Playing AVI and DivX files

This chapter from our book Troubleshooting Mac® OS X discusses why some Audio Video Interleaved (AVI) multimedia files do not play in QuickTime and provides methods for playing AVIs on Mac OS X.

About AVIs

There has been confusion over AVI files since QuickTime® added support for such. AVI is a media container very similar to QuickTime, but with a unique data format. AVI was originally called Video for Windows® (VFW) and QuickTime supports the VFW format.

However, most, if not all AVI playback issues arise with movies that have been compressed using CODECs (Compressor - Decompressor) that are unavailable for QuickTime in Mac OS X. In particular, the Indeo® CODEC, popular for video compression on PCs, has not been ported to Mac OS X.

To further confuse the issue, many DivX®-encoded files carry the .avi extension. QuickTime does not include native DivX support, even though QuickTime 6 and later support the ISO Standard MPEG-4 media compression format and DivX is based on the MPEG-4 standard.

QuickTime X and AVIs

Under Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard®, QuickTime Player — aka QuickTime X — does not support third-party components, i.e. QuickTime plug-ins. Nevertheless, Snow Leopard includes QuickTime Player 7 as an optional install: QuickTime X will invoke QuickTime Player 7 to play videos supported by the latter or by QuickTime Player 7 components.

If you have an existing QuickTime Pro key, QuickTime Player 7 is installed automatically and Pro functionality is available in QuickTime Player 7. If you elect not to install QuickTime Player 7, it can be installed later. Likewise, if you attempt to open a media file that requires QuickTime Player 7, you are offered the opportunity to install it. QuickTime Player 7 is installed in the Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities folder.

Playing AVIs on Mac OS X

We have found that the following four methods will enable viewing most AVI files that do not play in QuickTime. While none of these methods are foolproof and some AVI files still refuse to play, one of these methods will usually work.


Probably the easiest way to play AVI and DivX files on Mac OS X is to download and install the freeware VLC Media Player for OS X. VLC is also often referred to by its original name, VideoLAN Client.

Install Perian

Perian is an excellent, free, and open source QuickTime component.

Install the 3ivx® D4 CODEC

Download and install the 3ivx MPEG-4 CODEC per the installation instructions in the associated ReadMe file. This CODEC adds support for a variety of DivX and other formats which often carry the .avi extension.

Convert AVIs to QuickTime movies

If all else fails and you are running Mac OS X 10.6 or earlier, it may be possibles to convert the .avi files to QuickTime .mov files using tools from 3ivx.

You will need...
  1. Download and install 3ivx MPEG-4 CODEC per the installation instructions in the ReadMe file.
  2. Download and install 3ivx DivX Doctor II, again per its included instructions. Note that the installation instructions specify numerous additional downloads you can get, but we have found them unnecessary in Mac OS X 10.2 or later.
  3. Drag and drop .avi files onto DivX Doctor II. They will be converted into .mov files and stored on your hard drive at the location you specify.
  4. While some .avi files fail to convert — again, none of these methods are foolproof — the resulting .mov files generally play flawlessly in QuickTime. This method may also fix problems with the soundtrack on AVIs that do not play properly using only the DivX for Mac CODEC.

Try the DivX for Mac CODEC

Many AVIs can be played in QuickTime by installing the freeware DivX for Mac CODEC. While this plug-in has been continuously improved, the sound in some AVIs will sometimes be either missing or distorted. [1]

Related links


[1] Both the 3ivx D4 and DivX for Mac CODECs must be installed in the Macintosh HD > Library > QuickTime folder. However, both CODECs can not be in this folder simultaneously and work with QuickTime as they conflict. If you decide to keep both CODECs , you must temporarily disable one while using the other. To do this:

  1. Quit QuickTime Player.
  2. Open the Macintosh HD > Library > QuickTime folder.
  3. Move — click and drag while pressing the Command key — the CODEC you do not want to use to a temporary folder or to your Desktop.
  4. Open QuickTime Player.
Did you find this FAQ helpful? You will find a wealth of additional advice for preventing or resolving Mac OS X problems in Dr. Smoke's book, Troubleshooting Mac® OS X.
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