Video files and Codecs

video files - Why it won't play

So recently I had to sort out another friends’ computer so he could play movie video files. The answer is very simple. You don’t have to (as he tried, six times) switch the player, or use a converter or any kind of strange encoding. Format doesn't matter, whether its avi or mpeg, xvid encoding or divx, you can play the video on media classic or widows media player just as well as any full blown video players, what you need is something called a codec.

My friend had some files, quite legitimately, in order to be able to carry fewer disks and more movies with his portable DVD player. He’d managed to get through the process of ripping and compressing to avi format, but now he wanted to actually see if they played. Double click and…nothing… no audio, no video. To lack both is unusual for video files, usually its just one, most often the video that’s missing as video has more varied codecs than audio. A codec is a combination of two words, coder and decoder, and without a lengthy explanation, contains the necessary information to interpret the data in your AVI file, which is known as a container format. AVI is not the only audio/video file extension that you’ll need a codec or two to play, but it does tend to be one of the more common ones causing problems. If you can’t see the video but you can hear the audio or vice versa, sussing out the codec is usually a good first step before looking for deeper issues such as video card problems.

this sign sells psychotherapy

don't get angry, get codecs
don't get angry, get codecs

There are two basic methods to getting the file to play – or rather, to getting the right codec. One is to find the specific codecs you need for that particular file, and the other is to blitz it and load a codec pack. Codec packs contain hundreds of codecs for many different types of file and for the average user, with average files, this is the best way, minimum fuss, minimum knowledge required, maximum success. The other way is to analyse the file, and then download the very specific codec you are missing. This has its advantages in that occasionally, obscure codecs have been used, ones that may not be contained in a codec package.

For individual codec file analysis, my program of choice (Windows platform) is a freeware program called ‘G-spot’ codec identification. It’s small, quick and invariably correct. You install it, dump the file into the program, press go and it tells you what you’re missing on your computer to play the file. You can then go and get the very specific codec or codecs that you’re missing. This program highlights both missing video and audio codecs.

For a codec pack, my choice is ‘K-lite’ codec pack. This comes in three flavours, (plus a couple of others), basic, standard and full – all of them freeware. There is also an x64 version. The standard version of this contains pretty much all the codecs you’ll need to play the standard file formats and in most cases will be sufficient for your needs. It’s available to download free at a number of different host sites, filehippo, codecguide, cnet, to name but a few. You won’t need to do anything but install the file you download, all the configuring is done for you, so long as you don’t touch the pre-selected options. The full version contains some encoder/compressor tools and codecs on top of the decoder ones, you may need these if you’re encoding files as well.

On occasions, you may have problems with audio streams. This is the point at which you need to get an ‘ac3 filter’. This is a free audio decompressor and filters and should solve most of the common audio problems. It’s very similar in operation to the codec pack, download, install, don’t touch the settings.

These are by no means the only issues you may have with video files, but I’ve lost count of the number of computers I’ve either installed these on or advised people to install, almost all of them with success. It’s certainly easier than messing with drivers or even hardware in hidden windowsian settings and in the vast majority of cases won’t hurt one iota to try. Its all freeware so what have you to loose? One word of caution, I always instruct my antivirus to run a specific check on files I download, no matter what the source.

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Comments 4 comments

ssc73 6 years ago

Codec packs are generally a bad idea and can be dangerous and disruptive to your system. They can change many registry values and should you decide to remove them? Regaining playback without them can be very difficult.

Having said that, I'd like to rec some other options:

If you insist on a codec pack, don't want to bother with all the nuts and bolts of playback or simply prefer Windows own media players, check out the site http://shark007.net. His codec packs are highly recommended in the MS and media 'geek' community, don't adjust system settings, rarely break playback of particular file types and even have suggestions on getting some very hard to play formats to work(transport streams just to name one). He's also got tons of info on codecs in general.

His packs are based on the original direct show codecs involved with ffmpeg and what's included are mostly free or open source codecs that he configures for you by default. Perhaps the biggest advantage of these is that you don't need to install quicktime lite or realplayer alternatives.

You can also choose not to install certain parts of the pack. If you have no issues with a particular format, don't install it. There are also many tools inside the settings app that virtually give you all options for splitters, whose filter to use, really just a great and well put together pack. You can also experiment inside the UI to test playback and if I'm not mistaken, export those selected filters/codecs to your preferred player so that it will work. The packs are also updated often. The guy is a flat out stud and started doing it as a hobby though he has gotten more serious. But it is safe to say he hasn't gotten rich off them despite their wide use, and interacts with you personally on his forums. He's all about helping the regular guy and is never demeaning in the slightest.

The biggest problem is they boost their own merit value while dropping or disabling others which can make splitters, filters, drivers, codecs and DMO's and other very important system components almost unusable.

