MKV Mania: Getting Started With MKVs

by Damian on March 22, 2010 · 33 comments

in Guides

One of the most frequently asked questions I see from people just getting into media streaming or Windows Home Server is what is the best format to put your video collection in to. Probably the toughest thing about answering this question is that there is no right answer, much is just based on personal preference, what devices are being used for playback, etc… Since the mkv container has really grown in popularity and it is my container of choice for my video collection, I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a closer look at. I started writing this post thinking I would just try to cram in as much information as possible, but then thought it would make sense to break it up into several posts, with each post taking a look at a different software/methods that can be used. So sit back, grab your finest bottle of Goldshalger, and enjoy the show.

So what is an mkv and why should I use?

The Matroska Multimedia Container is an open standard file format that can hold an unlimited number of video, audio, picture, or subtitle tracks inside a single file. Matroska file types are .MKV for video (with subtitles and audio), .MKA for audio-only, and .MKS for subtitles only. MKVs were initially mostly seen with Anime due to support for subtitles, but mkvs are becoming increasingly popular for Blu Ray due to in part support for HD Audio (DTS-MA, TrueHD, and multi-channel FLAC). So specifically, what are the pros and cons of the mkv container:

Pros:

  • The ability to have multiple audio/video/subtitle streams in one container
  • More efficient use of space versus m2ts as noted here.
  • Support for DTS(MA) and TrueHD audio tracks. The only other container that currently supports is m2ts
  • Many Blu Ray movies have a VC-1 video source. If you read my guide to setting up bitstreaming in WMC, you will see that Media Foundation does not support VC-1 video inside an m2ts. The way around this is to disable Media Foundation which can lead to other undesirable effects. VC-1 mkvs do not have issues with playback.
  • Support for multi channel FLAC. This may not be an important feature down the road now that bitstreaming HD audio is becoming more commonplace. I am not a FLAC guy so I cannot go into too much detail regarding, but until recently if you wanted to experience HD Audio from your HTPC you needed an expensive sound card and a receiver that could decode the HD Audio. By converting the HD audio to lossless FLAC, you would have a spot on match of the original HD Audio that can be sent from your HTPC to your receiver without the need for a dedicated sound card or a receiver that can decode the HD Audio.
  • Subtitle support. I never really gave much thought to this as I rarely if ever have to rely on subtitles. However I have recently had a few run-ins with forced subtitles which has led to me taking subtitles more seriously. A forced subtitle can best be explained as subtitles that appear in a movie where only a small portion of the movie is spoken in a language other then the main language of the movie. A good example would be when Jar Jar speaks in Star Wars or when the aliens speak in District 9. I will go into a little more detail about this topic in the next few posts.

Cons:

  • Not natively supported yet by some mainstream players such as Xbox360 and Playstation 3. There are workarounds such as using 3rd party software.
  • Not supported natively in Windows, a splitter such as Haali or MatroskaSplitter is needed for playback in WMP/WMC
  • No DVD/Blu Ray menu support. If you want to have full disc menus then ripping your movies to an mkv is not an option.
  • For playback in WMP/WMC chapters/fastforward/rewind is not supported without installing a plug-in (Media Control)

I have yet to find the “perfect” all-in-one software, but there is a lot of great software out there. In a perfect world the following features would all be incorporated into one software/GUI:

  • Rip video with no encoding
  • Rip video with option to encode (using x264 with different defined profiles, cropping, etc…)
  • Ability to rip/create multiple audio tracks (for me grab the original HD Audio track plus create a secondary AC3 track)
  • Ability to select multiple subtitle tracks
  • Ability to automatically detect and rip forced subtitles
  • Ability to rip HD Audio track (DTS-MA and TrueHD)
  • Ability to create lossless FLAC audio
  • Ability to adjust resolution of subtitles

There are several programs that do many of the items I just listed but I haven’t come across one that does them all, so I find myself using different software depending on what I am trying to accomplish.

Well, now that I have my mkv introduction out of the way, be on the lookout as I hope to post in the coming days some different tools/options that can be used to create an mkv. Also, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below about why you currently do/do not use mkvs as part of your video collection.

