Video in PowerPoint: What Works and What Won't

The fine art of inserting video into PowerPoint. It's easy unless...

Video in PowerPoint:  What Works and What Won't

Embedding video in PowerPoint is easy!  Just click "Insert," choose "Video | on My PC," point to the file, and voila! Your video is ready inside a slide. In PowerPoint 2016 you can just drag & drop the video into a slide and voila!

Now, that works very elegantly in the newest versions of PowerPoint for Mac or PC, but if you go to play it on an older version, you're going to run into issues.

But we're PowerPoint experts and know the ways around this. So, here's a brief overview what works and what doesn't between the various versions and platforms.

The Codec Moment

But first, this message from your friendly, neighborhood codec. (To fully understand this read how digital video formats and codecs work.)  

CODEC stands for video "COmpressor" and "DEcompressor," required because uncompressed video has too much data to be handled by mere mortals. The most common one today is called "h.264," and you hear about it a lot because it's what most HD streaming services use. Then there's the topic of file formats, or "wrappers." Wrapper formats, like AVI or MOV contain video encoded with a codec. The bottom line is, the content creator encodes the video in a certain way. You must have the correct decoder on your computer to read the file.  If you have an older computer, the newer codecs may simply not work - and vice versa. So what does that mean for PowerPoint?

What Works and What Doesn't

PowerPoint 2013/2016 for Windows and PowerPoint 2011/2016 for Mac:

  • H.264 codec plays fine as a straight .MP4 file on Mac or PC. h.264 .MOV files will play on Mac, but if QuickTime is uninstalled per Apple's instructions, they will not play on PC.
  • WMV will play in Windows natively. To play WMV on a Mac requires a plugin for Quicktime
  • MOV (other codecs) MAY play in Windows if QuickTime is installed and the codec is compatible, however Apple insists the QuickTime player be uninstalled from any Windows system.
  • MPEG-2 (the DVD codec) will only play if 3rd party DVD player software is installed on the computer, though DVD tracks themselves cannot be played from PowerPoint. We recommend converting DVD to h.264 first.
  • Videos may be embedded (they become part of the PPTX file) or linked to an external file. When linked, the video files must accompany the PPTX file in the same folder structure as on the file creation machine. For easiest portability with linked files, place video files in the same folder as the PPTX file BEFORE inserting the video.

PowerPoint 2010 for Windows:

  • WMV is the preferred codec/wrapper to use with PowerPoint 2010 in the Windows environment.  It will work on both 64 and 32 bit systems.
  • H.264 codec in MP4 or MOV will play with a 32 bit Windows operating system that has QuickTime installed, however QuickTime should be removed from any Windows system per Apple's instructions, in which case it will not play. (h.264 MP4 files will play in Windows Media Player, but PowerPoint 2010 requires QuickTime to be able to play any h.264.)
  • MPEG2 files will play if a 3rd party DVD player is installed, but PowerPoint cannot play a track directly from a DVD.
  • Videos may be embedded (part of the PPTX file) or linked to an external file. (Embedded video will not play on older versions.  See note below on linking.)

Earlier PowerPoint Versions

  • WMV is the optimum format to use with earlier Windows versions
  • MOV with Sorenson Codec is the optimum format with earlier Mac versions
  • Earlier versions do not know what to do with the h.264 codec.
  • Earlier versions do not respond to embedded video. All files must be linked (see below).
  • Cross-platform files are not are possible when using video in earlier versions. Separate PowerPoint files must be made.
  • MPEG2 files will play in older versions of PowerPoint if a 3rd party DVD player app is installed, however PowerPoint cannot play tracks directly from a DVD.
  • Advanced effects such as PowerPoint type over moving video are not supported

About Linking Video Files

  • Legacy versions of PowerPoint older than 2013 can only link a video file. Embedding does not work.
  • Windows versions use "relative" linking, so as long as the video file is located in the same folder as the PowerPoint file, the PowerPoint+video files can be transferred to other computers for playback.
  • Mac versions use "absolute" linking, meaning the path to the video file contains not only the folder name but the drive name.  If the PowerPoint+video files are transferred to another computer with different drive names, the video has to be re-linked. The best option for portability is to use a flash drive. Before linking the video, save  the PowerPoint file and video files to the same folder in a Flash drive and then link the files to tie them to the Flash drive naming convention.  If you are burning this to CD or DVD, make sure the disc has the same name as the Flash drive.
  • If you are creating a cross-platform compatible Flash drive for use with legacy PowerPoint versions, create separate PowerPoint versions for Mac and PC using WMV and MOV linked files.
  • None of this is necessary if using modern versions of PowerPoint.  Embedded files in .h264 are cross-platform compatible.

Another option in PowerPoint 2013 and newer (shown in the screenshot above) is to link an ONLINE VIDEO. You can insert a video from YouTube or other URL with this option, but remember that this does NOT copy the video to your hard disk, so the video will only be available if your computer is online - and your connection has sufficient bandwidth to play the stream. It is much more reliable to use video from your local hard disk.

What to do if...

If you're creating a PowerPoint show to run on an unknown host computer, just don't do it.  It's much simpler if you bring your own laptop with the file tested.  But if you're unable to do that, or you're going to distribute PowerPoint files to unknown users...

  1. Create an “optimum” slide deck using all the latest techniques just in case you are surprised by a current-version system.
  2. Try to ascertain the OS version and PowerPoint version that the host computer will be using.
  3. If the PowerPoint version is prior to 2013, convert files as needed:
    1. If a PC, convert the source video files to WMV
    2. If a MAC, convert the source files to Sorenson MOV
    3. If the OS is unkonwn, convert both
  4. In your "optimum" deck, choose File | Save As and create a copy of the file
  5. Replace the embedded video clips with links to the newly converted videos. Be sure to place the converted video files in the same folder as the PPTX show file.  If doing the Mac version, copoy the files to the release Flash drive prior to placing the links.
  6. Package the whole thing by including the video files along with the PPT files.

A note about playing DVDs.

PowerPoint will NOT allow you to play clips from a DVD disc directly. The content has to be transcoded to a computer file before it will import - which may not be possible due to digital rights management (DRM). If you need to play a section of a DVD, you will need to switch tasks and play it from your media player. (Also note that unless you have been granted permission, it is illegal to play portions of a commercially-available DVD to a public audience. DVD purchase grants you a license for private home viewing only. Read our article about copyrighted content and usage.)

Best Practice:

Get updated and STAY updated. This is what makes the Office 365 subscription very attractive. As PowerPoint evolves to manage new codecs, you won't need these workarounds. Still if you have to be compatible with older versions, now you know the hoops you must jump through.

About QuickTime:

AS OF 2016, QuickTime is no longer supported on Windows. If you have Apple's QuickTime Player installed on your Windows PC, you are advised to uninstall it immediately.

Let us get you started.

I’m sure that’s more than you ever wanted to know about digital video in PowerPoint, but now you know why it’s not for amateurs. At Advent Media, Inc. we have PowerPoint experts on staff and are ready to help with your presentation content needs.

Learn about our Presentation Services

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