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Codecs and Compressors


Audio and video files are compressed. You can only play them when you have the appropriate video and audio decompression codecs. Your operating system and installed software should take care of your codec needs, and except in unusual cases you shouldn't have to install others.

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That's good in theory but in your routine work there's a very high probability you'll need to add codecs that don't come from Microsoft, and you'll run into various codec issues.

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Articles - Expression Encoder 2

Codec Hell... Sometimes codec issues can be puzzles, challenges, a source of aggrevation, or worse.

Newsletter #10 was the first one about codecs and the Windows Media Encoder. Click the image to read it.

Newsletter 10


Movie Maker works well with files compressed by some codecs, but you'll need to do file conversions for those that Movie Maker can't handle... which might be most of them as you move into the mixed environment of XP, Vista and Windows 7/8 systems. A file conversion means taking one that Movie Maker doesn't work with and using a software utility to convert it one that works well.

By working well, I mean the file needs to import and preview in the collection bin, go to the project timeline/storyboard and preview well there, be able to be edited and mixed with source files of other types, and finally successfully included in a saved or published movie.


A codec that supports viewing and hearing a video file doesn't mean you can edit it in Movie Maker... and it's possible to have files that work great in Movie Maker but not open in Windows Media Player... the two apps can use the same codecs, or different ones. As you learn about video and audio editing, you'll need to know about and be prepared for codec related issues.

Each computer has many and varied codecs, some included with the operating system, some added by the computer manufacturer, and some by you as you install software that brings codecs with it. I don't have a one-size-fits-all checklist for setting up codecs or resolving issues with them.... all I can do is share info about what is on my computers, how they work... and how I do file conversions to routinely preclude or work around issues.


Basic Codecs and Conversion Tools

Here's my shortest list of free items that work well on my XP, Vista and Windows 7/8 computers...

Even with your standard conversion tools and codecs, you'll sometimes need to get a specialized codec to view a file on your computer or process it through your conversions. Welcome to the specialized world of compression and codecs.

I prefer doing my own file conversions... if you're one of many who would rather use a general purpose conversion utility, either one you install on your hard drive or an online service where you upload any file and get one back... I don't have any recommendations about which ones to use.


Codecs, Encoders and Related Utilities

Codecs are necessary little pieces of software that work in the background unless they clash or cause something to crash. Encoders are the software tools to make new files, compressing them with selected audio and video codecs... they use either the codecs installed with them or those already on your system. Related utilites are used to check files to see what codecs are needed, or to look into the interactions of codecs.


I'm doing a series of newsletters this year about codecs... as each issue goes online for open viewing, the links here will give you access to them.

Codecs...

Newsletter 187

Newsletter #187 was the first part of a series about codecs and how they relate to Movie Maker in XP and Vista.

Newsletter #191 was the 2nd in the series, focusing on uncompressed and DV-AVI files. Click the image to read it.

Newsletter 191

Newsletter #192 is the 3rd in this series. It starts with the 25 compression options when saving a video file with VirtualDub on my XP system, and checks the results in Windows Media Player and Movie Maker on XP and Vista systems.

Three of the 25 choices make files that are successfully used at each viewing and editing step in both operating systems. Click the image to read it.

Newsletter 192


With new cameras, camcorders and software... and with Vista... new and revised codecs effect how things work...


About Movie Maker and Codecs

The subject of codecs is an extremely difficult one for even experienced users, and even more complex with Vista.

Providing more help in this area is one of my personal projects for 2008. This part of the website is for comments and links to codecs you might need in addition to those that came with your system.


Movie Maker was made for easy transfer of files from and to a mini-DV camcorder with a firewire/iLink connection... automatically using the Microsoft DV codec that comes with XP and Vista.

For all other sources... different types of camcorders, still cameras with a video feature, downloads from the internet, emailed flicks, phones, etc... it's a 'pot-luck' kind of thing in Movie Maker... some work OK and many don't. It's often a codec issue if it doesn't.

Some codecs are in XP or Vista, and others are not. The auto-downloads of needed codecs are only for those provided by Microsoft servers. It's up to the user to get others. Movie Maker provides some error messages but no guidance.


