Want to know how to play a weird video file on your Mac? Don't worry - there's probably a simple solution.

There are dozens of video file formats, with more being added all the time, and it's impossible to give specific instructions on playing all of them. However, what we've done is list the most common formats here with explanation of how to play them on your Mac. We'll add more in future - if there are any file formats you can’t play and aren’t in our list, feel free to get in touch (on Twitter or in the comments below) and we'll do our best to find a solution and add it to the article.

Before we get into the individual file formats, we'll start by reminding you that a Mac OS X computer will be able to play many video file formats out of the box; try double-clicking to see if your operating system has a default program that can handle it. Failing that, try right-clicking and selecting Open With… to browse software you can try.

A lot of video file formats that Mac OS X can’t handle with its pre-installed software can be dealt with by the free software VLC, and we'll be mentioning that program a lot in this article. We explain how to download and use VLC in the first entry for which it is relevant - which is the first entry in the list, 3GP files.

How to play 3GP format video files on a Mac (and how to download and use the free VLC video player)

3GP is an unusual file format, most often used on mobile phones, but it can be handled by an extremely useful (free) video player called VLC. We'll be coming back to VLC throughout this tutorial.

Go to VideoLAN.org/VLC and download the Mac OS X version of VLC. Open the .dmg file that drops into your Downloads folder. Drag the VLC icon into the Applications folder. Open the Applications folder and find the VLC icon, then drag it into your Dock (if you plan to use it in future) and click to open the application (confirm you want to open it - the source is reliable).

Download VLC video player software

To open video files in VLC, you simply have to drag the file on to the interface window, or click Open Media and then Browse to the file you want.

VLC free video player software

How to play AAF format video files on a Mac

This stands for Advanced Authoring Format. Despite sharing a single designation, AAF files vary widely, and it’s impossible to generalise about the software program that will be able to open the file you're dealing with. According to PCSupport.About.com, some worth trying include Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer and Sony's Vegas Pro. (You can try simply double-clicking and seeing which program Mac OS X suggests, or browse through the available options.)

Once you’ve successfully opened the AAF file you should be able to save it in a more easily handled format.

How to play ASF format video files on a Mac

The free video player VLC can handle ASF video files - see the entry for 3GP files, above, for more explanation of how to download and use VLC. Also applies to the related WMV and WMA files.

How to play AVCHD format video files on a Mac

AVCHD stands for Advanced Video Codec High Definition. QuickTime Player, which is preinstalled in Mac OS X, can play back (and edit) AVCHD video - see this Apple support article for more information.

How to play AVI format video files on a Mac

The free video player VLC can handle AVI video files - see the entry for 3GP files, above, for more explanation of how to download and use VLC. Alternatively, we’ll be able to play AVI video in QuickTime Player once we install a handy free add-on - see the QUickTime entry, below, for more information.

How to play the Cinepak video codec on a Mac

VLC is compatible with Cinepak - see the entry for 3GP files, above, for more explanation of how to download and use VLC.

How to play DAT format video files on a Mac

These are usually found on Video CDs. Software exists to convert .dat files to Mpeg, such as Dat Converter. Mpeg is then easy to handle - see the entry for MP4/Mpeg, below.

However, an Apple support thread discusses this issue, and suggests simply altering the filename extension.

How to play DivX video on a Mac

VLC can play these too.

How to play FLV or Flash Video format video files on a Mac

The free video player VLC can handle FLV video files - see the entry for 3GP files, above, for more explanation of how to download and use VLC.

How to play GIF format video files on a Mac

A GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, file is a simple video with usually only a few frames, commonly used for looping animations on blogs. A Mac will default to Preview when you double-click on a GIF but this shows the individual frames rather than animating. Drag the file on to a web browser icon in the Dock to display it animating in a Safari, Firefox or Chrome tab.

How to play H.261/H.263/H.264 format video files on a Mac

VLC can play these too.

How to play Matroska or .mkv format video files on a Mac

VLC can play Matroska video files - see the entry for 3GP files, above, for more explanation of how to download and use VLC.

How to play .mov format video files on a Mac

The free video player VLC can handle .mov video files - see the entry for 3GP files, above, for more explanation of how to download and use VLC. But you should be able to

How to handle MP4 and MPEG format video files on a Mac

The free video player VLC can handle MP4 and other MPEG video files - see the entry for 3GP files, above, for more explanation of how to download and use VLC.

How to play MXF format video files on a Mac

MXF stands for Material Exchange Format, and you’ll need to convert MXF format video to AVI before playing it with the VLC software. One option is Pavtube MXF Converter; a trial version of the Mac version is available.

How to play Ogg format video files on a Mac

The free video player VLC can handle Ogg video files - see the entry for 3GP files, above, for more explanation of how to download and use VLC.

How to play QuickTime or .mov format video files on a Mac

Like so many of the other formats on this list, VLC can play .mov video files, but Mac OS X has QuickTime Player built in, so you can simply play .mov files through that - it's a question of which piece of software you like using more. Drag the file on to the QuickTime Player icon (if it’s not in your Dock already, you can find it loose in the Applications folder) or open QuickTime Player and select File, Open File and browse to the file.

While we’re talking about QuickTime, you could also try a free add-on called Perian that enables you to play a much wider range of codecs. The Perian project is inactive after releasing its final version a couple of years ago, but it’s free and still well worth a try.

How to play Theora format video files

VLC is compatible with Theora - see the entry for 3GP files, above, for more explanation of how to download and use VLC.

How to play WMV format video files on a Mac

Like the related ASF format, VLC can play Windows Media Video files of various kinds. See the entry for 3GP files, above, for explanation of how to use VLC. Alternatively, you can try Flip4Mac WMV.