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How To Prep Your Videos For Playback On The Roku 3

Simon Slangen 03-06-2013

roku 3 video playbackAlthough I’ve had the pleasure of using an Apple TV these past few months, I was immediately sold on the Roku 3. You can read more about the product (and whet your appetite) in Danny’s Roku 3 review Roku 3 Review and Giveaway As more content becomes available online, the need for a traditional television subscription may not be enough anymore to justify the costs. If you’re already subscribed to services like Netflix or Hulu Plus, now may... Read More . For me, it was the combination of on-demand media and easy access to my own extensive media library that made Roku’s case, not to mention an attractive price tag. In fact, I mostly use the Roku 3 as a top-up box for my Plex media center.


The only problem I’ve encountered so far, is Roku’s meager support for video formats. Officially, the Roku 3 only supports H.264 MKV and MP4/M4V video, meaning that’s the only media recognized over USB and Plex‘ Direct Play. Luckily, this is not as dramatic as it sounds. Most recent media found on the web is released in H.264 MP4 (standard definition) or MKV (high definition). The only issue is finding a way to play back your old media on the Roku.

1. AVI Videos

Before H.264 MP4 became the norm, AVI files were everywhere. Chances are, most of your old Roku-incompatible files are AVIs. Luckily, there’s a workaround that doesn’t require you to completely convert all of your AVI files.

roku 3 video playback

A lot of AVIs use an MPEG-4 Video (XVID) stream. This has to do with how the video is encoded. Officially, Roku only accepts videos with an H.264 video stream. Unofficially, Roku will also play MP4 files with MPEG-4 video. This means that we can put the video in an MP4 container, without really converting it, and it will play on the Roku.

This process is called remuxing and it cuts down on conversion time incredibly. On a decent computer, it’ll only take a minute or two from start to finish.


roku 3 playback

To remux our video, we can use Avidemux, which is available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers. If you’re using Mac OS X Lion, download Avidemux 2.5.4 and refer to these steps to get it running.

Open Avidemux and browse to your video file. Use the following configuration (in the left sidebar):

  • Video: Copy
  • Audio: AAC
  • Format: MP4

Press save and enter a location and filename for your new video file. Don’t forget to add the .MP4 extension. After Avidemux has remuxed your file, it’s ready to be played on your Roku; both over USB and using Plex’ Direct Play feature.


2. MKV With 5.1 Audio

MKV is the norm for high definition video content. Usually, these files have a 5.1 surround sound audio track. There are two issues with these 5.1 audio MKV files. The main issue lies with Dolby Digital and DTS audio. These files only work over USB and the audio is only supported via pass through. This means Roku won’t help you out if your system doesn’t support 5.1 DTS audio.

If you’re a big fan of using Plex’ Direct Play, there’s a second issue. Plex has issues playing any MKV with 5.1 surround sound. If your media server is beefy enough, Plex will transcode the media instead.

roku 3 playback

Again, we can keep the video stream intact to keep the conversion time to a minimum. This time, we need an application able to remux MKVs and convert the audio track. MKVtools for Mac OS X and XMedia Recode for Windows are the perfect tools for the job. Avidemux, discussed above, is a good multi-platform app also capable of handling MKV files. The screenshot above is from MKVtools, but the process is highly similar in all three applications.


Open the MKV file in your application of choice and, if necessary, select all video and audio tracks. To keep the video stream intact, select Copy or Pass Thru for the video options. You’ll want to convert the audio to a different format. If you were having a problem with Dolby Digital or DTS, convert to AC3 (5.1) to retain the surround sound with better compatibility.

If you were having a problem with 5.1 surround sound in general (because your hardware can’t handle it, or because you want to use Plex’ Direct Play), convert the audio to 2-channel (stereo) AAC.

3. Converting Video For The Roku

If your media issues don’t fall into the above two categories, you can either transcode (see below) or convert your media. Handbrake is a great application to convert video files, available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers. In fact, Windows users can even use Steve’s guide to watch your folders and automatically convert your videos with Handbrake Watch Folders & Convert Video Files with DropFolders & HandBrake Read More .

roku 3 playback


You can either play with Handbrake’s settings yourself, or choose one of the presets. The Roku team announced that Handbrake’s High Profile preset works well with Roku. Perhaps even more interesting, Rokoding [Broken URL Removed] provides Handbrake presets that are hand tailored to the Roku, including presets for DVD, 720p and 1080p quality.

4. Transcode with Plex

As mentioned before, Plex is one of the most effortless ways to enjoy your media on the Roku. You’ll need to set up a Plex media server on your computer and install the Plex channel on your Roku, after which you’ll be able to stream your media across your local network.

roku 3 video playback

Plex’ Direct Play, which simply passes on your video to the Roku, requires your video to respond to Roku’s supported files. For that, you can refer to the three options above. If your media server computer is strong enough, you can skip the converting and simply transcode your media. Transcoding is essentially the same as converting, except that it happens on the fly. You don’t need any preparations, as Plex will automatically convert the video while it’s playing. You do however need a sufficiently powerful computer.

What format is your media in? Are you converting or remuxing your entire library, or do you plan to transcode? Let us know in the comments section below!

Related topics: Media Player, Roku.

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  1. Edward
    August 14, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    I downloaded the binary for avidemux since the updated version wasn't in my repository and it did not require installation. Since XVid is not something listed for ROKU I think that is why it wouldn't work when I followed the directions. In order to get it to work on ROKU I set it up by changing the Video Output to get rid of the XVid:
    Video Output: Mpeg4 AVC (X264)
    Audio Output: AAC (Faac)
    Output Format: MP4v2 Muxer
    On a quick test I got the picture and not a green screen.