It's important to get codecs from trusted places so you don't do more harm then good by installing them... what to get from who is not easy to determine.


A video file usually has audio and video tracks... a different codec is often used for each. That's why you might hear a video but not see it.

Windows Media 9 Series Codecs Installation Package (XP... doesn't install on Vista) should be installed by individuals or by network administrators to enable playback of Windows Media 9 Series in Windows Media Player 7.0 or later.

Divx (XP and Vista), and XVID (XP and Vista) codecs can be downloaded from their respective websites.

ffdshow (XP and Vista) is an Open Source DirectShow and VFW codec for decoding/encoding many video and audio formats, including DivX and XviD movies using libavcodec, xvid and other opensourced libraries with a rich set of postprocessing filters.

Newsletter 164

Newsletter #164 is about the ffdshow codec. Click the image to read it.

Although my Problem Solving > Crashes and Hangs page lists ffdshow.ax as one of the problem codecs, the FFDShow Tryouts beta 3 (July 2007) or higher (XP and Vista) version is worth checking. My first test mixed Divx and Xvid encoded files in a project and edited them with transitions and effects... successfully on my XP system. This is becomming my preferred codec to view and create Divx and Xvid encoded files.

Microsoft's VC-1 codec (XP and Vista) evolved from the Windows Media Video 9 Advanced profile. VC-1 has three distinct modes of operation, or profiles, that each support different features: simple profile, main profile, and advanced profile.

The VC-1 codec is included in Windows Media Player 11, the Windows Media Format 11 SDK, and Vista. It can also be downloaded from the Windows Download Web site.

The Panasonic DV codec (XP and Vista) gives you the option of saving to a type II DV-AVI file from many software apps that don't provide a Microsoft DV option. It's my codec of choice when converting files using VirtualDub to ones that work in Movie Maker.

Windows Media Video 9 Video Compression Manager (VCM) was released in July 2003. The VCM is a compressor that works with the Windows Multimedia video compression manager (VCM) to encode Windows Media Video. VCM is typically used to encode content for use in audio-video interleaved (AVI) files, but you can use other container formats as well.

The Indeo video codec (XP and Vista) that was in the original release of XP, but not in the service packs or Vista, needs to be added if needed. Indeo Support from Ligos is one source. See the note on the Ligos web page about XP SP2 and Vista, due to Microsoft security changes prohibiting direct playback of Indeo encoded content online, Windows Media Player only playing Indeo files if they are local (on your hard drive). That means an online file would need to be downloaded first, and then played from the hard drive.


Codec Assessment Tools...

When a video file doesn't work in Movie Maker, you should assess it with one or more of these tools. If you can't figure things out yourself, telling others what you find in a newsgroup or forum post will go a long way toward getting better help.

Bright Hub Article

GSpot... the Swiss Army Knife for Codecs

Newsletter 68

GSpot (XP and Vista)

GSpot is the leading tool to assess all kinds of video files. Among others, it can check AVI, FLV, MPEG, MOV and WMV files.

It tells what codecs are needed to view a file, and if they are installed on your system. It can actively check and test the file with it's built-in player. What it can't tell you is if the video file can be used in a Movie Maker project.

Newsletter #68 is about GSpot. Click the image to read it.

Newsletter 161

Newsletter #161 is also about GSpot... a couple years later, with expanded features. Click the image to read it.

Graph Edit (XP and Vista) is a utility that helps you explore the various codec/filter options.

Newsletter 180

Newsletter #180 was an introduction to it. Click the image to read it.

Newsletter 143

Sherlock from Marc Liron is another helpful app that checks your installed codecs (Windows XP only)... and points out any that are 'broken'.

Newsletter #143 explores the info provided by Sherlock and what, if anything, you should do about it. Click the image to read it.

WMSnoop from Slig Media Technologies lets you look at the details of a WMV file... keyframes, bitrate by frame and other helpful info. It's what I used to find there are no periodic keyframes in Microsoft Office Live Meeting recordings... and keyframes are needed by Movie Maker.

It's great at helping you assess the contents of a Photo Story 3 project when trying to achieve the ultimate experience in high definition online playback.

