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The Ultimate Guide To MKV Players

by Tom Volotta on January 11, 2012

MKV PlayerEver wonder why some movies have additional features like subtitles and surround sound and others dont? You can thank something called Matroska for all those features. Matroska, now there’s an exotic sounding name for a media player!

You’re probably more familiar with its file name extension .MKV, and recognize it is a container format for holding audio, video, and subtitle tracks. The name Matroska is a made-up word, intended to evoke the notion of the famous Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls, but for MKV it means a container for various kinds of media files. Clever use of the term, because that’s exactly what the MKV does, and doing it with a flair that’s gaining fame and followers.


MKV enjoys increasing support as one of the most flexible formats available, primarily because of MKV’s ability to store an unlimited number of video, audio, and subtitle tracks. Combine that with the various kinds of Metadata (tags) and you have a container format, which not only performs the expected tasks of delivering movies to you, but also carries multiple sound (including Dolby Digital 5.1 surround) and subtitle tracks (for different languages and commentaries), chapter points, and even thumbnails. It packs all of these into a single video file, nested together as would its namesake Matryoshka dolls.

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Another element making MKV so attractive is the fact that it is an open standard. Its technical specifications are available to anyone, making it both technically and legally much simpler and less expensive for other companies to incorporate MKV features into their own products. Matroska makes no bones about intending to establish itself as THE container format standard. Going the open source route is reminiscent of the company Red Hat, which has had considerable success with Linux by relying on the open source community. Judging from the considerable listings of MKV converters available on the Internet for either free download or a modest price it would seem Matroska’s tactic is working.


Remember, MKV is a “container” (Matroska refers to it as an “envelope”) format. It is not a codec (a compression-decompression algorithm), so it’s impartial when it comes to allowing virtually any other codec to be transported within its container or envelope. It is designed to be a lightweight package, so it’s perfect for streaming content over the Internet, local networks, and even mobile devices. Since MKV has open source roots and the objective of becoming the go-to container format, it’s not surprising MKV is available in cross-platform flavors Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Windows Mobile, Symbian (a cell phone OS), and even relatively obscure operating systems such as the BeOS and Haiku.

The key element of MKV is to encapsulate multiple streams of video, audio, subtitles, metadata chapters and even menu elements within its format, with robust reliability. Stereoscopic (3D) video files can also be incorporated in one version of the container. In order to see all the data available in MKV files, you need a MKV media player. There are many MKV player downloads available, but be sure to get one that supports all the features available in the MKV file you want to play.

For example, television is no longer simply the process of just watching pictures and listening to sound. There are multiple streams of additional information being carried along with those signals. Some of them are readily apparent, but most aren’t. The split screens, scrolling text at the bottom of cable news programs, and closed captions are just a few of the most noticeable illustrations. The same thing is happening with movies that you view on a computer or mobile device. Hidden streams of metadata are constantly keeping track of what video frame and what audio track of the movie you are watching, bookmarks you might make, which chapter you are viewing, and more.

Many container formats can hold multiple media streams, but MKV seems to be going the extra mile in providing a platform, along with the instructions and in some cases, the tools. This allows content providers and MKV media player manufacturers to both create the media and properly extract the contents in the MKV envelope.


Given all the MKV format offers, it’s not surprising that there are a number of player manufacturers who are making their devices compatible with MKV. DivX, VLC, Windows Media Player, CorePlayer Pro, MPlayer and Perian (which adds MKV support to QuickTime for Mac OS X) are the predominant leaders. RealPlayer Plus also plays MKV files. Special .mkv codec packs are available for download to players, which are not already set up to playback MKV.

For converters, several of the above MKV media players can perform double-duty, converting MKV files to AVI, MP4 or other formats. Some players can also go in the opposite direction and converting a range of formats into the MKV container. There is also another separate category of dedicated converters for this same purpose. Many of these converters, either packaged within a MKV media player or as a standalone product go one way – from MKV to another format. So be aware of what you need and what you are getting when you choose a MKV player download.

Going from MKV to another format also presents the distinct possibility that much of the multi-stream, metadata, chapter and other special information contained within the MKV file will be lost in converting to a format that does not recognize those distinct data streams. Some of the best true converters, which have the necessary software components to create full-spec MKV files, are SUPER, FFmpeg, and Handbrake. Handbrake is especially embraced by Matroska because it too is an open source product and considered by Matroska to be friendly to use.


It can’t be said that Matroska is the first to the table with many of the ideas incorporated into their product. Multi-stream formats have been around for years, Apple’s QuickTime being one that had extensive capabilities for that kind of use, but was seldom implemented to its fullest capabilities. That had something to do with being at the beginning of an era where just seeing a reasonably good quality motion image and hearing sound was considered an unqualified success. Today, expectations and demands are much higher and rightfully so. Technology has improved, the processing power available on our devices is impressive, and we expect a seamless video experience. The right MKV media player can deliver that.

