MKV, the Virtual Russian Doll
For the uninitiated, MKV is a multimedia container format that stores all of a movie's information in one file. The full name of the format is the Matroska Multimedia Container, named after that set of Russian dolls "of decreasing size placed one inside the other."
As one MKV can contain all the data you need to watch a movie, the video, audio, image, and subtitle tracks, MKV creation and editing tools are very popular nowadays. They let people grab videos from discs or do the reverse (burn these movies onto optical media).
With that in mind, let's go through the 10 tools that will let you work with MKVs.
Combined Community Codec Pack
Don't know what a codec is? You have to if you plan to work with MKVs. It's software that decodes and (in some cases) decompresses video and audio files. By extension, it lets you work with these files in video or audio editors. If your codecs aren't properly setup, you'll encounter problems as you try splicing different MKVs together and especially when you try extracting video or audio from them.
The Combined Community Codec Pack was created to help streamline the codec setup on any Windows PC. Key to its usefulness is its simple installation. You can literally sit back and relax while the installer takes care of everything.
Video Splitter 3
Solveig Multimedia's video trimmer is a pretty powerful piece of software. It can modify the contents of an MKV instantly while recombining the video, audio, and other tracks inside in real-time.
The interface is quite reminiscent of iMovie and other video editors designed for the layman crowd. The mouse-driven setup lets editors quickly select specific portions of any track inside the MKV for moving, copying, and deletion.
Even better, you can save editing projects for future work. This means you won't have to recreate your edits even for minor modifications. The only caveat: Video Splitter 3 isn't free. At time of writing, it was priced at around $50.
AVI Trimmer + MKV 2
If this software seems pretty familiar, there's a good reason: it's also from Solveig Multimedia, and is sort of the spiritual predecessor of Video Splitter 3. Even better, AVI Trimmer + MKV 2 is a free download, but you get what you pay for, so to speak.
AVI Trimmer + MKV 2 may cost less, but it forces the user to do more just to get the job done. There's no way to quickly browse through a video or audio track frame-by-frame. Instead, you have to type in a specific time code. And, unlike Video Splitter 3, this software can't save your edits. This means you'll have to start from scratch every time.
VideoReDo comes in three paid flavors: the Plus, TVSuite, and TVSuite H.264 editions (there's also a free trial version for the try-before-you-buy types). However, no matter what version you get, VideoReDo has all the basic video editing features.
You can select specific parts of the video, move them around, copy them and, of course, delete them. On top of that, minor volume adjustments to the audio are also possible. This means you can tone down noisy sounds or make soft sounds more audible.
Even the most basic version of VideoReDo comes with "AdDetective," which automatically detects and removes advertisements from the video. The feature is surprisingly accurate, however, exporting edits to DVDs is a feature only available on the more expensive TVSuite and TVSuite H.264.
Emicsoft MKV Editor
There is a plethora of features that makes the simply named MKV Editor from Emicsoft a worthy download. It works with multiple MKVs at the same time and allows for quick changes to the video's brightness, saturation, and contrast.
On top of that, users can even crop the video so it fits better on specific screens. Additionally, while we're on the subject of creating videos for different kinds of viewings, the Emicsoft MKV Editor can export edits into not only MKVs, but other popular video file formats as well.
Still, for all of that, you have to be willing to shell out $33. We also wonder why the payment page for the software lists an "MKV Converter," as opposed to an editor.
The software can demultiplex MKVs, which is a fancy way of saying it can extract specific tracks from the media container. However, Avidemux is known more as a quick-and-dirty video editor with support for cutting video clips, running them through appearance-changing filters, and encoding the resulting edits into a variety of video formats.
In this regard, the program is a great and easy way to modify and even build new MKVs from scratch. However, we've found that Avidemux is a bit sensitive. With the Combined Community Codec Pack (which was featured earlier in this list) you should have no problems codec-wise. Avidemux won't be able to merge video tracks of different sizes, though this shouldn't be a problem in most cases and especially not if you're working with videos from the same source.
MKVToolnix is less an editor and more a tool designed for dealing directly with MKVs. It can extract specific tracks from the container and create MKVs from source videos and audio. Despite the simple approach of the program's workflow, MKVToolnix is also capable of splitting up videos. If you even just want to see what's inside the MKV without affecting it, MKVToolnix can do that too.
The problem is that, just like Avidemux, MKVToolnix is a bit sensitive. If you want to splice videos together, you'll have to make sure they're not only the same size but same encoding quality as well.
It doesn't have the best interface, and in fact is incapable of even basic editing functions (cut, copy, paste, move), but VirtualDub's strength is batch-processing. This means you can assign it a list of files (not just MKVs), create a set of instructions, and VirtualDub will process the list automatically. This is a boon for those who have to work with several MKVs, but more focused work is where the software suffers.
That's because the learning curve of VirtualDub is very steep. It took us several minutes of reading the documentation (and some experimentation) before we were able to correctly select snippets of media for editing purposes. To be fair, a relatively active community has VirtualDub's back, and once you get the hang of things, most operations should be easy. Still, users with no technical mindset whatsoever should stay away.
Note: before you can work with MKVs with VirtualDub, you’ll need to install this plugin.
We'll be honest here: AVI-Mux GUI is included on this list out of a desire for completeness but we can't recommend it to anyone. The problem starts with the interface, which is ironic given the software's name. There is a graphical user interface (GUI), but it's simplistic and provides no clues as to how to get anything done.
The included help file just contained instructions to consult AVI-Mux GUI's manual, which we found after a half-hour of frustration on the developer's website. And only the hardcore geeks on our team were able to understand the manual, thanks to its use of highly technical terms.
In short, stay away from AVI-Mux GUI. There are much better options on this list. It took us a while, but we eventually learned that the program can extract video and audio from MKVs, but only after you jump through quite a few hoops.
Wondershare Video Editor
This piece of nifty software from Wondershare isn't free. Still, it more than makes up for its $40 (as of this writing) price tag through a streamlined interface and speed relative to the other tools listed here. Forget about just simple modifications, the software lets you build entirely new edits into your resulting MKV.
Even importing proved very easy. All you have to do is copy files right into a folder that the program always watches for new content. Then you can drag-or-drop the imported video or audio onto the main timeline, which represents the final video cut as envisioned by you. There's support for over fifty different video effects, forty-eight transitions, and text overlays.
That's the good news, but there's some bad news, too. First, while laying out video clips is fast, we noticed some lag when previewing the edit. A more notable issue: we couldn't find a way to save our edits, so it looks like you'll have to recreate your edits every time you open the program. Lastly, if you create MKVs with different video quality or resolution than your source content, you'll end up with lower quality results.