I don't say this because of the literally thousands of media

geek' articles out there suggesting as much and agreeing, but from personal experience. I won't name the pack, but I will say it claimed to 'playback everything on any player'.

When I first installed it, it worked great. But gradually it played less and less. Some of the filters they use are not as good as those available for free download and don't perform as well as some that come already available inside your system(such as MS own mpeg1/2 and wmv/wma filters).

The best solution for beginners IMO are players that have codecs built in. VLC and Media Player Classic among others, that let you choose which filters, splitters and codecs to use. But VLC in particular will play almost anything right out of the box with very few exceptions. It will also stream and play incomplete files.

Another option outside of installing each individual codec, is ffdshow-tryouts available from sourceforge along with haali's media splitters. Both tryouts and haali have 64 bit versions available. If you install them with default settings, there isn't much they won't play though they are a few.

If you insist on a codec pack or simply prefer Windows own media players, check out the site http://shark007.net. His codec packs are highly recommended in the MS and media 'geek' community, don't adjust system settings, rarely break playback of particular file types and even have suggestions on getting some very hard to play formats to work(transport streams just to name one). He's also got tons of info on codecs in general. His packs are based on the original direct show codecs involved with ffmpeg and what's included are mostly free or open source codecs that he configures for you by default. Perhaps the biggest advantage of these is that you don't need to install quicktime lite or realplayer alternatives. You can also choose not to install certain parts of the pack. If you have no issues with a particular format, don't install it. There are also many tools inside the settings app that virtually give you all options for splitters, whose filter to use, really just a great and well put together pack. You can also experiment inside the UI to test playback and if I'm not mistaken, export those selected filters/codecs to your preferred player so that it will work. The packs are also updated often. The guy is a flat out stud and started doing it as a hobby though he has gotten more serious. But it is safe to say he hasn't gotten rich off them despite their wide use, and interacts with you personally on his forums. He's all about helping the regular guy and is never demeaning in the slightest.

I highly recommend against codecs and would prefer VLC, MPC, KMPlayer, etc. But if you insist and find 'tryouts' to be a bit daunting, try Shark's packs. Whichever you choose, set a restore point anytime you adjust the settings just in case.

Also, note that Windows Media Player 12 in Windows 7 is getting away from direct show. It uses a new system 'windows media foundation',I believe it's called, and falls back on direct show if that doesn't work.

But WMP 12 supports many, many more native codecs/formats than previous versions but you will still need additional splitters and codecs to play some types, particularly matroska. Divx has a new codec that adds playback to some formats not native.

K Lite does have some useful tools like 'codec tweak tool' but again, those are for more experienced users and if you insist on a codec pack, go with Shark's. No 'ultra' or 'super' that cost you money and there are 64 bit add ons available.


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Lymond 6 years ago from UK Author

ssc73 thank you for your extensive comment and...promotion... of shark codecs. I was angling for a pack that needs no tweaking and having used k-lite as a very popular package, I have had no issues with it across 3 computers and any number of others. I also didn't have to do anything but click "next" and "install" to load it. No tweaking, no adjustments and set up to play on every player I have. VLC is a good player but I personally didn't like the UI and the traffic cone is downright annoying :-)


ssc73 6 years ago

After reading my comments, it does sound like I'm promoting Sharks packs. I don't know why that paragraph was double posted?? Shark is not a big fan of mine. He had me kicked of a couple of sites because with more experienced users, I suggested not using them. But the truth is, of all the ones I've used, his are the safest.

I'm glad you've had success with K-lite. But trust me when I say I've had to wipe, re-format and re-install quite a few systems because of the the problems they have caused. On a typical novice's computer, I will install VLC first (and you can skin it differently and make it look nicer without the cone) but SMPlayer is also another great one that you might find more appealing.

But with the great new Media Center in Windows 7, the easiest and fastest way to get everything working for someone who doesnt want to mess with all the different settings, is to use the new Shark releases, though I still prefer ffdshow-tryouts and haali's new media splitter. You can basically do the click next and install on those as well and playback almost everything with the exception of FLAC which you can get from xiph.org.

Anyway, best of luck with k-lite. But I wouldn't recommend it. If it becomes a problem, it's almost impossible to recover your system without causing serious damage. The other pack I mention un-installs very cleanly with no need for regedits, etc.


Lymond profile image

Lymond 6 years ago from UK Author

Ok thanks for the recommendation, when I ave some time, I'll play around a little on an old machine.

I was being a little flippant with the traffic cone program, I don't use it because on my vid clips from a HD cam, the quality is bad and tends to pixelate every now and then, but the same file plays without hitch on other players. Might just be my set up.

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