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.

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: https://support.office.com/en-gb/article/Video-and-audio-file-formats-supported-in-PowerPoint-d8b12450-26db-4c7b-a5c1-593d3418fb59#quicktimeerror

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

  4. Image of Justin Justin says:

    Would it be possible to post an ordered list of the types of video files that are contained within the PowerPoint video embed tester, so that one could know which type of video is NOT working?

    In particular we are trying to pinpoint which video file type is used in slide #6.

    Or, perhaps you could add some text to each slide itself that indicates the video file type, so that one could know what type of video is supposed to play on that slide even if the video does not play.

    Currently it is not possible to determine the type of video file when it does not play, because there is no reference other than in the video itself.

    Thank you! This is otherwise a very wonderful tool.

  5. Image of John John says:

    Thanks Justin, we’re currently working on an updated version of the tool and we’ll take those suggestions on board. You’re absolutely right – I originally built the tool for a specific use: just to get a client to tell me what formats their PowerPoint could support, so that when time was short we could encode to order. At the time, it was the simplest and least confusing way to get the positive answers. But I think for the next round we’ll find a way to include the ‘if you can’t see this, you can’t play e.g. mp4’ information as well. The common formats we’re using as examples have also evolved somewhat since this version was made, so stay tuned for a revamped version!

  6. Image of Joby Blume Joby Blume says:

    Justin – slide 6 is ‘AVI Xvid mpeg4’ apparently…

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It is, quite simply, the best deck we have. I did a nice presentation with it yesterday and would like to do the same next week... I am sure it will get a lot of use. The visual impact and flow are compelling!

Peter Francis Janssen