much the top of the heap when it comes to video and audio conversion. But it’s a command line tool that requires you to remember a number of options. Even WinFF, a graphical front end for ffmpeg, isn’t all that user friendly.

But what can you do if you want to convert a video to, say, upload to a video sharing site or to fit on to a mobile device? And do it quickly and easily? Give Arista a look.

Installing Arista

Before you do anything, check in your package manager to make sure that you have the packages that Arista needs installed on your computer. You can view a list here. If you have a relatively recent Linux distribution, you should have all of the dependencies installed.

Then, download the archive containing the latest release of the software. Extract the contents of the archive that you downloaded, and then open a terminal window. Navigate to the folder in which you extracted the archive and then run the following command:

sudo python install

Once Arista is installed, you can launch it either by selecting it from a menu (in Ubuntu, for example, select Applications -> Sound & Video -> Arista Transcoder) or by running the command arista-gtk from the command line.

The Arista window

Converting Your First Video

Doing that is a simple, four-step process. On the right side of the Arista window, click Source. Navigate to the directory containing the video that you want to convert then click Open.

Next, select an output type from the Devices list. The output is usually a device or a platform or a type of software – for example, a Web browser, an iPod, or a video sharing site. Arista comes with a few devices that you can choose, but you can also download others. More on this in a moment.

After that, select an option from the Preset menu. A preset is the video format to which you want to convert the video — like Flash video, WebM, or H.264. Presets are linked to devices, as you’ll see in a moment.

Finally, click Add to Queue. You’ll be asked for a file name for the converted video and a folder in which to save it. You can keep the default (which is the name of the original video, but with a new extension) or change the name and folder. Click Save. Once you do that, the conversion begins.

Conversion in progress

Depending on the size of the source file, the conversion can take a few seconds to several minutes.

Expanding Arista’s Capabilities

As mentioned a few paragraphs ago, Arista comes with a handful of output settings called presets. Each preset encompasses a device or platform and the video formats that the device or platform support. You can get 40+ presets that really give you a lot of flexibility. Like what? high definition video for YouTube or Vimeo, Android and BlackBerry phones, various handheld devices, and DVD players.

So, how do you add those presets? Got here and download the ones you want – say, the preset for Vimeo HD. Then, in Arista, select File -> Install Device Preset. Find the file that you downloaded, then click Open.

You can now select the preset from the Device list in the Arista window.

A list of Arista presets

If you want to create your own presets, you can do it online. You don’t need to be a programmer to do it, but you will need a basic knowledge of video to do the job.


Compared to other video conversion tools for the Linux desktop, Arista is easy to use and does a great job. It’s fast, flexible, and is easy to extend with a growing number of presets. If you need to quickly convert video files, then Arista is a great choice.

Photo credit: bury-osiol

Scott Nesbitt

Scott is a writer of various things -- documentation, articles, essays, and reviews -- based in Toronto, Canada. He loves to play with tech, and to write about it too. Scott hasn't snagged that elusive book contract. Yet.

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