What is WMV? On Microsoft’s Private Format

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What does WMV stand for? "Windows Media Video" is a Microsoft format, created for the purposes of video encoding, playback, and streaming on PC. It can significantly compress a video while keeping its quality, which is important for the Web, or storing a large amount of files. At first, the format was inaccessible. But later, it was standardized by SMPTE and released to the public. However, it remains a licensed property of Microsoft. The format is widely supported on Windows systems, and mostly incompatible with macOS.

Playing files with wmv file extension on Mac

WMV Facts and Trivia

  • WMV video streams are packaged in ASF containers, despite having the .wmv file type.
  • WMV encoded video can also be stored in Matroska files and AVI.
  • WMV can contain DRM - for example, files from the Zune marketplace can't be played on other systems.
  • Besides video, a .wmv file can contain a slideshow or a screencast.
  • WMV file format is based on MPEG-4, one of its primary competitors.
  • Microsoft uses DRM-enabled WMV as a standard for video distribution, especially time-limited subscription-based services.

What is the WMV format good for?

  • High compression ratio, for faster streaming and easier storage. Reportedly, twice as high as MPEG-4.
  • Specifically, it's a good choice for an email attachment. It also used to be supported by Silverlight, but the plugin was discontinued.
  • If your video has a WMV file extension, it certainly runs on any Windows-powered device.
  • High backward compatibility, especially for MS software.
  • It's a proprietary, commercially developed format, likely to be of high quality.
  • Online playback supported by Google Drive.
  • Can be processed in most video converters.

What are its downsides?

  • Low compatibility with non-Microsoft systems. However, on Apple products, there are some popular solutions, such as QuickTime with Flip4Mac, Eltima Elmedia Player, and ShredWorx Smart Converter.
  • Brutal DRM. Microsoft peppers its media with multiple types of copy protection, locking videos down to specific times, places, and devices.
  • When decoding the video, many players can lag and stutter. It’s quite CPU-intensive.
  • "WMV" can refer either to the video codec, or a file format, which can have a different encoding. This leads to confusion, and a video player or a converter might fail to recognize a .wmv file.

The Two Kinds of WMV

Because "WMV" has a double meaning, it's recommended that you read the illustration below to discern between an MKV video file and an .mkv container.

As a Video Encoder

A codec is a program used to compress or extract video and audio data. Depending on its role, it can be either an encoder or a decoder. A good codec will save space, and a better one will minimize quality losses. Usually, it's a trade-off between quality and compression levels, but over time, there is always some improvement. There are separate codecs for video and audio, so to combine them, the two media types are stored together in a container.

As a Container File

Container files are used for their convenience. One of their obvious benefits is that you don't have to open video and audio tracks separately. They are also useful because of other features, such as subtitles, and storing multiple different audio tracks (for example, in different languages). The container itself also holds information on its contents, such as their codecs. The .wmv container format is a subtype of .asf, and it usually contains WMV-encoded video and WMA audio. File extensions are mainly used by humans; a format, if it's needed, is usually coded into the file. A .wmv and an .asf are virtually the same, as long as they contain the same set of video and audio files. Of course, there are also different formats of containers.


Here you can find the answers on what is a WMV file and how you can play it. If you still have any questions, please leave a comment below and we will answer as soon as possible.

Not really, Quicktime player can't open WMV. Though, since it's such a popular format, this can be solved in a few ways.

On one hand, you can use a third-party app to play your WMV. Some popular choices are Elmedia, VLC, or 5KPlayer. Either will do it, with varying quality. This WMV player Mac application is the premium choice, by far the most stable.

On the other hand, you could use a converter. Online or offline, both have their time to shine. Earlier, we have suggested https://convert-video-online.com , it ought to be a good experience.

It's mainly used to sell protected videos, both physically (DVD and Blu-Ray) and virtually (Microsoft Store). Also, it can be a preferred format for Windows-enabled multimedia devices.

MP4 is, overall, more widespread and accessible due to it being an open format. You can expect an MP4 to play on macOS, Windows and Linux, mobile systems, and other portable devices.

WMV has higher compression rates for the same quality. It may be preferable if you use a Windows PC, tablet, or smartphone. It might also be a good choice for streaming and cloud storage.

No. WMV is a lossy format. Lossy formats permanently lose some quality when they are compressed. This loss can include reduced resolution and various artifacts during playback. These usually become apparent after many conversions and compressions. Most likely, you’ll never encounter a modern video with these defects. Especially not on sale.

We've got a converter in mind just for you. Try https://convert-video.com/, with it, you'll be able to convert online. And this is how you use it.

  • Open your WMV file. There are multiple output options, pick Apple and your resolution. Or you can simply choose the format - in this case, MP4.
  • Press "Convert" and you'll get your file.
  • QuickTime, or whichever player you have, will open it just fine.

Elmedia Player

Requirements: OS X 10.9+ , 59.66MB free space
Version 7.17(2353) (6 Dec, 2020) Release notes

Best WMV Player Mac App - Elmedia Player