What Is an MKV File?

This is a Matroska video file that can also contain audio, subtitles, and images

What to Know

  • MKV files are videos saved in the Matroska container format. Open one with VLC.
  • You can convert MKV to MP4, MOV, MP3, etc., at Zamzar, or with another free video file converter.

This article explains what an MKV file is, how to open one, and how to convert one to a different file format.

What Is an MKV File?

A file with the .MKV file extension is a Matroska video file. It's a video container much like MOV and AVI, but also supports an unlimited number of audio, picture, and subtitle tracks (like SRT or USF).

This format is often seen as the carrier for high-definition online video because it supports descriptions, ratings, cover art, and even chapter points—which is why MKV was chosen as the default video container format for the popular DivX Plus software.

MKV files.

How to Play MKV Files

Opening MKV files might sound like an easy task—just double-click it, like any other video file—but if you have a collection of 10 videos you got from 10 different places, you'll likely find that at least a few of those videos won't play correctly.

This problem arises because the correct codecs for that particular type of video must already be present on your computer before the video stream will render. (More about codecs, below.)

Your best bet for playing most MKV files is to use VLC. If you're on Windows, some other MKV players include MPV, KMPlayer, DivX Player, MKV File Player, or The Core Media Player.

Some of those applications will open an MKV file on macOS, too, as can Elmedia Player. Although it isn't free, Roxio software can be used to play MKV files on macOS as well.

On Linux, open MKV files using xine and some of the programs above that work with Windows and Mac, like VLC.

Play MKV files on iPhones, iPads, and iPods with the free PlayerXtreme Media Player or VLC for Mobile app. VLC works on Android, too, as does Simple MP4 Video Player (it's named as such because MP4s and other video formats are supported).

Since you might need different programs to open different MKV files, you can always change the default program for a specific file extension in Windows. This step becomes necessary if, for example, KMPlayer is trying to open an MKV file that you instead want or need to use with DivX Player.

Decoder Filters

The Matroska website presents a list of decoder filters that must be installed for certain MKV files to play on your computer (in the Additional playback Information section). For example, if the video is compressed with DivX Video, you must install either the DivX codec or FFDshow.

How to Convert an MKV File

A free video file converter is the easiest way to convert an MKV file to a different video format. Since video files are usually pretty large, an online converter like TinyWow or ConvertFiles probably shouldn't be your first choice.

Instead, use a program like Any Video Converter to convert the MKV to MP4, AVI, MOV, or Freemake Video Converter to put it straight on a DVD.

How to Edit MKV Files

As with any other video type, you can add new subtitles to an MKV video or even remove them, plus make custom chapters for the video. Try editing with the free entry-level MKVToolNix program for Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Supported subtitle formats include SRT, PGS/SUP, VobSub, and SSA. You can delete subtitles that are soft-coded into the MKV file or even add your own custom subtitles. The Chapter Editor portion of the program lets you make start and end times for custom video chapters.

If you're not using the GUI version of MKVToolNix, this command can remove the subtitles:

mkvmerge --no-subtitles input.mkv -o output.mkv

For other tips or help using MKVToolNix, see the online documentation.

To edit the length of the video, cut out portions of it, or merge several MKV videos together, use the Freemake Video Converter program mentioned above.

Still Can't Open the File?

Some files use a similar file extension even though the formats aren't actually related. They just appear to be due to similar-looking suffixes.

For example, files in the MKA format are Matroska-related audio, without video. Matroska 3D video files (MK3D) are used for stereoscopic video, Matroska Elementary Stream files (MKS) just hold subtitles, and Mobile DJ video files are created on Sansui devices and saved in the MKV format but use an alternate file extension (KMV).

The MKV Format and Its Codecs

Because the MKV file format is just a general container format, it can hold several different tracks that each use different compression formats. Accordingly, it's not so easy to depend on a single MKV player that can open every MKV file you have.

Certain decoders are necessary for certain encoding schemes, which is why some MKV files may work on one computer but not another—the program that reads the file must load the appropriate decoders.

The Matroska project is supported by a non-profit organization and is a fork of the Multimedia Container Format. It was first announced to the public at the end of 2002 and is a completely royalty-free open standard that's free for both private and commercial use.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you extract subtitles from MKV? You can download the MKVExtracGUI-2 special MKV subtitle extractor tool to extract subtitles from an MKV file. Use the tool to import an MKV file, then select the subtitles you want to extract > Extract. The program will extract the files in ASS or SRT format on your computer.
  • How do you burn MKV files to DVD? First, convert the MKV file to a compatible file format using a program like Freemake Video Converter. Once the conversion is complete, burn the new file to a DVD. Several free programs can burn DVDs, such as BurnAware Free and WinX DVD Author.
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