Using VLC To View Unplayable Video

If you ever come across video files that won't open in QuickTime Player, you can use the free VLC Player app to view them. This popular app has been around for a long time and can also be used to convert videos to a more standard format.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Using VLC To View Unplayable Video.

Here's something that happens every once in awhile. You get a video file that won't open in QuickTime. Maybe it's an old video file from years ago. Maybe it's something you've just downloaded or somebody gave to you. Here's a file here. You can see it's .avi which is an old windows video format. I'm going to double click it and sure enough it tries to open in QuickTime player and it gives me an error. QuickTime is great for opening most modern video formats but some older ones and some more obscure ones it just doesn't handle very well.

So most Mac users have an app on their Mac called VLC that they use for this. You can get VLC at and that's the company that produces it. You go there to VLC to download and you get the VLC Media Player. This is a very common app. It's been around for a long time. It does a variety of things but one of the main things it does is allow you to play this kind of video.

So I've got the VLC player installed. I'm going to Control click and say Open With and you can see I get QuickTime player is the default. But there is a variety of other things including the VLC app which I've installed. Here you can see it plays that video with no problem at all. When it's done playing you can see the main VLC interface here which is actually a playlist. So you can drag and drop many different videos here and then have them play in order. But you can add other types of media as well. So you could actually use VLC as a music player also putting different audio files in here or a mixture of them.

I could also convert this video file so it could be in a more modern format. So I'm going to File, Convert Stream. I drag and drop the file there, I already did that previously so it's there. I can select Format so I'm going to choose a really standard H264 format. The one at the top. I can customize it further if I want with all sorts of details. I can browse and choose a location and then hit Save and it will save it out. You can see the progress there and in the end I'm going to get this M4V file, standard format. Now that was created in VLC so it will open up in VLC if I double click it. But if I Control click it and say Open With you can see I can open it in QuickTime player now very easily. There it is. So now it's a standard format. So you can convert as well as play.

VLC also has a bunch of other very useful things that you could do. You can capture the screen. You can capture from your camera. You can convert to audio. All sorts of different things. So you may want to look into that further. But for now it's just a useful tool to have if you've got some video files that won't play in QuickTime player.

Comments: 6 Responses to “Using VLC To View Unplayable Video”

    Scott Hamilton
    2 years ago

    Hi – Thanks all of your help! Question: I have a .MOV that fails to play in Quicktime or VLC. The file is 6.9GB and the icon is the movie icon symbol not content. Any suggestions? This is an old family movie and it is sentimental. We have 20 of these movies and all play except this one file. Thanks,

    2 years ago

    Remember that .mov is a file type that can contain many different things — there are so many combinations of compression formats, bitrates and other settings. The fact that the icon looks like something and the extension is .mov means very little. It is like a box — anything could be inside.
    So it is possible that this “mov” file just contains some obscure format inside it. It is also possible that the file is simply broken, maybe incomplete or damaged. That could be the case as VLC will open pretty much any format. In fact, if the other 19 movies were created the same way, then it is likely that this one is damaged. Do you have a backup of it? If so, try that one. If not, then your only hope may be to take it to a professional to work with it firsthand.

    L B Baldwin
    2 years ago

    If you are really desperate, I’ve used They are expensive, but have saved my bacon a couple of times over the years.

    2 years ago

    Hi Gary!
    I tried converting a .mov file (which works very well) to .m4v with VLC.
    It does convert it and plays on a double-click but does not show the extension in the Finder. I can’t seem to locate any options in that matter. Also, the file is described as a “text” file in the finder.

    2 years ago

    Robert: Sounds like you simply chose to save it with a filename that did not include an extension. Do you have the option to show filename extensions in the Finder turned on? (Finder, Preferences, Advanced). If so, and there is still no extension, that just means you didn’t put one when choosing a filename for the exported file. Some apps do this automatically, but not all. So just add a .m4v to the end of the filename.

    2 years ago

    Gary: the program does show that there will be an extension of .m4v so I took it for granted that there would be and yes, I have the extensions all showing in Finder. BTW, I just updated VLC to the latest version.
    In any case, like you say, if I must, I’ll add the extension to the file myself.
    Thanks for the quick answer!

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