How marvellous that the recent versions of Office automatically embed videos into PowerPoint instead of linking them. And how frustrating when you bundle up your nicely self-contained multimedia presentation and someone else reports that the videos don’t play on their PC. ‘Codec unavailable’ tells you what doesn’t work, but it doesn’t tell you what does. This is an issue we’ve come across many times over the years, and it can be very tricky and time-consuming to troubleshoot, so we’ve developed a little tool that can be used to identify the most appropriate video format to use when embedding videos in a presentation that’s going to be used by someone else.

At the heart of all the trouble is a little thing called a ‘codec’ (or coder-decoder, or compressor-decompressor). Essentially, codecs encode and translate your media to make it suitable for storage and playback – and there is an assortment of different ones. Hair-pulling/beard-scratching occurs when the codecs used to create or convert a movie file on one PC are not installed on the target PC. When PowerPoint comes across a media file in a presentation, it uses Windows Media Player to attempt to play it, and if the codecs don’t match up, it can’t decode the data and the clip won’t play. To compound the villainy, media is now encoded in many different containers (e.g. avi, wmv, mp4, mov), each of which can make use of different codecs. This becomes a big issue because the folks who make or convert media files are likely to have a huge range of available codecs on their machine, whereas the folks who need to play the media may have ‘factory-standard’ codec installations with far less flexibility.

This all came into sharp focus on a recent project in which we had embedded a dozen video clips into a presentation only to find that the user could not play a single one of them. So, I developed a test file to see what ‘flavour’ of movie they would be able to see. Instead of going back and forth converting the videos over and over again and sending them off for the client to test, I made a PowerPoint show that includes short video clips in various container/codec combinations, and you can download it now from our Resources page.

embedded videos in powerpoint not playing

Simply email the ppsx file and ask the recipient to open it and follow the instructions. All being well there will be at least one or two clips that play correctly, and those clips will tell the viewer which container and codec combination worked for them. Armed with this intel, you simply need to get hold of a freeware video converter (I heartily recommend AnyVideoConverter for this), and apply the correct settings to convert the video into the right format. Then insert it into the PowerPoint, and everything should run like a cinematic dream.

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John Bevan

Managing consultant

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  1. Image of Frank Frank says:

    Thank you,thank you.
    I downloaded Any Video Converter and it works like a charm… after days of trying all sorts of other tricks, then this works, like that. I didn’t have to do anything, just drag in the video and hit convert and voila.
    Why on earth doesn’t everyone just give the easy option?
    Thanks again

  2. Image of aimsterz313 aimsterz313 says:

    Just curious if I can use the freeware tool (AnyVideoConverter) for when I am doing a PowerPoint presentation in class, but with another computer? Because sometimes when I upload a video on my slide show at home it’s fine then I get to school, use another computer and it can’t play sometimes. From what I read in your article I am assuming this is because of codecs having a hard decoding. Anyways I see you posted this 2015, hope you still see this though!

  3. Image of John Bevan John Bevan says:

    Hi! First off, kudos for bringing engaging PowerPoints into your class! A lot of people have had similar issues, and some of them seem linked to Quicktime rather than specific codecs. PowerPoint 2010 and above wants to call up Quicktime as its default movie player for .mp4 as well as .mov files during a slideshow. Problem is, the up-to-date version of Quicktime was not compatible with Windows 10. The most foolproof way to get around this would be to use AVC to convert any .mp4 or .mov videos (and .avis and .mpegs, just to be safe) to .WMV, then they should play fine across different PCs.
    Here’s a guide to compatibility from Microsoft:

    Hope that helps a bit, and keep up the good work!

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A big and sincere thanks for all of your superb help and effort in preparing such fantastic material and for all your excellent coaching tips. Look forward to working with you again soon.

Greg Tufnall Siemens