Watch MKV Files on the Xbox 360 the Easy Way

I was talking with my neighbor the other day and he was going on about his disappointment that while it was easy to watch Divx and Xvid movies over the network on his Xbox 360, there is no support for MKV files he had downloaded.  Each video he had was a 720p or 1080p high definition download.  And if he wanted to watch the video on his 360, he had to transcode the video to Xvid before he could watch it in his living room.  This was taking him 8-12 hours to transcode even on his high end Mac.

I did some digging and found an obscure reference in a forum indicating that the transcoding wasn’t really necessary after all as long as you had QuickTime Pro and used the correct settings.  It turns out that the QuickTime export for MP4 has an option in its video settings to allow “Video Passthrough”.  This lets us open a MKV file in QuickTime Player 7 and export the video out to MP4 (Xvid really) in a fraction of the time it takes to transcode the video.

There is something unusual in the newly released Mac OS X 10.6 that users will need to keep in mind.  The new version of the OS replaces (kinda) QuickTime 7 with a new version called QuickTime X.  The new version is the beginning of a “from the ground up” rewrite of QuickTime.  The problem is, as of 10.6, the new version only has basic functionality and lacks the support for many of the legacy video codecs and codecs that are new and not yet mainstream.

Not to worry.  Apple knew this would be harmful to many Mac users, so a version of QuickTime 7 (referred to as QT7 from here on) is installed as part of 10.6 in addition to QuickTime X (referred to as QTX from here on).  While this makes things confusing while we transition, Mac users will still have the support they are accustom to as long as they know to use the QT7 player for work such as this.  While the QuickTime Player (this is the name of the QTX version) is located in the Applications directory, QuickTime Player 7 has been relegated to the Utilities directory inside the Applications directory.  This was likely done to help keep users from confusing the two.  Confused yet?  Just remember to use QuickTime Player 7 when opening the MKV file for conversion.

With all of that out of the way, its easy to convert the MKV file to the MP4 file without taking a bunch of time.  First, make sure you have installer Perian.  It adds a ton of video and audio codecs to the OS and, in this case, it allows QT7 to support MKV files.  You will also need to make sure that QuickTime Player 7 is really QuickTime Player 7 Pro.  What’s the difference?  Not much really.  But you need to enter a serial number before the Pro features kick in.  Since the ability to export as MP4 is considered a Pro feature, you either need to shell out the $29.9 to Apple, or use Google to find a serial number “for testing purposes.”

That’s all the software required to make the conversion without the need to transcode the video.  No just open the MKV file using the QuickTime Player 7.  Since most MKV files are large, there will be a progress bar advancing across the bottom of the window as QT7 validates each frame of the MKV file.  Export is not possible until this process is complete.

Once the file is open and that progress bar shows it is finished processing, just select Export from the QT7 File menu.  Be sure to select Movie to MPEG-4 from the export menu.

Then click options and be sure the File Format menu has MP4 selected an not MP4 (ISMA).  Then make sure File Format is set to Pass Through.  Set the audio options as you like.  I leave the audio and streaming settings at their default.

That’s it!  Just click save and the export will run.  When its done, the file will be ready to stream to the Xbox 360.

There are a couple of ways to stream audio and video from the Mac to the 360.  My favorite is Connect360.  It is amazing.  Well worth the $20 fee.  It also allows the streaming of iPhoto and iTunes libraries to the Xbox 360.  Connect360 installs in the Mac’s system preference pane and makes configuration very easy.  Just select the folder of movies you want to share in the preferences and fire up the 360.  Then browse the network on the 360 and select the Mac as the source.  Select the newly exported MP4 file and you will see all of the MKV HD goodness without the time and quality degradation associated by conventional transcoding.

There is one more thing worth mentioning.  Despite the fact that we are well into the 21st century, it seems the Xbox 360 still cannot address media files larger than 4GB.  Since HD files can easily tip that particular scale, it is necessary to split large MKV files into sub 4GB chunks prior to opening the file in QT7 for conversion.  For splitting, I use MKVTools (http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/24872/mkvtools).  Its shareware and works whether you decide to pay the $4.99 fee or not.  Just open MKVTools and select the MKV file that needs splitting.  Select the audio and video tracks you want to maintain then be sure to set Size (MB) option to something safe like 3700 and click split.  MKVTools will slit the original file into as many separate files as necessary.  Then just open the split files in QT7 as described above and save them out as separate MP4 files.

On paper, the entire process seems like a lot of steps.  But is really goes quickly one the workflow is set.  And the conversion process takes less than an hour on even a mid level machine.  Transcoding the same file via other methods could take 6-12 hours longer based on my tests (and produces lower quality results).


Steve

19 Responses to Watch MKV Files on the Xbox 360 the Easy Way
  1. Austin Powers Reply

    Great info. Thanks for taking the time to share and post the step by step instructions. I have several mkv files and couldn’t find a simple way to convert for streaming via my Xbox that didn’t take hours. This worked quickly and painlessly. Thanks!

  2. Jason Reply

    Nice tip, thanks! Trying it now. I’ve been very annoyed having to transcode 1.5GB .mkv episodes of Top Gear to stream through Connect360. This is FAR better, especially since I already own QuickTime Pro & Connect360.

