5 MKV Video Players for Mac OS X

Mar 13, 2012 - 36 Comments

MKV files are usually high quality videos compressed within a Mastroska container format. Typically you’ll encounter these with Bluray rips or video exported from an HD stream, and you might have discovered they won’t open in a standard movie player app. Not to worry though, MKV files can be played on a Mac easily, you just need to download a free application or codec that supports playing the high quality video format.

Play MKV on a Mac


We’ll cover five excellent free MKV video players that will work on the Mac, some are just general movie player apps and some are full-fledged media center applications that will do far more than just playing HD video formats. Ultimately which is the best is up for debate, but since they’re all free there is no reason not to try them all and discovering which is the best for your specific needs.

#1 – VLC 2

The first recommendation is VLC, which will play just about any video or audio file thrown at it and MKV is no exception. VLC 2 recently came out with some pretty significant changes, and even if you don’t plan on using it to play .mkv movies, it’s a worthwhile app to have on any Mac. Some users report performance issues with playing MKV from VLC, but I’ve had no such problems.

#2 – XBMC

XBMC is another good app to play MKV video, it’s simple interface focuses on media use and it makes a great media console in general. To get the most out of XBMC, copy any MKV video files to the Movies directory in the users home folder and you’ll be able to quickly find them within XBMC.

#3 – Plex

Plex is very similar to XBMC and works as well. Although it is generally a great media center app, the most recent update took a strange turn and the interface is more confusing than it needs to be. Nonetheless, it still plays MKV files quite well, if you’re going to use it drag and drop the MKV video onto the Plex icon to load the movie, otherwise trying to navigate through Plex’s confusing new menus will likely leave you frustrated and lost.

#4 – Perian

Perian is a third party Quick Time component that adds support for a huge variety of video formats (including MKV) to Apple’s very own QuickTime Player. It’s easy to install and sits as a preference panel, and once it’s installed there is nothing extra required to use, just open the once unsupported videos in QuickTime Player. Perian is quite good, but some users encounter strange issues with OS X Lion and OS X Mountain Lion, so this may not be the best solution until Perian gets updated with full support for the latest versions of Mac OS X.

#5 – MPlayerX

I hadn’t used MPlayerX before, but after several of our readers recommended it in the comments I downloaded the app and gave it a try. Low and behold, MPlayerX works wonderfully to play MKV files, and the interface closely matches QuickTime Players black minimalist theme. Performance was excellent too. This is definitely another worthwhile choice for watching HD video on the Mac, and it’s available free on the Mac App Store. Thanks to everyone who recommended this, this may be my new favorite video player!

MKV Mac

Which is the best? That’s up for debate. For general versatility, VLC is a must-have app for all computer users, MplayerX is really giving it a run for it’s money, but for overall media center functionality XBMC is great. Try out a few and see which fits your needs. Enjoy your movies!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

36 Comments

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  1. Curtis says:

    #5 – MPlayerX http://mplayerx.org/ also available directly from App Store http://itunes.apple.com/en/app/mplayerx/id421131143?mt=12

    I consider it basically the same as VLC but you can easily update it via the App Store

  2. TheLove says:

    Movist is the best

  3. I came here to recommend Movist as well. However, even with Movist installed, I also install Perian to handle all manner of files. This allows Movist to open a variety of files with the Quicktime playback system (which in turn allows adjustments to playback speed, which is make-or-break for me)

  4. David Owens says:

    The one issue I’ve noticed with Perian which is frustrating is that for many MKV’s, it will say it requires QuickTime 7 to open properly. This may be the issue which the author mentions as requiring “full support”; regardless, it’s pretty annoying.

    I used to use VLC to watch MKVs, but lately I’ve taken to re-encoding them into m4v format using HandBrake, which allows me to watch them on my AppleTV, and copy them onto my iphone or ipad for on-the-go watching.

  5. SteveHiggs says:

    I’ve been using MPlayerX (Free) for the last few months. I used to swear by VLC but over the years it’s caused me too much grief and with the recent GUI changes it’s just become a bloated mess.

    MPlayerX app store link:
    http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/mplayerx/id421131143?mt=12

  6. Anthony says:

    I use sublr to repackage MKVs to M4Vs without re-encoding. Then you can watch them on your appletv. ;)

    • tcogrey says:

      Sounds cool, can you elaborate on how you get it to work?

