How to view video files you cannot open in QuickTime

QuickTimeXIconXApple provides you with a number of media-handling options in OS X, with QuickTime being the core service for displaying video; however, there will likely be times when you have downloaded a video file that simply will not play in QuickTime. Even if the document looks like a QuickTime file, when opening it you may receive an error that prevents you from viewing its contents.

There are several ways to get around this issue if you run into it, and since it is so prominent, I recommend you keep at least a few of these around on your system to handle odd media files you might encounter.

Use another player

VLC media player in OS X

VLC offers numerous options for viewing and handling media files.

The first option is to use another media player. Apple provides QuickTime Player X in OS X, but Apple’s older QuickTime 7 has some additional capabilities that did not make it into the latest QuickTime Player version. Therefore, download QuickTime 7 and see if it will handle your media. This is especially true for some Quicktime VR files, and MIDI files, as well as interactive movies.

While QuickTime 7 will cover a few additional formats, your best bet for handling most media is to use either VLC or MplayerOSX Extended, both of which offer far more flexibility in their support for codecs and file formats. In most cases, if a video will not play in QuickTime then it will play in one of these players, and if not then the video is likely corrupted. Both of these players are free, so give them a shot.

Convert it

Handbrake transcoder in OS X

Handbrake offers a number of (well documented) settings, or you can select from the presets on the right.

While third-party media players are convenient, sometimes you might need to embed a video in a Keynote presentation or otherwise use it in ways where a third-party media player might be a touch cumbersome. To do this, you can try a number of transcoders, but a free and robust one that I recommend is Handbrake, which can read many input file formats and then output them as an MP4 (M4V) or MKV format. Often videos you encounter might be in MKV format, and you can use Handbrake to convert them to M4V so they can be easily dragged into a Keynote or other document, or opened with QuickTime.

To do this, download Handbrake and when you open it you will be presented with a dialogue for selecting a video file of choice. You can drag your video file to the open dialogue box, or otherwise navigate to it, and then open it. From here Handbrake will process the file and determine if it can be read, and then you can select your output file format and click Start to convert it. Handbrake has a number of settings and presets for managing your video conversion, with great documentation for what each setting does, so the conversion can be as easy or as technical as you want.

With these two options, you should be able to view most video files that you encounter in OS X; however, there may be plenty of others you can try as well. Do you have a favorite media player or two? If so, post them below in the comments.

21 thoughts on “How to view video files you cannot open in QuickTime

  1. Philip Noguchi

    I have found the free Mac Media Player to be exceptionally useful in opening those dreaded files that Quicktime 10 or 7 won’t open ( Be sure to get the free Mac Media Player, not the commercial Mac Blu-ray Player.

    Phil Noguchi

    1. Paul Bergsagel

      I agree with Philip. I have the free version of Mac Media Player and it is very useful for opening stubborn files Quicktime will not open. BTW it is a very well written program with a well thought out interface. Mac Media Player is my favourite of all the Mac media players I have used.

    2. Chris Hart

      I suspect there’s some PR going on here and that “Noguchi” and “Bergsagel” are compensated by the maker of Mac Media Player. How about some full disclosure, Gentlemen.

      1. Phil Noguchi

        To Chris Hart,

        I am a macintosh user and apple user since the 1960s, and have NO affiliation with Mac Media Player.

        One should not assume an positive review to have hidden agenda. Or as is said, sometimes a positive review is JUST a positive review.

        How about full disclosure for yourself, Chris Hart.

        Phil Noguchi

        1. Chris Hart

          Relax, Phil. I simply found it fishy that shortly after you posted your endorsement, someone else echoed the comment. That’s the kind of thing usually seen with paid endorsements.

          And there’s nothing to disclose about myself. I have no affiliation with any software developers.

