As you must have discovered, there are hundreds of file formats in which audio and video files may be encoded. Some are proprietary video compression formats while some are open source. Proprietary video players generally don't support open source file formats, but (thankfully), open source multimedia players do have support for proprietary formats. One of the best open source container formats is Matroska Multimedia Container, which comes with the '.mkv' extension. The default media player on the Mac OS X platform is QuickTime video player which unfortunately doesn't support the MKV format. So does that mean the only way you can watch a MKV video file is by converting it to MOV? No, that's certainly not the case.
Thanks to the open source movement, we have many media player alternatives to bank upon, even if proprietary media player software programs like QuickTime won't play some formats. Before I talk about playing MKV files on a Mac, let me introduce you to the Matroska file format and explain why it's preferred over other container formats while encoding and containing videos.
About MKV File Format
MKV or Matroska files are aptly named after the Russian name for 'Nesting Dolls', which is 'Matryoshka', as it is designed to be a universal container for multiple audio and video file formats. While video files with the Matroska container have a '.mkv' extension, audio files come with a '.mka' extension. The reason why many video encoders prefer using this format is that MKV preserves the quality of the original video to a higher degree after compression, compared to other formats. That's what makes it a preferred format for high-definition videos.
How to Play MKV Files on a Mac?
There are several options to choose from, to play an MKV file, as you will find out in the following lines. Here are some of the prime alternatives you could opt for.
Use QuickTime Component - Perian
Very few Mac users are aware that there exists an extended QuickTime component called 'Perian', which enables the Mac player to play MKV files. Once you download and install this component on your Mac OS X, it lets QuickTime play MKV, FLV, DIVX and AVI files. Download and install Perian and start playing MKV files easily.
Use VLC Player for Mac OS X
Another way of playing MKV files is through installation of VLC player for Mac. It is an open source software available for free download. It's a media player, which can play almost any format including MKV, 3GP, FLV, AVI, MP4 and VOB.
Use MPlayer OS X Extended
One more media player which can play MKV files on your Mac for free is the Mac OS X extended version of MPlayer. This player can practically play any video file type. Just download and install it to start playing Matroska encoded files.
Use DivX Player for Mac
A third software option is the DivX player, which can play the MKV files on Mac OS X. This one is also available as a free download. You may use either of the three media players or just install the Perian patch to render MKV files. The choice is up to you.
As discussed before, all of these players can be downloaded for free from their respective websites. Just search with the media player name on Google and you should find the websites. Search for the download link on the website and get the setup file to install. Thus, using any one of the above listed video players like Mplayer, VLC or DivX Player, or using the Perian component, you can enjoy any video file encoded in MKV format on your Mac PC.