Xbox 360 MKV Playback Guide (GOTSent)

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Date Added: Feb 12, 2010
Date Updated: Feb 12, 2010

MKV is an increasingly popular video format, mainly because of its open source roots, and it being increasingly used for H.264 encoding. The problem is that many standalone devices simply do not support the MKV format, often preferring the MP4 container format for use with H.264/MPEG-4 AVC encoding.

This guide shows you how to play MKV files on the Xbox 360, which supports H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, but does not support the MKV container. While the instructions in this guide can also be used to get MKV files to play on the PS3, we've left that to a different guide using different software that's more suited to the task.

And as with most guides on Digital Digest, we will only use freeware unless there's no alternative. This guide uses freeware software titles only, namely GOTSent. GOTSent is an application designed specifically for the task of converting MKV files to MP4 so they play on the Xbox 360 (and the PS3). GOTSent can also convert WMV files to MP4.

Software you'll need:

Hardware you'll need:

  • Xbox 360 with Spring 2007 Dashboard update or newer - may require installation of codec pack from Xbox Live (Silver account is enough)

Step 1: Determining the type of MKV file you have

MKV is just a container format. Meaning, like AVI files, what's "inside" it could be anything. In other words, an MKV is just as likely to contain a video stream encoded via XviD as it is to contain a H.264/MPEG-4 AVC stream. The majority of MKV files do use H.264/AVC, so this guide will concentrate on these kind of files. If you know for a fact that your MKV file does not use H.264/AVC, then you can skip straight to step 2. The easiest way to see what kind of streams the MKV file is made up of is to use MediaInfo. Download the 32-bit or 64-bit version of MediaInfo and follow the steps in the installer to install the software. Once installed, locate the MKV file you wish to play on your Xbox 360, and right click on the file and select the "MediaInfo" option. This will start MediaInfo and it will display information about the MKV file.


MediaInfo: Info

I've highlighted the important pieces of information in the screenshot above. First, "AVC" identifies the video stream as H.264/AVC. So far so good. The "High@4.1" indicates that the H.264 High Profile was used with Level 4.1 decoding. This is excellent, as the Xbox 360 supports High Profile up to level 4.1. Any higher (for example 4.2, or 5.1), and the Xbox 360 might struggle to play the file or play it with a blank screen. Any lower is no problem at all. The third piece of information is the number of audio channels. The Xbox 360 will only support 2 channel audio, so anything higher will automatically be downmixed by GOTSent to 2 channels, so be aware of this limitation before proceeding.

If your MKV file used a H.264 stream with higher than level 4.1 encoding, then GOTSent may need to transcode the file back down to level 4.1. This means video encoding in the H.264 format and this could take some time, up to several hours for a typical movie. If on the other hand the stream is already Xbox 360 compatible, then it's only a simply matter of "repackaging" the MKV file to a MP4 file, which takes a matter of seconds.

If your file wasn't H.264, then don't worry about it, GOTSent can convert your file to the required format, although again this means you need to put aside some time for the encoding process.

Step 2: Installing GOTSent

Before we install GOTSent, the software requires AC3Filter and Haali Media Splitter to be installed in order to work. If you have a codec pack like K-Lite, CCCP, or Vista/Windows 7 Codec Pack, you may already have one or both installed.

Download GOTSent. GOTSent doesn't come with an installer, so all you need to do is to extract the RAR file to a folder on your hard-drive. I prefer extracting it to this folder for consistency's sake -> C:\Program Files\GOTSent\

Once extracted, you should have a few files and a bunch of directories. The GOTSent documentations also recommend that you download and extract the Nero AAC executables into the same folder as GOTSent, so your GOTSent folder should look something like in the screenshot below.

GOTSent Folder

To start GOTSent, simply locate and run the GOTSent executable inside the folder. If you're using Windows Vista or Windows 7, you need to run the GOTSent in Administrator mode by right clicking on the executable and selecting "Run as administrator".

GOTSent: Run as administrator

Step 3: Using GOTSent

Once GOTSent is started, it should look like the following.