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Article by

Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found Mediasmartserver.net, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for Mediasmartserver.net you can find me over at my blog at http://www.adigitalhomeblog.com or follow me on twitter


{ 32 comments }

Comp1962 March 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Damian,

Great write up as always! Late last year I spend quite abit of time trying to figure out what was the best format to use. I mean I tried them all it was not until you mentioned makeMKV that I tried it. Was on long before I was off an running ripping my entire collection of over 500 movies into the MKV format. For me its just simple to use and I only made one mistake in the process I removed all the subtitles which I later found out my fiance really needs because…..well she is Chinese and her English is fine but she likes the Subtitles because it helps her better understand whats happening. So she told me to put back the words. (sigh) Thing is that ORB doesn’t work well with subtitles in MKV’s and you have to edit something to make it work.

I only mention subtitles because I never use them but right now I have to take them very seriously.

As for MKV’s well unlike the other video formats I tried all the conversions worked perfectly. With the other video formats that use compression often I found areas of the movie missing Audio which is very annoying. With the TS format which I was most use to I was somewhat annoyed at the drops between chapters but that might just been because of the WDTV Live unit.

Anyway the MKV format for me is a win win situation.

Cubanblood March 22, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Excellent write up. I currently dont use .MKV because like you said my PS3 does not like them, instead i use .AVI.
I currently use airvideo to watch my .AVI movie collection over 3g without having to conver them to the iphone format. Airvideo does not work well with .MKV files either.
I have to say that i like the quality you can achieve but ripping to .MKV. I have downloaded some file that the quality surpass .AVI 300%.

goondog March 22, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Great info as always!!

just started using makeMKV for my BD rips. Would love to see comparison for archiving everyones flix.
MakeMKV vs anydvdHD vs etal.
And of course the best/most stable way to stream these things on a ps3 and WMC. Im using your mediabrowser/mpc-hc guide so far.
But most importantly a way to make the whole process easy for the family to fire up the HTPC and push play!

Alex Kuretz March 22, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I’m definitely looking forward to more of this series. I’d be interested to see a brief comparison (perhaps as an update to this article) that lists what possible good alternatives are to MKV that address some of the cons. Or is MKV still likely the best container, but with the use of a transcoding service for playback on devices like the PS3 and Xbox?

Nick March 23, 2010 at 1:41 am

Excellent write up, as always, Damian!

I can’t wait for the rest of the series since I’m currently in the process of thinking of possible ways to rip and stream my DVD and BD collection to my TV/home cinema… and since I have a rather large number movies, I’d prefer to do this once!

HeLRaZR March 23, 2010 at 10:15 am

mkv2vob is an excellent way to transcode your .mkv collection on the fly to .mpg container(batch converts, usually a 1.5GB file takes 15-20 seconds to process). I have to do this as my media player is an older mediasmart x280n. Good write up.

Damian March 23, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Thanks HeLRaZR. Do you know how mkv2vob handles HD Audio? I assume it would convert DTS(MA) and TrueHD to AC3?

Miquel March 26, 2010 at 4:01 am

Hola a toda, recientemente he compradado un HP EX490. pero al pasarle todos los archivos MKV no me los reconoce y no puedo reproducirlos con mi Storex MyTv Box.

Alguna idea?

Muchas gracias!

Damian March 26, 2010 at 5:23 am

Miquel,

Lo siento pero mi espanol es como se dice, caca :-)

So the mkvs you have created will not play back on your MyTv Box, or your MyTv Box will not even recognize them? I just looked at the specs of the MyTv box and it supports mkv, how are you connecting from the MyTV box to your EX490?

Miquel March 26, 2010 at 6:07 am

My god! thought they had put into English, Sorry!

Yes MyTV Box is similar to WD and recognizes MKV. They are connected by ethernet through the router. MKV. He says that the format is invalid. But I tell you that I have come to the movies in MKV without any problem.

Any ideas? I have read that the HP EX490 has problems with MKV, right?

Damian March 26, 2010 at 6:41 am

No problems Miquel, my spanish should be better then it is, it was good practice!!!

When you navigate to the mkvs in your MyTV Box are you doing it through the default MediaConnect/Twonky that comes with the EX490? Is there a way you can connect via smb?