Media Info is another file assessment tool free for the downloading from SourceForge.


Encoders and Converters...

Encoders are software tools whose primary purpose is to take a file and convert it to a different one. Video editing software such as Movie Maker, VirtualDub, Adobe Premiere Elements, etc. can also be used as conversion encoders.

Some encoders and video editing apps bring some codecs in with them while others rely totally on the codecs already on your system.

My approach to file conversion is to first try Movie Maker. If the file can be imported as a single clip and go to the project timeline, I'll try 3 times to save it as a DV-AVI file. If I strike out there, I turn to a conversion utility.


VirtualDub or VirtualDub MPEG is my first choice if the file is an AVI or MPEG. I'll save it to a DV-AVI file using the Panasonic DV codec for compression, applying the resize filter if needed to align the input file to NTSC 720x480 size as needed by the Panasonic DV codec. If the file is a QuickTime MOV I'll use RadVideo Tools.

For harder to convert MPEG-2 files, usually because of the audio, I'll use TMPGEnc to first separate the audio and video streams into separate files for further conversions.

Windows Media Encoder 9 Series (XP, Vista, Win7) from Microsoft can extend the functionality of Movie Maker 2 by creating custom profiles. Note that you need to uninstall any previous version before installing. The encoder software package includes the Windows Media Encoder, File Editor, Stream Editor, Profile Editor, Encoding Script, and User documentation. It's for the more advanced user; if you are one of those, it's a free download. If you are seriously interested in the many features of the encoder, here's a link to a 1 hour+ Microsoft presentation about it.

Newsletter 43

Newsletter #43 is a tutorial about using the Windows Media 9 Encoder to do a screen capture session. Click the image to read it.

The Windows Media Encoder Studio Edition was an encoding tool for the professionals in the studio who are producing high quality high definition material. It's no longer available.... see the Expression Encoder for the most recent one.

Newsletter 112

Newsletter #112 took a look at the early beta version. Click the image to read it.

Expression Encoder 3

The free version of Expression Encoder 3 (XP, Vista and Windows 7) uses the VC-1 codec when converting files to WMV format and making web-based Silverlight packages. It handles input files such as MPEG2 and MOV, and lets you trim videos and add leading/trailing clips, and add overlaying logos.

Get Expression Encoder 3. See the Expression > Expression Encoder page of this site for more info.

Newsletter 20

TMPGEnc - To make VCDs, SVCDs or DVDs, you need to convert your saved movie to an MPEG format. It's a free download, but free use of the MPEG2 encoder is limited to 30 days.

Newsletter 20 includes a tutorial about using TMPGEnc to create high quality MPEG-2 files from Movie Maker and Photo Story projects for DVDs.

Canopus DV Converter (link not working - seek it elsewhere), the ULead DV Converter and the Stoik Video Converter can be used to convert a type I DV-AVI file into a type II. You can also use Movie Maker 1 or other utilities.

I did a test on 3/11/06 using my 3.4 GHz laptop to convert a full one hour 13+ GB file captured by MM2. The Canopus utility took 15 minutes, and ULead's 32 minutes. Stoik's took 48 minutes but crashed right after it said it was 100% complete (the new AVI file was there but corrupt). Movie Maker 1 took 53 minutes. As another option, TMPGEnc using the Panasonic DV codec, took almost an hour to make a type II file from the type I. All except the Stoik worked fine.

Rad Video Tools does many things, including conversion of MOV file types to AVI for use in Movie Maker 2. If you want only the audio stream, you can convert it to a WAV file.

Newsletter 22

Newsletter #22 was a tutorial about using Rad Video Tools to convert QuickTime MOV files to AVI. Click the image to read it.

Newsletter 119

Super Converter, suggested by many as a tool to do file conversions, is covered by Newsletter #119. Click the image to read it.


Other Useful and Interesting Sites about Codecs

This page at eXtended Multimedia has a wealth of info about codecs and related tools...

Zachary Demian Robinson (zachd to many), a "Senior" developer on Windows at Microsoft, maintains this list of broken codecs that will damage your system.