  2. Anonymous
    November 4, 2015 at 4:36 am

    Do you know if plex with the apple tv still has the 5.1 issue with direct play?

  3. Anonymous
    August 4, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    I just bought a TCL Roku TV. It works really good but I'm very disappointed, I wanted a TV for watching videos that I've downloaded to my usb before. The videos are MKV that have double audio (SPA-ENGLISH) same for subtitles. But my Roku TV doesn't allow me to change between audios, there is not an option to do that. The same for the subtitles.
    Can someone tell me what to do? Almost any non-good quality TV I've tried let me choose between audio languages and adding subtitles but TCL Roku does not.

  4. Brad
    September 30, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    FYI- Just used the plex channel to test a host of MKV files with H264 video and DTS passthrough audio tracks encoded on handbrake and they work flawlessly. The DTS signal is sent to my receiver and played perfectly. That makes the Roku3 the best stream box around right now, in my opinion. For me, it does it all. I haven't tried passing through HD audio tracks, but I will report back if I have success. Really, I'm fine with DTS. It's a relatively old technology but it gets the job done in 5.1 surround, which is good enough for me.

  5. Brad
    September 27, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Sorry that all got mashed into one paragraph. The formatting got lost when I posted for some reason.

  6. Brad
    September 27, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Simon. I've seen different responses to this issue across the interwebs, so I ordered one the other day through amazon to try it out for myself because I'm stubborn. It should arrive today. I have a WDlive but it lacks HBOgo (which we currently have to watch on an ipad or laptop), and the hulu and netflix apps are a little lacking compared to other platforms. I'm sure it has to do with fewer users going through that device. Although it is GREAT at file playback.

    But it would sure be nice to get a roku like streaming device, with the simple to use interface (for kids and the older folks) that got nice updates you would expect to roll out with a big company, and combine it with at least some of the file capabilities of the wdlive. It has appeared to be one or the other since these things started becoming popular.

    I hadn't thought of this before, but I guess they are actually competing ways to deliver content. If they beefed up the local streaming capabilities, even slightly, users would be able to get the content elsewhere and the content partners may not be cool with that.

    Finally, if you wouldn't mind explaining, why can't a device "bitstream" (if that's the right term) audio tracks to a receiver so that the track is passed through the roku and arrive at a receiver where it is then decoded and played? It seems like that is a relatively simple process. Or at least one that shouldn't have any technological hurdles (licensing issues for DTS-HD Dolby true HD and all the others) that might prevent it from being a feature on a device like the Roku. Does the device actually have to decode a "passthrough" audio track? Like those encoded through handbrake?

    Sorry I don't really have a TL;DR summary. Feel free to read and answer if you have time!

    • Aaron
      September 27, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      I agree, if audio data is passed through then couldn't a DTS/DD receiver do the back end while the video is sent off to the TV after it's passed through the receiver?
      I would love an answer to this as well for those who have a Roku. I'm looking to buy but am concerned with all of the 5.1-7.1 tracks I have in my digital backups.

  7. Brad
    September 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    So if I have MKV files with a dts passthrough audio track (encoded by handbrake), they will play on the plex channel with Roku3 as DTS audio? Are the passthrough options limited? In other words, does the roku have to recognize what it is passing through, or can I use any encode that is passed through, like dts-HD, or Dolby true HD?

    I would be fine with normal DTS, but most of my files are passthrough DTS, not AC3 encodes. I would not want to convert 100s of movies to include an AC3 track. Also, if I have more than one track, does the Plex channel on Roku allow me to select the audio track I want?

    • Simon S
      September 26, 2013 at 10:49 am

      No, DTS/DD 5.1 Passthrough files can be played on the USB media player.

      Plex has issues with any MKV with 5.1 audio, so unless you're going to transcode the media on the fly (i.e. if your PMS is beefy enough), you'll have to add a dual channel audio track to the file.

      You can select between different audio tracks in the Plex channel.

      - 5.1 passthrough via USB.
      - Stereo or transcode via Plex.
      - Can select audio track.

  8. Rob
    September 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Great article! Thanks for the tips, that would have taken some heavy tinkering on my part without the wonderful links. Woo!!

  9. Chris
    September 5, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    My Sony DVD won't play "AVI's" because they did not want to license the codec. So my work around is to just rename "my-movie.avi" to "my-movie.mpg" or "my-movie.mp4" and it is properly displayed and plays fine. This could even be an easier trick then converting anything. Again this is on my Sony DVD and not a ROKU but it is an easy thing to test.

  10. Cooper
    September 2, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Your tip about the 5.1 audio was just what I needed. I was confused as to why some of my .mkv files would not play using Plex and this was why. I downloaded XMedia Recode and followed your instructions. I placed the new file alongside the original file in the same file folder and it worked (when I was sure it would work I deleted the original file). Thanks!

  11. Eglin
    August 14, 2013 at 3:43 am

    FYI, h.264 is included in the MPEG 4 standard. Your language in the article is therefore a little ambiguous, although it's understandable since mp4 is also a file extension.

    • Zavi
      August 31, 2013 at 1:32 am

      I tried using Avidemux and followed your instructions, but I then had to add a USB channel to view video files. Once I did it saw the AVI I muxed to MP4 but said it was unrecognized or corrupt.

      I guess it doesn't work.

      FYI to find the USB port follow instructions here:

      Cheers and Vidimo Se!