Anime fansubbers have been using the MKV container format for a long time, but everyone else has been catching on slowly it seems. Here's a post about it and what I've learned so far, in the past three days. First off, since it is a container format and not a codec there isn't a big difference in terms of performance, but there are a few great things about MKV that AVI can't really compete with. Off the top of my head:
You can softcode subs, in other words include subtitle files that can be enabled or disabled through the media player. The subs can also be styled using (enter media player of choice here)s subtitle interface; you can change the font, the size, the position & so much more. The alternative is hardcoded subs, which are a pain in the butt hole as they can't be turned off or styled at all, if you don't want subs, they'll really be in the way sometimes. You've probably seen lots of old movies with hardcoded subs in all white, usually using a way to small size, often in a hard-to-read font, sometimes completely unreadable on bright backgrounds. Softcoded subtitles FTW!
- Multiple Streams
You can include multiple audio or/and video streams, easily enabled or disabled through your media player.
- Playback Recovery
It can recover playback even when the stream is damaged, don't know what that means exactly, but it must be good.
- Only Good Stuff
It's streamable, supports metadata, chapters & fast seeking within the file.
- Open For More!
It's coded for the future, for all platforms, with an open and free media framework (rephrased from their website).
So, you can for example re-encode a DVD and include all the alternative audio streams and subtitles. You can even include menus if you like, and link to the different chapters ... though that's a bit unnecessary in my humble view of the world.
What does MKV stand for? Matroska Video. There's a MKA format as well, but it's not of much use IMHO, when it comes to audio there are so many much better container formats to chose from. I use MP3 as it is still a good standard out there, but OGG & FLAC are great alternatives with much better compression/quality aspects.
Anyhow, back to MKV. I'm re-encoding my entire digital movie collection from AVI/XviD to MKV/H246 right now. Some of it is already using this modern standard, but 99% of it uses the old outdated XVid, some even DivX. I thought it was time for a change, so I'm changing, mostly because my disc space is running out. I plan on reducing the quality a little while I'm at it to save some space, and since H264 has a much better compression ratio I estimate I'll be freeing up about 300GB space in the process, about a third for each file without losing too much quality in the process.
I'm using Ripbot to re-encode all videos from (mostly) AVI to MKV, some straight from the source (DVD or BRay), and it works great. I tried finding some guide for best settings if you want to balance small file size and good quality, but I haven't found one yet, though it seems that the standard settings are working fine. You just need to enter a video source and hit go.
It's easy to add extra subtitles or audio/video streams as well, so I'm adding English subtitles to all movies while I'm at it. This I do with a separate program though, MKVToolnix, a great set of tools for working with MKV files, you can add a subtitle file within seconds (a process called Muxing), or, if you want to remove subtitle files and edit them, you can do that too. It also lets you see some info about MKV files (bitrate for example) that you can't yet view through the default Windows Explorer.
The re-encoding is prettty heavy, and takes up a lot of processor power. It's also taking a lot of time and I really don't have that much time right now, but wth, no use waiting. I thought about letting the process run overnight and shutdown by itself, but if I leave the computer on it feels like I can't really turn off either. :)
Hope I chose the right standard to go with, right now it doesn't seem like there's anything better out there, but who knows,a new alternative might pop up and replace this one at any moment. Of course I'd love being able to compress files without losing quality even further, but it wait a while, for now I'd like to rejoice over the sudden decrease in used up space.