      • Anthony says:

        http://code.google.com/p/subler/

        Most MKVs are x264 codec and so the only difference between that and a M4V is the container. The video simply needs to be demuxed and remuxed into an M4V.

        Just install the app, drag your MKV to it, add desired metadata and when you go to save it will repackage your MKV in an M4V container. Easy.

        In the Preferences you can also set it to reencode the audio to 5.1 AAC so if you have an MKV with a dts or dolby digital track, it will reencode that for you.

    • David Owens says:

      I’ll have to try Subler again. I used it previously, but since I was re-encoding blurays from 1080p down to 720p, I ended up sticking with Handbrake, since it could also burn in subtitles (which for some reason if I use soft subs, get out of sync with the video while watching if I pause/rewind/ff)

      Can Subler re-encode hi-profile/10-bit video down to standard 8-bit? I don’t have my AppleTV 3rd gen yet, but I’m going to assume it won’t display 10-bit video :( This would be another issue, as that functionality is something which Handbrake now includes.

  7. Mateus says:

    If you do care about subtitles (color, size, outline, shadows, position) I recomend “Movist” available on App Store.

  8. looky says:

    I also use Subler to make mkv -> m4v and watch them on My Mac, Apple TV2 and iPad 2

  9. Naresh says:

    # sudo port install mplayer-devel

    ^ best player out there that renders styled soft-subtitles without coughing up.

  10. Chris says:

    As a long time Plex user, i find the comments about Plex being confusing to use troubling, especially in the context of this article.

    The 10 foot interface for Plex is exactly the same a XBMC, and the separate Media Server app makes adding media easier as you don’t need to plough through layers of 10 ft interface to manage your media.

    It’s the first comment of its kind i’ve heard – I’d love to see a review of the new Plex.

  11. Movist certainly should be on a list, but with Lion and VLC2, again VLC is #1. I have now problems with Movist.

    Movist was unbeatable on leopard/snow leopard

  12. Nick says:

    I like MPlayerX

  13. Attila says:

    I had performance issue with VLC (the audio channel wasn’t line in with the movie) and then I’ve started to use Divx Player that is a good alternative.

  14. Gary Dauphin says:

    Huge MOVIST fan! It plays everything, it has neat extra features, and it prioritizes video playback while other tasks are going on, so that video playback is rarely interrupted.

  15. Max says:

    Perian is simply useless on OSX Lion. This OS is more than 6 months old and the developers don’t care about making Perioan work on it. I’m not even talking about Snow Lion support… Too bad, it used to be an interesting product, but it’s dead now.

    MPlayer OSX Extended and XMBC are my favourites. Plex’ GUI is very bad and I removed it 5 minutes after installing it.

    To repackage MP4 to MKV, I use MKVtoolnix
    To repackage MKV to MP4, I use MKVtools (now MP4tools)

  16. Tim says:

    Um…What about Boxee?

  17. Tim says:

    Nevermind, forgot they dropped PC/Mac support…

  18. […] necessary if you want to watch the movie directly on your computer, in that case, check out a handful of free MKV video players for Mac. If you need to convert other video types to iOS compatible format, Handbrake works great for […]

  19. AtariBaby says:

    Quicktime with Perian is higher quality than MPlayerX.
    MPlayerX is higher quality than VLC.
    VLC is still excellent quality and good to have when the other two won’t play something.

  20. […] it with flying colors. WMV files are no exception, but because it supports so many other popular (mkv, divx, etc) and obscure formats, MPlayer is debatably one of the best free video players available […]

  21. sherpav says:

    vlc cool player.

  22. Go Mid Rak says:

    vlc bad sound quality 1080p :(

  23. Go Mid Rak says:

    MpayerX best of the best

  24. […] QuickTime Player is also a fine choice for playing .MOV, m4v, .mp4 files, but for other movie file formats like .WMV, Flash .flv, .mpeg, .avi, and others, you’ll want to get a third party app instead. For other formats, VLC is a classic app and should be included in just about every Mac users app toolbox, and MplayerX is becoming increasingly popular for being just as versatile while having the added bonus of supporting BluRay and MKV playback. […]

  25. Julio says:

    Has anyone had a play with Nice player?

    The interface is a nightmare, but if you compare the playback quality to VLC or MPlayerX it’s incredibly sharp and the colours are much more realistic – Not over saturated and “fake”.

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