Playing MKVs in Media Center and on Extenders

Jun 5, 2009 by

image The story broke a little while back that Divx was releasing a tech preview to provide support for MKVs within Windows 7.  The great part about this news was that not only would it provide support on your PC itself but because the preview introduced support for Media Foundation, this opened up Media Center extenders as well.

I finally had a chance to install the preview and do a little testing.  While I haven’t been playing with it too much, I wanted to get some information out to our readers while it’s still fresh in my mind and to let everyone else start playing as quickly as possible.

The process here is relatively simple.  The first thing you’ll need is the Divx Tech Preview.  You have to register and join the Project Rémoulade Apps group.  While you will have to wait for an email with a temporary password, it doesn’t take long.

Once you have the preview, you can install it on your Windows 7 Media Center system.  As always, create a restore point before hand.  While this install shouldn’t touch anything else on your system, you can never be too safe.  While the installer won’t tell you to, go ahead and restart your PC.  When I tried to play an mkv on my extender before the restart, it told me the proper codecs weren’t installed.

Once you’re back up and running, it’s time to get the next piece of software you’ll need.  AC3 filter.  Be sure and grab the full version.  Once again, run the installer.  At this point I didn’t make any changes to the settings within the AC3 filter app.

At this point, you should be ready to rock and roll.  I was able to get MKV files with both AC3 and DTS audio to play on my Xbox 360 in extender mode.  There is a drawback with DTS audio though.  While I was able to play films with DTS, I had multiple lip sync issues as well as issues when using 30 second skip.  It would resume but would take an exceptionally long time to do so, with audio but no video.  While this might be my equipment not being powerful enough to handle it, I think it has more to do with the fact that the Xbox can’t really handle DTS.

Luckily, there’s a relatively quick and easy fix for this issue as well.  It’s to convert the audio inside of your MKV containers from DTS to AC3.  Ben Drawbaugh authored a profile for DVRMS-Toolbox that will do exactly that.  On my lower end laptop it takes about 30 minutes so depending on the machine you use to do the conversion, it may take less.  Ben’s profile takes the mkv file, removes the DTS stream, converts it to AC3 and places it back into the mkv.  It never touches the video.  Once the process is complete, you have the same video file, now with AC3 audio, which plays quite nicely with the Xbox 360.

I’ve learned two things so far in my testing.  The first is that installing the Divx Tech Preview won’t get mkv files playing on the Linksys extender.  I was able to get audio but no video.  Also, when I would try to use 30 second skip, the audio would actually rewind…figure that out.

The other issue is related to Media Browser.  Using a special plugin, MB can read and display the resolution and codec of the file you have selected.  For some reason, you lose this on the mkv files once they’re in place.  I’m not sure why this would happen and it’s possible that the Media Browser cache just needs to update with the new file, but I’ll update here if things change.

Overall, it looks like we’re well on our way to having mkv support on extenders.  If Microsoft doesn’t want to include it, it’s nice to see that someone else is working on the issue.  Hopefully Divx will continue to update this tech preview to work out the bugs and perfect the process.

****Be sure and check out the forums over on the Divx Labs site.  There are people still having issues with this.  Remember, it’s a tech preview, not a finished product.  The above process worked for me.  Just keep in mind that when you start playing with codecs you can hose your HTPC.****

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