Guide to Codecs in Vista Media Center
Dealing with codecs in Windows is one of the toughest
things to understand for most people.
Not only does Microsoft’s system for dealing with codecs leave much to
be desired, but third parties outside of Microsoft continue to install codecs
in your system without your knowledge.
When you mix these two, troubleshooting audio and video codecs can be a
full day’s work.
Knowing that most people don’t understand these issues, this
guide is here you help you get a working system up and going.
Note: Unless noted, this guide applies to Windows Vista x86
(32-bit). 64-bit (x64) is not advised by
me. See the end of this guide for x64
Warning: Codec Packs
The use of “Codec Packs” is not advised. While a very few of them are built nicely,
the majority of built by pirates who know little to nothing about what they are
doing. Installation of any “Codec Pack”
will almost guarantee you hours of extra work trying to get things fixed. Unless you know what you are doing and are
looking to take support into your own hands, don’t install them.
Continue to Step One to configure your system correctly.
Formats – These hold
audio and video inside the file. Since the Container can hold various
formats within it, you may need to install a codec that will actually allow the audio and the video
that is inside the Container to play (or be “decoded”).
The most common Container Formats include AVI (Audio Video
Interleave), MKV (Matroska), MP4 (MPEG-4),
and OGM (Ogg Media).
AVI – Windows
supports playback of AVI files, if your doesn’t play go to Step 2.
MKV- Windows does
not support playback of MKV out-of-the-box, install Haali Media Splitter as your first step.
MP4 - Windows
does not support playback of MP4 out-of-the-box, install Haali Media Splitter as your first step.
OGM - Windows
does not support playback of OGM out-of-the-box, install Haali Media Splitter as your first step.
MPG – Windows
Vista supports MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 out-of-the-box in Vista Premium and Ultimate.
Now, if you have done the above Vista Media Center (or
Windows Media Player) can now open up your Container Files to see what is
inside. It likely can’t however, play
(or “decode”) what is inside.
Video/Audio Codecs – Since Media Center can now “open” your files to see what is
inside, the next step is to enable it to “decode” (or play) the audio and
video. There are hundreds of different
video and audio codecs, lucky for you there is one package that groups
together most of them.
Download and install ffdshow. ffdshow builds on done on a very regular
is Vista Media Center user approved to work well. If you are interested in trying out other
builds feel free, but generally it’s best to use what works for others.
By default, ffdshow has most common formats enabled. If you want to view what codecs are enabled,
find ffdshow in your Start Menu and either click on “Video decoder
configuration” or “Audio decoder configuration.” Click on “Codecs” on the sidebar, and you
will see a large list of what is enabled or disabled.
For the most part, your files should now play in Vista Media
Center and Windows Media Player. If they
don’t, keep reading.
If installing ffdshow didn’t do the trick, first trying
going to your Start Menu, and select “Video decoder configuration” under the
ffdshow menu. On the side menu, select
DirectShow control and slide the Merit control to the right once. ffdshow should now have priority over other
codecs (or” decoders”) on your system.
If that still didn’t work ffdshow might not support decoding
on the format used in your file. So, download
a program like GSpot
to find out what codec is used in your file.
Unzip the program and either drag your video file into the window, or go
to File -> Open. It will show you
what codec is used in the file and whether or not the correct codec is
installed. Once you find the name of the
codec, you can download it from the developers website.
If the file plays, but has issues with playback either open
the file in GSpot
and see what your system is using to decode it.
If it’s not ffdshow, you might want to change the DirectShow
Merit or Manually
Note: I have not yet
tested these articles in Windows Vista.
They also contain information that might screw up your machine. Use at your own risk.
If that still didn’t do it, open your file in Windows Media
Player. Right click on the file in your
current playlist and select Properties.
It should also tell you what is being used to decode the file.
Codecs installed by some third party programs like Nero
Burning ROM work poorly in Vista Media Center and Windows Media Player. It’s best to use the steps above to ffdshow
at a higher Merit instead of using these.
Other programs like WinDVD, PowerDVD, and various other video editing
and conversion programs also install various codec’s on your system. Changing the Merit
of these should disable them from working in Media Center.
Xbox 360 Playback
The Xbox 360 doesn’t use PC based codecs. Codec are local on the machine and not user upgradeable. If you have a file that
doesn’t play your choice are to use something like Transcode 360 or to re-encode the file to
a format supported by the Xbox 360.
Unless it’s broke, don’t try and fix it. If you have a working install of your
codec’s, there is no need to upgrade to a newer release.
Since Windows Vista is available in 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit
(x64) this throws another wretch into the problem. Vista Media Center is a native 64-bit
application, so it must have 64-bit decoders.
There is a 64-bit build of ffdshow at this website. I have no idea how well it works, use of
Vista x64 is not advised by me. I would
strongly suggest using x86 until drivers and codec mature. It has taken a long time to get playback on
x86 right, x64 is going to have several speed bumps along the way.
You can change the default MPEG_2 decoder to be used in
Vista Media Center, I personally don’t advise it but use the Vista
Media Center Decoder Utility to do it.
Warning, this will break playback of CableCARD or CGMS-A content. Also, the tool is not supported in Vista x64.
Windows Media Runtime’s should generally not be installed by
any codec pack or tool. These generally
install outdated versions that are prone to cause issues.