The Matroska Multimedia Container format (MKV) derives its name from the famous Matryoshka Russian nesting dolls, in which one doll contains many other dolls. Like other container formats, MKV files can contain any kind of multimedia: audio, video, images, and data like subtitle tracks and commentary. Unlike many popular (and common) multimedia container formats, MKV is entirely open source. Zoltan Nemeth's EasyBrake is a free tool that converts just about any digital media format you can name into MKV or MP4 (MPEG-4) files using the HandBrake conversion engine. Among many other updates, the latest EasyBrake version uses less memory. However, the developer still recommends a fast multicore CPU and plenty of RAM for best performance, especially with longer videos.
The first thing we liked about EasyBrake is that it's portable, which means lightweight and versatile. The next thing we liked about EasyBrake is its unique and attractive user interface, which basically shows one big button until you expand the Settings Panel. Notable among the settings are two-pass encoding, Tune for Film or Animation, and a Mixdown menu offering Stereo, Mono, and several Dolby choices. EasyBrake also offers selectable Gain, Audio bitrate, and default audio codec choices. Another expandable panel let us add batches of files to convert. We made our choices and closed the Settings Panel, and then clicked that big button. The EasyBrake version we tried was capable of converting 46 file types into MKV or MPG files, so it made quick and easy work of the AVI file we started with. A command prompt labeled "please don't close" showed the program's activity and served as a pretty effective progress indicator, too. EasyBrake saved our converted file to the source folder (one of the things you can't change in this simple tool). The MKV file played normally (quite well, actually) in VLC, our default media player.
Developers are starting to do some pretty cool things with MKV files, and many portable devices and even some Blu-ray players support them. But whatever your need for MKV files, EasyBrake can almost certainly handle the conversion. Add its MP4 capability, and EasyBrake is the easy choice.