        2. homB

          The installer got flagged as malware, and only for power pc by multiple scanners.
          THAT indicates it is faulty & fake

  2. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    Up until recently the Flip4Mac media player was a good option to expand QuickTime compatibility with various Windows media formats. But the player is no longer free; it now costs $6. What Telestream is really selling, though, are more robust versions that provide substantial enhancements to QuickTime’s video processing tools – primarily geared toward video pros and ambitious amateurs. Now that the basic player is no longer gratis, other options, like VLC and Handbrake, will become even more attractive. While these tools don’t work in QuickTime like Flip4Mac does, they can convert files to formats than can be read in QuickTime – or, perhaps more importantly, in iTunes.

    I’m keeping the last free Flip4Mac Player around, version You can still get it at The free version was always intended as a gateway to the paid versions. But Microsoft recently stopped subsidizing it, which probably explains why it is no longer a free app. Not that $6 is all that much, if you need the basic player, but given other fee options, it may still price Flip4Mac out of the Mac market.

    1. Gary

      Telestream have recently released a new free player called Switch and it’s paired with a premium product. The paid-for component is sold as a tool for media-professionals and does format conversions and possibly much more. At a quick glance, the free player might be considered as a replacement for the old Flip4Mac player. I clocked the recent announcement, but have not yet had the need to take a detailed look at it, so I can’t comment further.

      1. Chris Hart

        I gave Switch a try and it didn’t impress me. It couldn’t open a large number of AVI and MKV files that I asked it to play. All of these same files play fine in VLC and MOVIST.

  3. MaX

    Is there a truly replacement for VisualHub?

    And what about bringing the useful editing capabilities of QuickTime 7.7 (Pro) into the latest QuickTime 10.3?

  4. Chris Hart

    I’m thankful everyday for VLC. It’s a wonderful media player and I have all media types set to open in it (I rarely use QuickTime Player at this point).

    This is why I’m grateful to the open source developers who make it happen and I donate money annually to the VLC project. It’s a also why I’m passionate about informing others about the need to support software development. That’s why I feel it’s important for any article like this, or anyone recommending open source software, to point out that the software would not be possible if the developers didn’t get some support.

    Bottom line: If you use VLC or similar software in need of support, please donate today.

  5. robert smith

    iFFmpeg is a great replacement for VisualHub. It has seemingly unlimited ways to convert and tweak video into the format of your choice. It is a front-end app harnessing the power of FFmpeg.
    It costs $ 22.00 but is so worth it. The creator is very response to concerns and constantly updates his product.

  6. Ruud Altenburg

    MKV files can be converted to M4V files without the need to transcode. Conversion is much faster and there’s no drop in image quality because of re-encoding. Subler is my MKV converter of choice.

  7. ellen

    I am using handbrake and converting to m4v files but quicktime is saying it is not a video file and wont open it. any suggestions? I have tried changing the file name to mp4 but this doesnt work either

  8. Chris Hart, Independent Apple/Mac Consultant, Connecticut

    By default, Handbrake creates files that have a Mastroska MKV format/wrapper. Did you change this to MP4?

    Alternatively, make your life easier by using the presets that the Handbrake developers provide. Just a single tap on the preset that matches the device(s) you want to watch the resulting video file with, will give you the appropriate conversion settings.

  9. tomorrowbetter

    I use iDealshare VideoGo to convert QuickTime unsupported video files like MKV, FLV, WMV, AVI, WTV, VOB, SWF etc to QuickTime supported MOV, MP4.

  10. kalanai817

    SAVED MY LIFE! i am creating a mash up of videos of family and friends for my moms birthday and the last video would not open on quick time and i tried downloading different versions of quick time and it still would not work! downloaded Handbrake and it worked perfectly! thank you so much:)

  11. Alfatih Ali

    Another player like VLC works exceptionally well. However I have found Handbrake converter extremely useful to covert to mp4, and then can easily be embedded in Keynote or Powerpoint. This saved me a lot of time.
    I never managed to get it listed when searching for video converters on Google!

    Many thanks.

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