Matroska knows that’s just the starting point, and has designed the core features of MKV to not only keep up with the times, but to (hopefully) help lead the way.

Please let me know if you have questions about finding the right MKV player for your particular use by leaving a comment below.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kyla Rudell June 27, 2012 at 8:30 am

How come the words so tiny, i can not find out anything.

2 Tom Volotta June 27, 2012 at 9:52 am

Tiny words?


3 Nick Stockton July 13, 2012 at 8:26 am

I’m looking to embed video on my site with the video hosted on said site. What flash player will I need on the page in order for users to stream back files in an mkv container?

4 Tom Volotta July 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Unless there’s an exotic hack of some sort out there, a Flash (FLV) player won’t do the job in letting your users watch Matroska (MKV) files. Like MKV, FLV is a file format, a container. A Flash player will not play MKV files. Only an MKV player can play MKV files.

You didn’t mention what format the original video is. Unless it’s MKV to begin with, you’ll need to first CONVERT that format to MKV in order to stream MKV to your users. There are many converter applications available for this. Unfortunately, neither RealPlayer or RealPlayer Plus can do conversions to or from MKV just yet. No problem with many others though. However, they can PLAY it by installing the CCCP codec pack (see link below), which adds MKV capability.

Since I don’t know the details of your video hosting set up, I’d suggest getting in touch directly with Matroska and explain your needs in detail to them. They’re always working on improving MKV, and may have exactly the solution you need. It might also be useful to see what assistance CCCP can provide.

Are you using MKV for it’s multi-stream, subtitle, embedded metadata capabilities, or for another reason?


5 Willian Cardeiro August 5, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Like a internet site seller I think the information here is reallyfantastic. My partner and i appreciate it on your endeavours. You need to preserve writing forever! Great luck.

6 Tom Volotta August 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Thanks very much. There are a lot of people working hard to make the site informative, easy and fast to use.


7 bob January 20, 2013 at 9:35 am

so will real player play this format or not?

8 Tom Volotta January 20, 2013 at 5:58 pm



For RealPlayer 15, 15 Plus and RealPlayer 16, download and install the CCCP code pack. Read the instructions and run the “Insurgent” program first.

RealPlayer 16 Plus has the “Video PlayPack” which allows playing MKV files.

Note: Adding the CCCP codec pack to RP 15, 15 Plus and 16 does NOT give you the ability to CONVERT to or from MKV files. The clips don’t even show up in the Library. You have to find them in whatever file folder you downloaded the file to.

As for RealPlayer 16 Plus being able to convert MKV or exactly what other file formats – I’m lost. I haven’t forked over the fifty bucks to test it. Here’s a link from a European RealPlayer website dealing with converting video files.

See if you can figure it out. I can’t. I’ve seen conflicting information from the US site, and the constant interchanging of “Convert” and “Transfer” gives me a headache. It looks like it can walk on water, but given the feedback coming in… maybe not so much.

Double check with Support to get a definitive answer. I’ve tried, but hear different things from different people. There may be a 14-day trial period, where you can use RP 16 Plus, and if you don’t like it, either get a refund, or your account is deactivated.


9 Raymond Chan September 16, 2014 at 1:48 am

An interesting post which seemed clear on the advantages of mkv. So far I have been covert it my DVDs with handbrake into mp4 to use with iTunes. This has been good as to use with the iPad and iPhones in transferring videos for us to watch when on the move. The problem with mp4 is that I can’t seem to find a way to keep all the subtitle and different languages that I want. I am thing to find a way to keep both cantonese and mandarin languages and be able to toggle between them as required. I also want to toggle between subtitles. I think that mkv and a decent mkv player ( ie real player) will do that. However, is there anyway to simply transfer movies onto iPad in the same way as iTunes ?

10 Brinton Felixraja September 16, 2014 at 8:24 am

Yes, RealPlayer Cloud does have this feature. RealPlayer Cloud is the newest version of RealPlayer to upload and share videos, play them across your various devices, and watch them on your TV using Chromecast, Roku or Amazon Fire TV.

With SurePlay technology, uploaded videos are transcoded into multiple SurePlay profiles so that videos can instantly play on any device. Uploaded files are also transcoded in multiple progressive download profiles. These profiles are optimized for download-to-device scenarios where the user chooses to download videos to the PC or smartphone/tablet devices for offline access.

iPads, iPhones, Roku’s, Android phones/tablets typically only have the ability to play limited video formats. For example, if you move a mkv file to an iPad and expect it to just play, well, it won’t. Additionally, very high bitrate files (HD resolution) won’t play smoothly on these devices unless they are right-sized for the screen and for the network bandwidth. SurePlay takes care of these technical irregularities by creating and storing right-sized copies of your videos so that they are always available for instant playback on all your devices at any given time.

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