    Also, I agree with your comment that Connect360 is well worth the $20. In a world where so much stuff is pirated, I’ve gotten hundreds of hours of trouble-free use for my $20. Great app.

  3. Douwe Reply

    You are my hero! Nice manual, works really good. Finally some use for that old Quicktime 7 Pro serial I once bought.

  4. aph3x Reply

    :( After I split the file using MKVtools I could no longer select Passthrough when exporting to MP4.

  5. Ed Reply

    Bummer, QT 7 doesn’t work on Snow Leopard.

    I’m going to try saving it out as an MOV, and then converting it in Handbrake. But it’s quite a hassle just to watch HD video.

  6. smanke Reply

    Ed,

    Actually it does work. It was an optional install from the 10.6 install DVD. A lot of people did not install it because no one knew they needed it until after the fact.

    You can still install it from the Snow Leopard DVD. Once it is installed, you will find it in the Utilities folder (/Applications/Utilities). It will be an app called QuickTime Player 7.

    You can still you the QT7 Pro serial in there to get access to the features not yet a part of QuickTime X.

    I hope that helps. This was a confusing and clumsy thing for Apple to do!

  7. Ed Reply

    Finally! Thank you!!

    I tried downloading a copy of QT7, but that didn’t work. Didn’t know it was on the Snow Leopard disc.

    I wish Connect 360 would allow MKV files though. Would make things so much easier.

  8. smanke Reply

    Yeah, that was a pain. I just had a buddy ask me the same thing about QT7 last week.

    I had the same issue with MKV files, then I bought one of these:

    http://maclive.net/sid/252

    I love that box. It streams content from any sever on my LAN. It does MKV, and it keeps the surround sound (which the 360 loses making it only stereo).

    That WD box was inexpensive and its pull files from anywhere I want it to. I just finished moving all of my MKV and Divx files to a NAS. The WD box can see the share on the LAN and stream the video right to the TV in HD.

    Worth looking at, if you are inclined. No conversion necessary for MKV goodness!

  9. daniel Reply

    @aph3x

    in quicktime, go to movie properties and delete the subtitle track or the chapters track… as far as passthrough goes, it works for me when i’m only exporting a video and audio track together.

  10. hypnagog Reply

    Thanks for the tip, Daniel- deleting everything but the audio and video components of the MKV file stopped the “Pass through” option from being greyed out.

    This is an awesome tool!

  11. peter Reply

    Is it possible to just copy the new MP4 file to an external harddrive connected to the XBox via USB, or do you have to stream it through Connect360?

  12. Tika Reply

    God bless you- it works perfectly.

    this method will also fix any mp4 files that won’t play on your xbox 360.

    I had some mp4 files that weren’t working on my 360 due to codecs, and probably needed transcoding.

    I tried this method on the mp4 files and they now play on my 360.

  13. Anonymous Reply

    I have a japanese audio, with english subtitles.

    I deleted chapters

    But the ‘Pass Through’ i still grey out.

    I don’t want to delete the Japanese audio or English subs. as i need them to understand whats going on in the video! any suggestions???

    Thanks :)

  14. stilts Reply

    I have a japanese audio, with english subtitles.

    I deleted chapters

    But the ‘Pass Through’ i still grey out.

    I don’t want to delete the Japanese audio or English subs. as i need them to understand whats going on in the video! any suggestions???

    Thanks :)

  15. Non sense complication Reply

    Umm streaming a video or ‘why make it simple when we can make it complicated’.

    The fact you still need to transcode (or call it however you want) the video and then split it is time consuming and a true lack of work from streaming compagnies. I used to use MKV2VOB on windows and it was a pain, half the mkv movies didn’t work and no subtitles were saved.

    Why on earth would Connect360 worry about a file size when the actual file is on a mac ? And why won’t the mac just steam whatever the hell is shown on the screen or just steam a video as an external monitor, with same signal as hdmi output ?

    For now it’s stick with plugin my macbook via hdmi.

    Unless for company can finally make a REAL streaming app through Wifi.

    Or is it too much to ask ?

  16. Lewis Reply

    How to add subtitles to the mp4 movies to play on the xbox 360??? Is this possible?

  17. smanke Reply

    @Lewis

    Great question. I’m not sure. I know there are a lot of sites out there with databases of subtitle files that go along with movie files. If you find one, you might be able to import it into the QuickTime file before you export the passthrough file back out. I’ve never tried it myself. I’ve never through of trying it myself.

    If you give it a go, please feel free to post your results back here for the others.

  18. Taylor Reply

    I urge iSkysoft Record Converter for Mac which can convert reocrd formats from one to another for Mac OS X users. It supports all well loved reocrd formats counting FLV, MKV, MOD, WMV, ASF, MPEG1, MPEG2, MP4, 3GP, 3G2, MOV, AVI, M2TS, TOD, TS/TP (for HD Record), etc.Hope it helps!

  19. jessendeen Reply

    Avdshare Video Converter is your desired MP4 to Xbox 360 converter which can convert all unsupported MP4 to Xbox 360 supported AVI.

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