Miquel March 26, 2010 at 7:17 am

I don’t now, and so do I choose PPnp in MyTV Box. I’ll try if there is another way to access the HP and see if it will not leave the message of “format not available”

Thank you very much! Soon more :-)

Damian March 26, 2010 at 7:40 am

Yeah, I think UPnP that comes with the EX490 does not support mkv. As long as you can connect via smb you will be fine

ashman March 26, 2010 at 10:45 am

I have a few standalone m2ts files without chapters. I’ve used tsmuxer/mkvmerge to convert these to mkv files, but I’d like to add chapter support. are there any sources for chapter files that could be inserted during the muxing process?

thanks

Damian March 26, 2010 at 10:48 am

@ Ashman,

I have actually searched around the web to see if there was a site that hosted chapters.txt but no luck finding. I ran into the same issue when trying to remux my ts into mkv, I just ended up grabbing the original dvd and redoing.

ashman March 26, 2010 at 11:25 am

You’ve probably run across this app before. I haven’t had much luck with it.

http://jvance.com/pages/ChapterGrabber.xhtml

Looks like the author has opened the source. Maybe someone will pick it up as a project.

Damian March 26, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Hopefully someone picks it up. An alternative would be just to alter a chapters.txt file you have and mux back in. Obviously it won’t be 100% accurate but it will at least give you chapters. You would just want to make sure you adjust the last chapter to match with the timecode of the movie

Marc_G March 29, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Can’t wait for your forced subtitle info. I’ve been poking around with MPCHC and haven’t figured that bit out. I had heard that MPCHC and other players now had “built in” PGS subtitle support with DXVA due to some updates to FFMPEG, but for me no joy.

In fact, even playing h264 with the FFMPEG filter gives extremely blocky, choppy video on my quad-core desktop (Athlon 9550 X4 on W7x64). The H264(DXVA) filter works fine for video but no subtitles.

Anxiously awaiting. Figured I’d get forced subs running before working to integrate MPCHC to WMC.

Keep up the good work!
Marc

Damian March 30, 2010 at 6:26 am

@ Marc,

PGS is tricky because it is only vaguely supported in mkv. Right now it looks like the only way to get PGS subs into an mkv is using MakeMKV, MKVMerge does not support (you have to convert to IDX/SUB). And even using MakeMKV to get PGS subs included it looks like only XBMC supports PGS subs in mkvs.

The best solution right now is to convert the PGS subs to idx (see my writeup I just posted on using “Another EAC3To GUI” which will grab the forced subs and convert to idx). I should also have another post up in the next few days about converting subs manually.

Of course the easiest answer would be for universal support of PGS subs, hopefully that is not too far down the road.

boatnlarry April 1, 2010 at 7:17 am

I have rip 150 movies to the MKV format and but them on my EX495. I am using a WD TV Live device to play them and it work great. Now I have purchased a LG BD 570 for my Home Theater and I am able to connect to my Home server but it won’t play the MKV files saying not a recognizable format. I contacted LG and that was 2 hours of wasted time. Finally they said return it or use another format. Does anyone have an answer why it would work on the WD dive and not the LG? Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Damian April 1, 2010 at 7:26 am

Does the LG even support mkvs? Also, I assume with the LG you are connecting to your EX495 via UPnP (Twonky/Media Connect). The version on the EX495 does not support mkv to my knowledge. When you connect to the WD TV are you connecting via UPnP, setting up a SMB share, etc?

boatnlarry April 1, 2010 at 7:42 am

LG does support it that was one of the reasons I got it. From LG “Access to videos, photos and music from your home network through this DLNA certified media player”. On my WD TV live I just connect to the Home server and select the folder then play the movie. I didn’t really setup up anything, the WD device just connected and started working.

boatnlarry April 1, 2010 at 8:35 am

Damian,

I think I found my solution. I found this on the EX 495 User’s guide.

UPnP A/V and DLNA
Universal Plug and Play Audio Video (UPnP A/V) and Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) define standard network protocols for streaming media.

UPnP A/V is a set of network protocols that allow networked devices to communicate seamlessly in a home networking environment. The Digital Media Servers on your HP MediaSmart Server, TwonkyMedia and Windows Media Connect, use UPnP/AV.

DLNA is a set of standards (that includes UPnP A/V) for sharing media between devices. TwonkyMedia is DLNA compliant. Windows Media Connect is not. This compliance allows TwonkyMedia to work with more DMRs.

So I need to make sure I am using the TwonkyMedia instead of media connect.

Damian April 1, 2010 at 8:49 am

Media Connect is what I was thinking your LG is trying to connect through, and I am pretty sure Media Connect does not support the mkv format.

boatnlarry April 2, 2010 at 11:42 am

Damian,
I was still having issue with my BD570 reading the MKV file thru twonky so I contacted LG again and here is their response.

