Posted by Brian @ 11:45 am on March 27th 2011

Fix the black screen of death playing x264/h.264 mkvs on WD TV HD player

I have a Western Digital WD TV HD media player that I really like, even though it was quickly orphaned by Western Digital as a product. Maybe someday we’ll have legislation that requires a corporation to provide a guaranteed time of product support, including software updates and bug fixes.

Anyway, once in a while the WD refuses to play a video in the Matroska “mkv” format, particularly those using the H.264 codec encoded with the mkvmerge utility. When this happens the WD basically shows a black screen and more or less locks up. Once that happens on the WD you can only eject the HD and reboot.

The fix for this is to remove video compression on the mkv in question, which sounds daunting but really is only a one-line command that takes a couple of minutes to execute and doesn’t change the quality of the video. You need the mkvmerge program which is part of the mkvtoolnix package in Ubuntu. mkvtoolnix is also available for Windows if you’re stuck there.

Here’s the command:
mkvmerge -o output.mkv --compression -1:none input.mkv

Where input.mkv is your original file and output is the fixed file.
(Edited: I changed the command to remove /all/ compression in an mkv)

8 Comments »

  1. Thank you very kindly, Brian. Tip of the hat for sharing.

    Comment by Media Guru — May 15, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

  2. I have same player and after running the mkvmerge command, the video is played but there is no sound. I tried both with stereo and with digital sound (the player is connected to a 5.1 audio system). The mkvmerge version is 4.9.1. Do you know what else it could be?

    Comment by tibi — August 6, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  3. I don’t I’m afraid. The next thing I would try would be extracting the audio to a file and then merging it back in, but I don’t know the proper syntax for that. Ubuntuforums.org is an excellent resource for asking questions like this.

    Comment by Brian — August 7, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  4. Do you have to do this for every film?

    Comment by scott — August 14, 2011 @ 3:16 am

  5. Only the ones that give you the issue. For me it isn’t that often.

    Comment by Brian — August 14, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  6. BTW I hacked up a BASH script to check all mkvs (even ones in subdirectories) and automatically create new fixed mkvs:
    http://www.jamison.org/2011/08/14/remove-audio-compression-from-all-mkv-videos-including-subdirectories/

    Comment by Brian — August 14, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

  7. I updated this post reflecting a better mkvmerge command that removes /all/ compression instead of compression in just the first track.

    For the record the old command was:
    mkvmerge -o output.mkv –compression 1:none input.mkv

    Comment by Brian — January 22, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

  8. Thank you SO much sir! You officially made my day.

    Comment by Flow — June 3, 2013 @ 4:50 am

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