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Converting Video Files To And From The MKV Format

by Tom Volotta on August 16, 2012

MKV converterMatroska – there’s something exotic and even mysterious about the name itself. ‘Digital video file format’ wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing the word. But that’s what it happens to be.

Matroska is a made-up word, intended to evoke the notion of the famous Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls. That name is well suited for the purpose of this innovative format. In filename extension jargon, Matroska is known as MKV or .mkv. It’s an open standard, meaning free for use and development by whomever for whatever, without the usual licensing and financial hurdles that can come with proprietary software.

Matroska wants MKV to become THE standard for multimedia container formats. Happily, it has the technical characteristics to deliver on that ambition. One of its most compelling characteristics is the ability to hold a virtually unlimited amount of data, in multiple streams comprising video, audio, menus, subtitles, chapter points, other metadata, and even stereoscopic (3D) content.

This enables MKV files to carry the same kinds of multi-stream content as DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Not only can there be multiple streams of video, but several languages can be included in different sound tracks, even more languages in subtitle streams, plus chapters, and menus. No other file format can do that. This makes MKV a popular choice for making back-ups of DVD and Blu-ray discs that you could also play on a computer connected to a TV.

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MKV is also delivering high-definition (HD) video on the Internet. Most sites that offer this seem to either be pay-per-view or subscription based, or sites that require registering. Finding sites that specifically offer the ability to download a video in a MKV format is a challenge.

You can try searching OVGuide’s MKV offerings, but the content is a mixed bag. Some listings are for paid services, while others can be viewed, but not downloaded. There are sites that claim to offer free movies in the MKV format. But beware, these are likely copies ripped from commercial DVDs or Blu-ray discs, which is considered pirating and it’s illegal.

One of the most popular content areas where MKV’s multiple stream features are currently being used is in the world of Anime. Here, dual audio tracks and fansub (subtitles in different languages created by individual fans) translation tracks are used. The fansubs are also ‘soft’ meaning they can be turned on and off, much as the audio language tracks can be switched. MKV has definitely found a niche there.


Although RealPlayer does not have native (built-in) support for playing Matroska, by adding a special codec pack from the Combined Community Codec Pack (CCCP) you can play these files. It is freely available to download and install on your computer. With CCCP, RealPlayer will indeed read, decode and play MKV files perfectly.


Unfortunately, at this writing, although RealPlayer does play MKV files, it is not able to convert them. It also lacks the ability to place MKV files in the RealPlayer Library. This should only a temporary situation, as the popularity and use of MKV expands.

So, you’ll need to find a video file format converter that can do the job if you want to do something other than just watch MKV videos. We recently wrote a post about video file converters that might help you find a dedicated video format converter that works best for you.


The process itself is similar for all converters. Aside from the range of inputs, outputs and devices, there are differences in user interfaces. Workflow is fairly common among them all. What’s significant when converting MKV is the direction you’re going to or from.

It’s easy converting another format to MVK. Since MKV can handle virtually an unlimited number and types of streams; it can accept all the content from any other format without trouble. But if the conversion is from a MKV file containing multiple streams of content to another format, it’s a different story.

The other formats just aren’t designed to handle all the different streams of information the way they can be stored in the MKV container. Remember the multiple streams of video and audio, subtitles, metadata, menus and chapter information that can be included in the MKV format? Well, most all of those extras are likely to be lost going from MVK to another format or device.

This won’t be a concern for the vast majority of basic video and audio content because it’s likely you’re only interested in material with one video and one audio stream. But if your MKV video has subtitles encoded with the video, or multiple language sound tracks, like Anime, or the multiple layers of DVD or Blu-ray content, and you want them on an iPad, those will be lost in the conversion.

Now and in the future, there will be more and more demand for this ability to include a variety of embedded data streams. Matroska is well positioned to fill that need.

Are you looking for a way to convert files to the MKV format? What problem does this type of conversion solve for you? Let us know in the comments below.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 macdvd August 16, 2012 at 7:55 pm

You may try this total video converter, I always use it to convert video including AVI, WMV, MP4, MKV, MPEG, MOV, VOB, 3GP, FLV, etc. my friends recommend it to me, it’s safe and works pretty well. The conversion quality is good, and the conversion speed is really fast.

2 Tom Volotta August 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm

I’ve used the Bigasoft Total Video Converter, and agree it does a good job as a dedicated converter. I do think the Video Converyer built into RealPlayer stands up to Total pretty well. Their input/output format capabilities are similar. RealPlayer handles a larger variety of devices it can transfer to. Total is faster, and also has some nice editing and video effects features.

Specific to the article on MKV conversions, that’s a plus for Total that RealPlayer doesn’t offer yet. RealPlayer can play Matroska if the CCCP codec pack is installed though.


3 funny January 9, 2013 at 4:24 pm

So to play a Russian format you have to get a codec from the CCCP? Coincidence?

4 Tom Volotta January 9, 2013 at 8:26 pm


No, it is most certainly NOT a coincidence at all.

It’s a sinister plot by Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale to infect your computer with a virus that is tuned to the Alpha and Beta waves in your brain, inducing you to consume copious amounts of Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Kiev, thereby subsidizing the Russian economy. Although I can’t substantiate it, word is Vladimir Putin himself authorized this covert activity.


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