“The LG BD570 does support .MKV and .MP4 files; however they must use one of the following codes:

“DIVX3.xx”, “DIVX4.xx”, “DIVX5.xx”, “XVID”, “DIVX6.xx” (Standard playback only), H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, MPEG1 SS, MPEG2 PS, MPEG2 TS”

This is were I need additional help. I can rip them to MKV but I don’t understand what they are saying and how to go about it.

Damian April 2, 2010 at 11:47 am

If the mkvs are Blu Ray rips Blu Ray movies are usually either h.264/AVC or VC-1. So based on the specs you are listing any VC-1 Blu Rays will not be supported.

I don’t have an LG BD570 so I cannot help out as far as testing. Can you confirm the details of the mkvs you are having problems with (using Media Info)

kjgarrison April 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm

So, if my plan is to play BR and regular DVD rips with a Dune3, I have an AVR that can decode HD audio, and I only need the one (HD) audio track, exactly what software do I need? I have a Radeon HD 5670 and HDMI.

Thanks. Great and useful stuff here Damian.

Damian April 12, 2010 at 5:17 am

@ kjgarrison,

To be able to rip you need to remove the encryption. MakeMKV can remove the encryption, as well as rip to mkv.

Otherwise you can use either AnyDVD or DVDFab plus a combination of various software (Clown_BD, Another EAC3To GUI, etc…).

Really just depends on what you have in mind, do you want the full movie (including extras, menu, etc…), do you just want the main movie, etc…

Jeff C. April 24, 2010 at 11:55 pm

On the topic of Chapters, I love that MKV supports chapters. But I have several MKV files and would like to add chapters to them. It would be great if there was software out there that would let you scan thru the file visually and set the chapter points and insert (mux) these into the MKV. Anything out there that does this? Or at a minimal anything that say will add chapter points every XX number of minutes? Of course I need to see how well my WD Live TV handles chapters in MKV.

For future topics, I would love to see an article on converting Avid AVI files over to MKV without any reencoding. Not sure if there are tools out there that can make this easy. As you are doing trying to move to MKV for all my media files since my WD Live TV supports these well.

Damian April 25, 2010 at 5:20 am

@ Jeff C.

Chapters – assuming you already have an mkv created you just need to know what the chapter points are, to edit the Chapters.txt manually, and then remux back into the mkv using mkvmerge

Regarding AVI to MKV, simply drag your AVI file into MKVMerge. You can then create an mkv from this avi, no encoding needed :-)

Jeff C. April 25, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Regarding chapters, I found these tools:
http://jvance.com/pages/ChapterGrabber.xhtml
http://www.networkedmediatank.com/showthread.php?tid=13034&page=1

However, the online search features are broken in ChapterGrabber, but they do have a grab from clipboard feature. Its nice that it scans BD and DVDs for their chapter info and then can generate a file that MKVMerge can accept. And the source is now available for fixing. The 2nd link, the author was going to create decoder support so users could scan file visually and choose chapters, but no updates as of Jan 2010 on this.

However, that brings me to a weak area for MKV tools. An MKV tagging tool. MKV supports some very extensive tagging, but there seems to be no nice UI tools out there that make it easy to tag MKV files. I have searched high and low and nothing exists. Their used to be a shell extension and its still hosted on Matroska site but its not been updated for some time and some comments seem to indicate it corrupted some MKV files. Would love to see something like mp3tag for MKVs where each stream can be tagged via easy selection and filling in of fields.

The next step in the evolution is for Media Players like WD Live TV, etc to then use this tag info in the MKV for both search, sort, and display of MKV media files. One can dream, can’t they :)

Jeff C. April 26, 2010 at 3:17 am

And for those of you WD Live TV owners, make sure to vote on these much needed MKV features.

WD on their community forums created an IDEA section where users can suggest ideas and have community vote on them. They also update with status like Acknowledged, In Review, Planned, Not Planned. So they are looking at these. This Chapters IDEA only has 23 votes so far. Granted it was only created a month ago, but the top 10 voted features have 100+ votes. So MKV users, lets get this one voted up.

Move thru Chapters with Prev/Next buttons
http://community.wdc.com/t5/WD-TV-Live-Ideas/Move-Through-Chapters-with-Prev-Next-Buttons/idc-p/20749

Support Embedded MKV image as file Icon
http://community.wdc.com/t5/WD-TV-Live-Ideas/Support-Embedded-MKV-image-as-file-Icon/idi-p/20751

Comments are closed, visit the forums to continue the discussion.

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