Good news web video fans. Hot off the presses Doom9’s forums, we learn that the upcoming release of DivX 7 is going to support the Matroska video format! Now I know that many of you are probably asking yourself Matroskwho?, but believe me when I tell you that this is a big deal for both DivX and Matroska fans.
A DivX / Matroska hook up will not only give web video creators even more options over how they want to present their content, but it will also ensure that consumers are able to take advantage of these advanced features with their favorite consumer electronic products. In the past, Matroska fans have had to go through a painful and complicated process in order to get their MKV files to play nice with their DivX hardware devices, but with the 7.0 release, it should be as easy as hitting play on DivX 7.0 gadgets.
So What Exactly Is Matroska?
Matroska is an open standards project that is aiming to replace existing media formats like AVI, ASF, MOV, RM, MP4, and MPG. The project had their official launch in February of 2006 and while it may not be the most well known video container, they’ve still been able to rack up over 3 million downloads since that time. While you can find many different genres utilizing the Matroska format, it’s seen it’s strongest support from the Anime community, which tends to be one of the earliest adopters for web video advancements.
In the past, Matroska’s popularity has been limited because there are very few devices that allow you to watch the MKV files outside of your computer, but the 7.0 rollout should give the format a huge boost. According to the Doom9 post announcing Matroska support, it doesn’t sound like older DivX DVD players will be able to support the .MKV format, but I bet it won’t take long before the PS3 updates their firmware to offer support. This would give Sony a big advantage over Microsoft, among the millions of fans who are passionate about the file format.
At first glance, it’s easy to mistake Matroska as a competing video format to DivX, but in reality it’s a different animal entirely. DivX is a file compression format that helps to reduce the size of your video files with minimal impact on quality, whereas Matroska is a container that can hold many different video compression schemes. To use an analogy from the DVD world, DivX would be the actual videos that you see when you watch your DVDs whereas, Matroska would be like a blank DVD. In and of itself, a blank disc doesn’t contain any data, but by inserting DivX or H.264 into the Matroska container, it allows you to enjoy a more interactive video experience.
In his post announcing Matroska support, DivX team member DigitAl56K discussed the balance that DivX has tried to maintain between supporting high end features and also keeping it inexpensive for CE partners to be able to decode the video files.
It’s important to remember that what brought compatibility across many devices for DivX 5 and 6 was balancing certain bitstream properties so that we allowed for efficient coding with a standard that many devices could work to adhere to. Nothing prevents manufacturers from going above and beyond if they choose to – it happens today. What is important is that there is some known baseline that is consistently implemented and thoroughly tested so that you know if you adhere to it during content creation your file is going to play reliably on any certified device.
If you think back seven or eight years DivX was really the first company to try to find a standard that was designed around bridging the gap between high quality video on the Internet and the general consumer in the CE space. To do this we had to constrain certain properties of the encoder and there was a lot of pushback from many people who wanted an unconstrained MPEG-4 ASP format. I think that now there is a clear precedent that shows what can be achieved if we can find a good compromise.
What About .AVI?
In the past, DivX has supported the .AVI container for their files, but .AVI does have some limitations. Most notably, it doesn’t support high def content encoded in the H.264 format. Perhaps even more importantly, .AVI doesn’t allow you to insert non-video data into the container.
Matroska on the other hand, not only supports H.264, but it also allows you to include data files with your videos. This means that you can create a video file that includes options like DVD menus, closed captioning data and subtitles for global audiences. It also allows you to include multiple video files into a single download. This would allow a content creator to take one of their popular videos and bundle less well known content along with it. Whether it’s including things like Director commentary and bonus scenes with a download or having the ability to attach an upcoming pilot episode to a more popular season finale download, there are many different ways that content creators can leverage this technology in order to create a more compelling video experience for their fans.
What Are The Drawbacks to Matroska?
Before you start ditching .AVI for .MKV there are a few things that you should consider. So far, we don’t really know when DivX 7.0 will be released, so it may be awhile before you can actually play your Matroska files on your TV. FWIW, I did notice that DivX recently started hosting Stage7.DivX.com on their servers, but the web extension currently redirects back to their main site.
Another limitation of the Matroska file is that you need to have a decent computer, in order to be able to playback your files. If your computer is more three years old, you are probably better off sticking with the .AVI format to ensure a smooth experience.
Whether or not you use the Matroska format, DivX’s decision to support the container will have big implications on the future of video downloads. By working with CE manufacturers to ensure that their processors are powerful enough to decode the format, DivX is paving the way to bring new interactive services to the video download market.
Davis Freeberg is a technology enthusiast living in the Bay Area. He enjoys writing about movies, music, and the impact that digital technology is having on traditional media. Read more at Davis Freeberg’s Digital Connection.