How to stream MKV files to your Apple TV

MKV is a common file format for videos. In this article I will show you how what options exist for bringing .mkv on your Apple TV.

Does Apple TV support MKV videos?

No, the problem is files with the file extension .mkv are not supported by Apple TV. MKV means Matroska which is a container format (like .mp4, .m4v, .avi or .mov) that can hold video, audio and subtitle streams. So if you have some MKV files (for instance on your NAS, USB stick or external Hard drive), you need to find a “workaround” to watch them on your TV.

What are MKV files exactly?

In general, it’s important to understand that Matroska is not a video or audio compression format. It’s just the envelope for several streams (and those streams are encoded with an video/audio codec like H.264 or AAC).

mkv-container

In the following screenshot you can see that this MKV video has 3 streams. You can check this with VLC by pressing “Cmd + I” (Window > Media Information).

mkv-file-streams

How can I stream MKV videos to my Apple TV?

Depending on your source file (and/or your hardware), there are several ways how to get your video working with Apple TV and AirPlay:

  • Play the MKV file on a Mac and use AirPlay Mirroring
  • Remuxe the video file so that it’s compatible with the Apple TV
  • Transcode / Re-encode the MKV file (that means converting it).

AirPlay Mirroring

A nice and easy way, if you have a modern Mac, is AirPlay Mirroring. Basically, this means that you play the video with your Mac (for instance with VLC) and just mirror your display to the Apple TV.

Details here: AirPlay Mirroring and AirPlay Mirroring: Tips for improving Performance

The big advantage is that you can instantly start watching your video.

Remuxing the MKV video

In most cases, the container format (.mkv) is the problem, not the video and audio stream inside. Then remuxing helps. It’s means that you don’t touch the video and audio streams. You just put an exact copy of them into a new container which is supported by Apple TV.

This works for all videos, that have compatible streams inside that are encoded for instance with H.264 and AAC.

For remuxing use a software like Subler. Open the .mkv file, select the streams and pass them through to a .m4v file. This doesn’t too long because it’s just “copying files”. You should prefer remuxing to transcoding because you leave the streams untouched and avoid losing quality.

Transcoding / Re-encoding of your MKV video

If the video or audio stream in your MKV file isn’t supported by Apple TV, you have to re-encode it. This means converting the streams to a different codec, bitrate or resolution and save it in a compatible container file format (like .m4v). This is time-consuming and could cause a loss in quality.

An open source software for re-encoding is Handbrake. Open the file, select an Apple TV preset and let Handbrake create an new video file.

For further details, I will write some posts about software like Subler, Handbrake and so on. So be sure to check out all posts in this blog.

Link: Matroska (Wikipedia)
Link: http://www.matroska.org

19 comments

  1. Always used Handbrake, great tool but have never been successful with subs.

    Subler looks like an interesting alternative, but will it retain sub when creating the new .m4v file?

    Thanks.

        1. Really appreciate your feedback Flo. Have just seen a forum which mentioned XMedia Recode, a PC remuxer. Off to check it out, but would not have had this direction if not for your post above. Thanks.

        2. MP4 Tools will allow you to quickly (under a couple minutes each video file, and i mean like barely more than one minute), take a MKV file, and turn it into an m4v. This software also allows the quick addition of either a hard coded, or soft coded subtitle (but that may take a five dollar donation, i dont recall for sure). Best software pick up i have found yet, since i use atv for everything.

          1. Also, i forgot to mention, this was for mac. I am unsure if the publisher made it for pc to (EmmGunn). Good luck.

      1. Dunno if it is analternative you were looking for, but it might be helpful for someone. The app called WALTR. I’m using it to download any movie (even MKV) in the way it can be watched in the standard iOS video player. This program converts all the movies while downloading them. Time efficicency is insane – I’ve tested that. Don’t know how about Mac, but Windows PC version worked as a Swiss clock 🙂

  2. You may also try iDealshare VideoGo which can convert MKV to iTunes and make MKV capable to sync across iTunes, iphone, ipad, ipod, Apple TV, etc. In addition, iDealshare VideoGo can batch convert MKV to iTunes compatible formats easily.

    It also can convert MPEG, MP4, M4V, Apple ProRes, FLV, VOB, ISO, RMVB, MXF, XAVC, MTS, TS, 3GP, ASF, MVI, BIK, DAV, etc to iTunes

  3. Just tried this everything seemed fine. But after trying to play the MP4 its telling me that QuickTime can’t open the file.

    1. Figured out my problem. I didn’t change the H.264 Video Profile/Level under Visual Settings from it’s default. Changed it to Main @ 3.1 (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Appletv). It plays now but there’s only audio and the screen is black. Don’t see video for some reason.

  4. Sorry, but my apple TV is nothing but a brick, you must have another apple product to use it. You can’t do things from the web. What a piece of S???

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