GOTSent: Main Screen

There's not a lot of options, so we'll just quick go through everything. For the "Sourcefile", this is where you load in your input MKV files. You can either use the "File" button to load in a single file, or use the "Folder" button to specify the folder containing your multiple MKV files for batch conversion. The "Output folder" is the output location of your MP4 file.

GOTSent: Input/Output

The "Priority" option lets you specify the CPU usage priority. Setting it to "Low" will make GOTSent run in the background whenever the CPU is free. Setting it to "High" will make it run ahead of other programs. You would normally set this to "Low".

The "Target" specifies whether you want the output MP4 file to be compatible with the Xbox 360, PS3 or PS3 with 5.1 channel audio. This guide only covers Xbox 360 compatibility, so select "Xbox 360" here.

GOTSent: Priority, Target

The "Subtitles" section allows you to load in a subtitle file, in which the subtitles will be embedded into the video. If your input MKV file has multiple audio tracks, you can select which one you want to include in the output MP4 (only one audio track can be selected to play for the MP4 file on the Xbox 360). The "Normalize audio" options will average out the high and low volume parts of the audio, which The "AC3Filter Options" button allows you to change the AC3Filter options, but that's mostly unnecessary.

GOTSent: Subtitles, Audio

The "Safe Sync" option, when enabled, will decode the AC3 audio in the MKV file using ffmpeg to try to avoid sync issues. 25 FPS output will increase the framerate of your typical 23.976 FPS movie so it plays smoothly on 720p50 displays. It's highly recommended that you do not enable this option, as framerate conversion is always likely to introduce audio sync issues and this "PAL Speedup" is something best avoided.

GOTSent: Safe Sync, 25 FPS output

Now we get to the important part. The "Re-encode to" option determines whether you want GOTSent to re-encode or transcode the video to a Xbox 360 friendly format. Remember back to step 1, if your MKV file did not contain a H.264/AVC video stream, then the re-encoding checkbox will have been automatically checked, and most likely, the re-encode setting will be set to XviD as your input file is most likely using DivX/XviD conversion. If so, then you should leave this setting as it is, although you could select "H264" or "H264 (HQ)" as the transcoding format to maintain the same quality but probably decrease the file size slightly ("H264 (HQ)" should give you slightly better re-encoding quality, but at the cost of longer encoding times - remember that any transcoding will mean a quality loss).

If in step 1 you found that your MKV file contained an H.264/AVC video stream, then if it was Level 4.1 or lower, then you can leave the re-encoding option box unchecked to skip transcoding. We should avoid re-encoding if possible, as any re-encoding will always mean a quality loss. If you didn't re-encode and the resulting MP4 file did not play back properly, then you can come back here and re-enable the re-encode option. If however your H.264/AVC stream had a Level higher than 4.1, then you'll need to enable the re-encode option and select "H264" or "H264 (HQ)" ("H264 (HQ)" should give you slightly better re-encoding quality, but at the cost of longer encoding times).

GOTSent: Re-encode options

The last few options are "Split > 4GB ?" - this is needed mainly for the PS3 or for storage on FAT32 hard-drives. For the record, the Xbox 360 does play MP4 files larger than 4GB. The "Fit to" option is the only option in GOTSent that allows you to specify the output file size - here you can select DVD-5, DVD-9 or Blu-ray file sizes, and the encoder will try to fit the resulting file within this file size limit. Note that you will need to be re-encoding in order for this option to be used. And lastly, the "Shutdown after conversion" option will shutdown your entire system after it finishes encoding, either the single file input or all the files in the folder input method.

GOTSent: Misc options

All that's left to do now is to press the big "Convert" button near the bottom to start the process. Some windows may pop up, and when the process is finished, the status box just above the button should display "Conversion done".

And we're done :).

Now all you have to do is to take your new MP4 file and get it to play on the Xbox 360. You can do this in various ways, such as through a USB drive, or use a software like TVersity to stream the MP4 file from your computer to your Xbox 360 (instructions for doing this are here.

Got more questions? Post them in our MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) Forum and get them answered by other expert users.

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