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Marc Wandschneider is a professional software developer with well over fifteen years of industry experience (yes, he really is that old). He travels the globe working on interesting projects and gives talks at conferences and trade shows whenever possible.

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Jun 03, 2008 | 21:34:13
1080p MKV playback on Mac OS X (VLC)
By marcwan

If you’re like me, you used to think that your Intel Mac was a pretty powerful computer. With all of those super zippy cores and RAMs and caches and all that, everything does seem to go a lot faster on the newer machines. My JustLooking compiles went from nearly 4 minutes on my PowerBook G4 to about 35 seconds on my 2.33GHz laptop.

But then came all those 1080p MKV files, with their unbelievable (basically unwatchable) jerkiness, and you found yourself questioning the new religious order. Is the machine, perhaps, actually a piece of junk? Was it that hard disk upgrade you did? The new RAM you installed? Leopard? Some awful combination thereof?

The good news is that it’s actually a software issue. Even lower-end Intel Macs should have no problems playing back this kind of file, provided you have the right software. Out of the box, VLC – the most commonly seen player for this file type – seems to have a lot of troubles. Seeking results in a crash about 40% of the time.

While you’ve always got the choice of using another player, like CorePlayer or OSXBMC, you actually can make VLC work just fine with the file type:

  1. Open up Preferences
  2. Click the Advanced checkbox in the lower left corner
  3. “Input / Codecs”, “Other codecs”, ‘FFmpeg’
  4. Under “Skip the loop filter for H.264 decoding”, select “All”. By default “None” is selected. (Thanks to Zach Riggle for pointing out that this really degrades your video quality a lot – try other settings instead. I’ve had good luck with “Non-ref” so far).

WIth that, a 1080p that we had to stop watching three days ago because it was so awfully choppy now plays as smooth as butter (but not nearly as sticky).

Comments (85) Add Comment | Tags: mac osx vlc mkv 1080p playback problems
Hard disk speed
Posted By: marcwan Jan 22, 2009 05:55:51
Honestly, I've noticed that hard disk speed has a huge effect on this phenomenon.

The internal drive on my Macbook pro was so, bad, it seems, that I could reduce the choppiness by playing movies off an external USB drive.

I have a desktop Mac with a 7200rpm desktop (3.5") drive now and nothing goes even remotely slow (in all fairness, the processor is a bit faster too).

glitchy playback
Posted By: marcwan Mar 23, 2009 05:23:18
honestly, my experiences of late all point to hard disk speed being the biggest problem:

if you've got a 5400rpm laptop hard drive, it's hard to get these playing smoothly, no matter what the VLC settings are. I solved the problem on my laptop by using an external USB 7200rpm laptop drive, and on my desktop, i have a faster disk now, so i hardly notice.

mplayer extended > vlc

forget vlc. mplayer allows use of experimental ffmpeg codec that allow multithreaded decoding. just check the box to enable it, and it's been damn stable for the last several releases.
THANK YOU! (again ^_^)
Posted By: Cailin Coilleach Apr 19, 2009 06:20:46
Man, I'm so glad I found this... I've had problems playing MKVs for a year now :D
Plex rules!
Posted By: Aayush Arya Jul 14, 2009 09:56:04
Thanks to the anonymous eighth commenter above for mentioning the tip about increasing Plex’s cache size. The VLC trick did not work for me but the one about Plex did. And since the latter is my favourite media center and playback application anyway, I’m thrilled about that. I was actually thinking of selling my six-month old MacBook and replacing with a new MacBook Pro just to be able to play 1080p high definition videos on my Mac. Now I don’t have to. Thanks once again.
Posted By: Thomas Apr 30, 2010 21:28:53
Was just wondering exactly what you describe, just did a quick search thinking "you never know, but really I think it's probably not going to happen' and here you are.

thanks a lot!
MPlayer OSX Extended Indeed
Posted By: Mark May 30, 2010 11:00:22
Neither Plex, VLC (with any of the above settings) nor Quicktime (with Perian installed) would not play Avatar 1080p properly on my MacBook Pro 2.5 GHz Core 2 Duo with Snow Leopard 10.6.2. Selecting subtitles within the .MKV chrashes VLC instantly.

As Fannar pointed out: Avatar is a true test to find a decent player. For the real stress test: select the Chapter "First Flight" which demands crazy processor time with fast full frame animation and constant action where literally every pixel changes all the time. Only Mplayer Extended was able to play without noticeable frame dropping.

Be sure to check it out.
VLC plays!
Posted By: Mauro Jun 14, 2010 05:42:20
Thank you thank you thank you
Posted By: Zack Jul 26, 2010 08:02:22
Thanks! This really fixed my choppy video playback.
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