Convert AVI to WMV for free. No fooling.

I see tons of guides out there claiming to tell you how to convert AVI to WMV for free. Then they give you instructions that don’t work before pitching you some $80 tool to do it. You can’t convert AVI to WMV with VLC, but you can do it with another free tool called FFMPEG. Here’s how.

The most reliable free way to convert AVI files to WMV for free is using a command line tool called FFMPEG. It’s not as easy as having a GUI, but it works. WMV isn’t the ideal video file format, but there are times you need it.

Why you can’t convert AVI to WMV with VLC

The instructions for converting AVI to WMV with VLC seem convincing enough. The instructions take you to a place in the UI that will indeed convert video files to and from many different formats. There are even ways to create a profile that looks like it should create a WMV file. But it doesn’t work. I tried it. It creates what appears to be a valid video file, but depending on the options you pick, you either get a black screen, or a black screen with some white bars on it when you play it.

That’s probably why there isn’t a WMV profile right there in the UI. Enough people want it that if VLC could do it, they’d make it easy, without the tomfoolery.

So ignore what everyone else is saying. Don’t waste your time with VLC. VLC can do a lot of things, including some other video conversions. It just can’t do this one. You need a different free tool.

Convert AVI to WMV for free with FFMPEG

Windows-based tools to convert AVI to WMV are scarce. Well, free ones are. There are tons of expensive tools that do it, but the bait-and-switch that the sites that sell them use makes me nervous.

There are also tons of web sites that will convert a file that you upload. That should make you nervous. What are they doing with your source file? And are they including any undesired extras in the file they send back to you? Exploitable bugs in video players are still very common.

Chances are those sites are just using a tool called FFMPEG. You can use it yourself, and I recommend you do just that. It’s safer and it gives you more control.

Unfortunately the developers don’t provide precompiled Windows binaries for FFMPEG. It was originally a Linux tool and that’s what the developers focus on. The two they recommend are gyan.dev and Btbn. I prefer gyan.dev’s release-full version, as it seems less likely to give problems than yesterday’s pre-release build.

If you know your way a Windows command line, you can just extract ffmpeg.exe from the archive and run it. The options I found to consistently create high-quality WMV files are the following:

ffmpeg -i source.avi -q:a 1 -q:v 1 -vcodec msmpeg4 -acodec wmav2 destination.wmv

Change source.avi to the name of the file you want to convert, and destination.wmv to the name you want your new file to be. The files these options create won’t always be the optimal size, but they’ll play and they won’t degrade the video. You’re free to try other options. If you want something that just works, use mine.

Making it easier

The command line can be a little off-putting if you aren’t used to it. So here’s a way to make the conversion at least a little bit easier. First, create a folder. Then put your video files you want to convert in that folder. Then copy the ffmpeg.exe file into the same folder.

Now, click on the folder’s address bar and hit CTRL-C to copy the path in the bar.

convert AVI to WMV

Hit Windows-R and type cmd, then click OK. At the command prompt, type cd (that’s the letter c, the letter d, followed by space) and hit CTRL-V to paste in the path you copied from the Explorer window.

convert AVI to WMV

Then copy this out of your web browser and paste it into your command window:

ffmpeg -i source.avi -q:a 1 -q:v 1 -vcodec msmpeg4 -acodec wmav2 destination.wmv

Use the arrow keys to change source.avi and destination.wmv to match the filenames you need. Then hit Enter.

The program will then do its work. You may see some warnings as it proceeds, depending on the nuances of your source file. More on those in a second. It’s not intuitive, but it works. And it’s free.

Adjusting the -q options

The only problem with my recommendations above is that it can generate very large files, and sometimes you get warnings. Most people don’t like seeing warnings. The key to solving both are the numeric options after -q:a and -q:v. Higher numbers give you smaller files, but with lower quality. Frequently you can get away with going up to 5. Values higher than 5 are risky. If I get warnings, I can usually make them go away by adjusting the value I use for -q:v.

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